President’s Day: A Mini-Lesson on Perspective Taking and Wondering

On February 19, 2018, you may enjoy a day off, thanks to the federal holiday widely called “President’s Day.”  The official name for the third Monday in February, however, is “Washington’s Birthday.”  Our city’s namesake was born on February 22, 1732 in Westmoreland County, Virginia and his home base for 45 years was Mount Vernon, near Alexandria, VA.  

Each year, hundreds of Live It Learn It students visit Mount Vernon to learn more about this revolutionary leader and life in colonial America.  For example, they try their hand at cooking, 18th century-style.  The goal is to make biscuits for the whole class.  Step one is to grind the wheat into flour.  While grinding wheat berries into flour with a mortar and pestle is novel for today’s 9-year olds, they quickly gain appreciation for advances in technology (cheers for the gristmill!) as well as for the fortitude required to endure daily life in early America (Washington’s mansion has 21 rooms, but not a single one is a bathroom…).  In the 6+ years that Live It Learn It’s classes have attempted to reach the biscuit goal, I can assure you that not a single class has produced more than a couple teaspoons of flour in the allotted time, using colonial methods.  The experience provides a new perspective on things we may usually take for granted–like ready-made food and indoor plumbing.  We highly recommend a visit to Mount Vernon!

But what if, instead of us traveling back in time to experience colonial life, George Washington traveled forward in time to experience life in 2018?  What would he think of our food culture?  Our modes of transportation?  Our technology?  How would his perspective on our daily lives be different from our own?

This is the premise of a short video series created by Mount Vernon called “George’s Big Day Out.”  Inspired by these videos, we designed a mini-lesson that engages students in perspective-taking and prompts wonderings about the common-place world around us. While this unit is designed with elementary students in mind, the videos are engaging for secondary students too and the activities could be easily adapted to those grade levels.

Mini Lesson

Objective: Students will consider a familiar situation from a new perspective.  Students will record and share wonderings.

Time: ~ 60 minutes, but can be modified to fit your needs

Materials: projector and speakers; “George’s Big Day Out” series; Circle of Viewpoints thinking routine

Overview: Students will consider a topic (e.g. modern day food, transportation, or technology) from the perspective of George Washington.  While they watch the video(s), they will gather evidence of Washington’s thinking about the topic.  Afterwards, they will write a brief reflection using prompts from the Circle of Viewpoints routine, and then share this reflection with others.

Teacher Planning

First, familiarize yourself with Project Zero’s Circle of Viewpoints (COV) routine.  It is a protocol for exploring diverse perspectives.  In this case, we will use the video as the source, but in another lesson you could use text, images, or primary sources.  The general steps are:In this mini-lesson we modify #1 by asking all students to think about a topic from the same perspective (George Washington’s).  

Second,  please watch the videos yourself before showing to students.  We think episodes 2-4 are the most aligned with this lesson–and if you only have time for one, we suggest episode 2.  In episode 4, around the 1:20 mark, George Washington goes to a bar–so if you choose to use that episode, you may want to stop before that scene.  You certainly do NOT need to use all 5 videos!

Last, consider your students.  This lesson can be scaffolded many ways according to your class’ needs.  You could have all students focus on the same topic (e.g. food) from the same perspective (George Washington).  Or, you could assign groups of students to different topics (e.g. food; transportation; technology) from the same perspective (George Washington).  As an extension or challenge, you could even allow students to choose different perspectives (e.g. another person seeing Washington on the Metro or the Uber car that takes Washington to DC).  If time allows, we recommend showing the same episode twice, so that students have a second opportunity to look closely.


Introduce the content by using a visual “discrepant event” (you can learn more about discrepant events here).  In this case, you will show students Image A and ask them to consider who is in the image, what is happening, where it is taking place, and when the picture was taken.  Now, hide Image A and show Image B.  Ask students to consider the same information.  Finally, show the two images directly next to each other and ask students to generate 3 questions about the scene.  

Pose the essential question: What would George Washington think if he visited DC today?  Tell students that the real George Washington was alive (and died) 200 years ago, but that we are going to imagine that he could travel forward in time and visit us today.  We are going to see OUR world through HIS eyes.  At this point, introduce the topic(s) that you want students to focus on while watching the video.  Tell students that while they watch, they should write down a list of anything they see that relates to the topic. A list of items is perfectly fine.  For example, the theme of transportation in episode 2 could include:

  • Metro
  • Tour bus
  • Food truck
  • Train ticket

Play whichever videos you have selected, and if possible, play them twice.

Display the COV prompts and explain the assignment.  For more scaffolding, model a reflection for the class or have the class help you complete a reflection together.  Then ask students to complete a reflection individually.  Encourage them to be creative!  Here is a sample reflection:

Allow students to share their work!    

Bonus (for you overachievers!)

Take a photo or video that captures your students’ work.  Post it to social media using #GWinDC2018 and mention @liveitlearnitdc.  We can’t wait to see the creative thinking!

Taking some presidential perspective with this mini-lesson that your students will love. Perfect for President's Day!

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