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The students have just arrived from an incredible class trip, and you want to assess the learning that took place during the experience. Traditionally, this might lead to an oral presentation accompanied by a slideshow or a written report. Simple, straightforward…. and kind of anticlimactic after such an exciting journey.

There are lots of fun, less conventional ways for students to revisit the lessons they learned while on the trip. Students can

  • Create a vlog integrating video and photography from the trip in order to explain a concept
  • Build a miniature model of one of the sites visited and include captions highlighting important information
  • Compile powerful original photographs from the trip to create a photo journal with provocative and illuminating captions
  • Write an original song and record a music video paying homage to the visited city
  • Use original photography, video, and writing to create a tourism commercial advertising the city’s highlights

… And the possibilities are endless. Read on for cross-curricular lessons and project ideas inspired by trips to New York, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Boston, and Canada. As you will see, these assignments require students to create rather than simply recall.  That’s on purpose.  Students will return from trips inspired to impact their communities and asking them to innovate will give them an exciting and educational avenue to place that energy.

New York: The Evolution of Liberty

Art, English, History

 Summary: The Statue of Liberty’s symbolism has evolved along with society. To delve into the many ideas evoked by New York City’s universally recognized monument, students will create their own version of the Statue of Liberty based on what they believe such a symbol should represent today.

Objective:  Students will synthesize information about the Statue of Liberty’s history and their own personal experiences to create a sculpture meant to symbolize liberty.  Students will explain the symbolism of their statue in an oral presentation.

Procedure: First, students should research the Statue of Liberty’s history from its origins to its place in the contemporary zeitgeist (they can think about how it made them feel during the trip and its role in New York’s tourism industry). Then, students should reflect on what liberty means to them and how the Statue of Liberty meets and fails to meet their interpretations of liberty. Finally, students should create a statue using whatever medium they’d like to symbolize their reflections about liberty.

Discussion Questions:  Since the creation of the Statue of Liberty, who has been granted more freedoms? Who may still be or feel oppressed? Is total liberty possible or even desirable? Who decides who gets to have more or fewer freedoms? What role does art play in shaping culture?

Washington D.C.: Checks and Balances

Government, Math, Public Speaking, History   

Summary: The system of checks and balances held together by the executive, legislative, and judicial branches make for a type of inefficient governance that protects a country from the abuses of dictatorship. This project will allow students to experience first-hand the sagacious inefficiency that keeps our country together.

Objective:  Students will attempt to pass, enforce, and adjudicate a law through the perspective of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.

Procedure: In the first phase of this simulation, students will research or review the roles of each branch of government play. Next, the class will simulate the legislature. Students can work in smaller groups to write bills to solve a problem they see in the school, community, or nation. Then students will present their bills, debate their strengths and weaknesses, and vote on them.

In the next phase, students will act as the executive branch. One group of students can collectively fulfill the President’s role. Another group can stand in as the Vice President. Another, the Secretary of State. Each group can advise the President on whether or not the bill should be signed or vetoed. If the President vetoes the bill, the class can revert back to the legislature and revise the bill until it becomes something they believe the President will sign.

In the final phase of the simulation, the students will operate as the United States Supreme Court. One group of students can act as the Supreme Court Justices. Another group can act as the petitioner. The petitioners will present the Court with an argument that the bill was written and passed into law in Phases 1 and 2 is in violation of the US Constitution. Another group of students can act as the respondents, who, in this case, represent the US Government. The respondents will defend the constitutionality of the bill. Additional groups can act as the press or protesters.

Discussion Questions: What is the value of having a system of checks and balances? Which branch of government seems to have the most power? Which has the least? What could happen to American society if one of these branches of government became much more powerful than the others?

Philadelphia: Create a Constitution

Government, History, English, Statistics

Summary: After spending an extensive amount of time in Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center, your students should have an awakened appreciation for the document that holds our country together. This project will allow them to use their critical thinking skills to write a constitution for their own “more perfect” society.

Objective: Students will research successful governing strategies and create a document outlining how society should be structured and governed.

Procedure: As a class, students should discuss the most important aspects of society that they believe should be governed (economy, criminal justice, civil rights, etc.). Then, the students can break into smaller groups to develop a constitution of their imagined nation. Their constitution should cover the aspects the class identified as most important but can include additional aspects as well. As they are developing their constitutions, they should create an annotated bibliography containing sources to articles justifying their decisions.

Discussion Questions: What aspects of society should a government have the authority to control? Can society ever become perfect? What are the constraints on perfection? What governing strategies seem to work the most? Which ones seem most likely to fail? What does it mean for a society or a nation to fail?

Boston: A Literary Dinner Party

English, History, Theater     

Summary: Boston is home to many literary titans including Sylvia Plath, Robert Frost, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Edgar Allen Poe. After students have seen the city for themselves, it will be a little easier for them to imagine what it might be like if a small group of these authors met at a famous Boston café to discuss a contemporary literary work, current event, or a law.

Objective:  Students will use direct quotes from works authored by famous Bostonians to discuss contemporary issues in order to connect themes from historical literary texts to modern life.

Procedure: First, students will break into small groups based on a contemporary topic they are interested in discussing. Then each student in a group will choose to act as a literary icon from Boston.  Ideally, their options would include authors already studied in the class. What is most important, however, is that the students have actually read and have access to at least one work by the author they choose.   Next, students will select direct quotes from a text written by the author of their choosing that they believe respond in some way to the topic of discussion. Finally, the students will “meet” as the authors they’ve chosen to depict and discuss the topic using their own improvisation skills along with the direct quotes they’ve selected. Give each group a set amount of time so that they stay on track, but also allow them to have fun with imagining and acting out how they think their authors would actually behave and speak.

Discussion Questions: What literary themes transcend time? As a society, do we continue to struggle with the same issues today that we did decades ago? If so, why can’t we seem to escape those same problems? If not, what factors have helped us to move forward?

Canada: Museum of Environment

Environmental Sciences, Art, Statistics

Summary: The rivers, waterfalls, landscape, and foliage in Canada have made some of its cities famous. This project will allow students to celebrate, study, and advocate for the environment through original art inspired by their trip to the Maple Leaf.

Objective: Students will create an artistic rendering of a specific ecosystem they saw while on their trip to Canada. Students will write a caption explaining the different components of their depiction. Student work will be displayed publicly. The school library, cafeteria, display case, or any highly trafficked area are good choices.

Procedure: First students, will examine photographs they took while on the trip and choose a photo to serve as the inspiration for their model. Next, students will research the ecosystem represented by that photograph. Finally, students will create their art. They might create a sculpture, painting, drawing, or any rendering that they believe captures the natural beauty of the environment they experienced during their trip. Once they have created their art, the students must write a caption identifying the different aspects of the ecosystem they’ve depicted as well as the threats that the ecosystem faces and how humans can protect it.

Discussion Questions: Is it important to study and celebrate the environment? How does human society affect the integrity of the natural environment?

Set the Kids Up for Success

If you plan to ask your students to complete a project, make sure they know the specifics of the assignment well in advance of the trip so that they can collect the necessary data while traveling.

If you’re trying something unorthodox, be prepared for a little pushback. Kids are usually accustomed to the traditional paper and presentation assessment and asking them to be a bit more innovative is a challenge, not every kid will be excited to take on (at least in the beginning).

While those more traditional formats are valuable, forcing your students to think outside of the box will help them retain the information you want them to remember and probably have more fun than they thought they would in the process.

By Dianna Benjamin

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