Curriculum for Teachers
A typical Academic Expeditions trip to the historic sites of the Eastern US takes in many layers and themes of history. Our pace on a time-conscious itinerary allows you to experience a plethora of sites efficiently, but at the same time, leaves little extra time and mental energy to stop and reflect more deeply on what you’re seeing. Thus it is a good idea for teachers to develop curriculum assignments that will serve to purposefully engage the students while they’re visiting the sites and to deepen the educational relevance while they’re completing their tasks back home.
We’ve worked with many teachers and have seen many examples of curriculum and projects that teachers have coordinated to go along with their travels, and here are some tips you should consider as you plan and design your own:
Balance Between the “Experience” and the “Exercise”
If assignments are to be completed during a trip, such as filling in site-specific questions in a journal, be sure to seek a balance between time and task. Remember the pace of these trips is such that your students may not have a lot of time to chase down site facts like a scavenger hunt, nor mental energy reserves to sit and properly answer reflection questions. We suggest giving the students a few questions and tasks that urge them to investigate the sites, but not too many such that they become so focused on the exercise of “fill in the blank” that they don’t stop to just experience the sites for themselves.
Sized for Security and Speed
If you have created a binder of questions / assignments for the students to take with them to the sites, remember that you will have to go through security at most of the historic sites. Three-ring binders are allowed, but they can slow you down and be cumbersome to carry. We recommend creating a journal that is thin and pocket-worthy. This could even be an assignment in itself – binding appropriately sized pages together with thread and a fabric cover like the colonial days.
Look for Curriculum Connections for Individual Students
If your trip is only bringing a fraction of your class, it may not be possible to make a class-wide assignment coordinated with the trip. Ask the History, Science or English teachers what subjects they will be studying around the time of the trip, and what are some potential opportunities for the traveling students to visit a site or do research during their trip that relates to those subjects, either as part of a class assignment, or for extra credit.
Make Class-wide Assignments Extend to Home
Even if you expect to bring your entire class, it is likely there will be some students who just can’t come for financial, health, or behavioral reasons. Be sure that your assignments have variations or flexibility to be completed at home for those who can’t come. Likewise, even for the students that do go on the trip, the sites and museum displays we visit are always adapting, or closed for renovation, and you’ll never have the same itinerary from year to year. It is likely that certain site assignments will have to be completed at home anyway.
We have created some of our own curriculum resources for you to use on your trip, as well as educational materials produced by the sites themselves and curriculum that has been created and used by some of our teachers who have traveled with us year after year. Some of them are specific to certain sites you’ll visit, while others can be applied to multiple destinations within a theme. We have organized them into two categories below:
New World Colonialism and American Independence: Jamestown, Williamsburg, Boston, Philadelphia
The Whole Spectrum of US History: Washington, DC & New York City
Explorers of the New World – Research project of specific explorers and native cultures the encountered.
Colonial Williamsburg, VA – The restored and rebuilt capital of colonial Virginia is one of the most education and student friendly destinations we visit. This goes beyond the period landscapes, costumed interpreters, and traditional demonstrations in Williamsburg itself, but their website for Teacher Resources contains pre and post visit activities, lesson plans based upon education standards, virtual tours, Kid Zone activities, and a catalogue for teachers to secure further teacher resources.
Jamestown & Yorktown – Completing the historic triangle of Colonial Virginia, the Jamestown and Yorktown foundation provide online resources and lesson plans, as well as educational videos, for teachers at their Curriculum Materials page.
Philadelphia & US Inependence – The primary historic sites of Philadelpia are managed by the National Park Service, and their online Teacher Resources provide related curriculum and standards-based lesson plans to be use in the classroom or on site.
Boston & US Independence – One of our teachers loves to prepare the students for a Boston visit with the historical fiction book “Johnny Tremain” and has produced an extensive set of Lesson Plans, Resources and Tests related to the book and American Independence for your use.
The scope of history represented in Washington DC and New York City is so broad, no one academic theme or curriculum content area is dominant. And the spectrum of relevant learning goes well beyond “US History” as the buildings where power, money, and development are brokered along with all the museums can make your trip be a study of International Relations, Science, Mathematics, Literature, Art or the Environment.
Considering the smorgasbord of learning, a good approach for a classroom assignment is to let the students chose which site they want to research for a project and presentation. For example, in Washington DC, students can choose a memorial, or a museum, or a government building to do individual research on. They can produce a powerpoint presentation or a display or a research report to share with the rest of the class. An added bonus to such an assignment is that once your group is traveling on their tour, the students can play “tour guide” for a moment and share what they learned about the sites as you visit them. Too see a few sample powerpoint presentations, click on the sites below:
For a general listing of site details and information on a Washington DC, New York City and Philadelphia itinerary, click below. This can be used as fact resources for student research on various sites: DC, NYC, & PHL Site Facts
Miscellaneous Quotes contains a list of quotes on human freedom and the role of government.
Curriculum for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum – Not only is it very valuable to our students who have grown up in a free country to study where the most basic freedoms have been denied in other parts of the world, but considering the disturbing content in the Holocaust Museum in DC, it is also good to prepare younger minds beforehand for what they will be seeing in the exhibits.
US Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial – Often called “The Wall” because of over 58,000 names of US Soldiers etched into its stone, this memorial is highly personal. Many people have come to The Wall to leave personal items such as photographs or letters, but people also take things away, as in rubbed etchings of specific names on The Wall. We do not recommend that teachers merely have the students create a generic letter to leave at The Wall, as that can actually “cheapen” the memorial for those friends and family members who have suffered the loss of a loved one. However, if the students are able to personalize their research to a specific name, such as a friend of a grandparent, or a former student from their school or hometown, it is appropriate and fitting for them to leave something at The Wall and do a rubbing of a name. Use Online Search Engines to find specific names on The Wall. There are also books at the memorial to look up names, but there are only a handful with lines of people waiting to use them. It is best to do your research ahead of time.
US Constitution Mobile Display – Instructions and assignment to create a mobile display of our three branches of Government as created in our Constitution.
If your group is visiting only Washington, DC and no other historic destination in the East, then Mount Vernon, the home and estate of George Washington is a very good place to do a study of Colonial Life and the American Revolution. Mount Vernon is located just south of Washington DC and the house, grounds, and education center are all very interactive and the staff of Mount Vernon are very keen on making George Washington come to life for the millions of students who visit his home. We have included a Pre-visit Guide and Questions for Mount Vernon.
New York City is the great melting pot of the United States and probably the most ethnically mixed city in the world. It is only fitting that the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are located there. The restored main building of Ellis Island itself now serves as the US Immigration Museum. It’s very likely that none of your students are purely Native American and that all of them have some mix of immigrant blood in them. Thus a visit to Ellis Island serves as an excellent reason for your students to research their family history and ethnic background. While you are able to search immigration records at the facility at Ellis Island, we do not recommend using them considering the time constraints, cost, and the limited date ranges the searches are able to do. Doing your own search online will likely produce more full results at less cost, and free up your time on Ellis Island to view the exhibits. Try the Ellis Island Free Search for arrival records of family names or for a broader genealogy search, try Ancestry.com for a small membership fee.
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