Student Trips to Washington D.C.: Social Studies and History Students Participate in Democratic Process

by Howard Clemens

A student tour of Washington D.C. often includes a visit the White House or Capitol Building. Putting a visit to these sensitive government buildings on the itinerary does take special planning.

For educators who want student groups to meet with representatives from their region or state, I recommend at least six months of advance planning or more.

Teach Students About Participatory Democracy
Social Studies and History teachers will take students through an exercise to illustrate exactly how a participatory democracy works. First, select a representative, either a Senator or Congressman from the group’s originating district. Be open to having the group meet with aides and/or staff if the representative is not available, to discuss important issues. Choose an experienced educational travel company to ensure a smooth visit and the optimal learning experience.

Learn More About How the U.S. Capitol & the Democratic System Really Works
What would students gain from meeting with their representative and/or their staff in the Capitol Building? A knowledge that within the democratic process, national and international as well as smaller, more personal issues can be discussed. Some smaller issues may even be resolved through participation in the democratic process. How would a teacher initiate such a meeting between students and representatives? A competent student tour consultant will be able to step a teacher through this process. The result of this exercise will be to engage students in the process of democracy and the relevance and importance of expressing their views.

Here are some things to consider, when organizing a student trip to Washington D.C. that includes a visit to a representative’s office in the Capitol Building.

1. A representative or senator must be selected to approach. The educational travel company will approach a staff member of the chosen representative and schedule a convenient time during the trip to visit the representative. The educational travel representative will conduct follow-up with the representative’s office in preparation for the visit.

2. Teachers will prepare the class before the trip so students will visit the representative with a clear objective, and be able to communicate this precisely in speech or writing.

3. If students have specific questions related to the topic at hand, they may ask the representative.

4. Be prepared to meet with an aide, should the representative be called into session, or is traveling on other official business.

5. Before or after initiating a conversation with the representative, take students on tour of the Capitol Building and watch Congress or the Senate floor in action. Have students observe the process of democratic discussions while representatives conduct the necessary business of this country.

6. After the trip is over and students return to the classroom, instruct them to write or give an oral presentation on their views of the democratic process. Ask them if they feel participatory democracy works.

Through this exercise, students will learn that democracy is not just about voting.

This real life lesson will teach students participatory democracy is what the founding fathers envisioned when they modeled the U.S. system on Grecian democracy from the classical period. At this time in Greek history, the Forum could be equated to the floor of the Capitol. The only difference was that Ancient Greece allowed anyone to step into the forum and voice an opinion to the public. Because of a large population – this sort of discussion is not entirely possible in the contemporary era. Instead Americans have representatives who argue on their behalf.

Having a ‘Forum’ or Capitol building is one way of bringing people together. This means the individual and groups must participate in governmental decision-making that affects them directly. Visiting a representative before he or she casts a deciding vote on a bill, budget item, military action or other concern is the way to influence political outcomes.

To learn more about planning a student trip to Washington D.C. which includes a visit to the Capitol and a pre-arranged meeting with a Congressional or Senatorial representative visit: http://www.educationaltravelconsultants.com.

Blended Learning: Art Students View Guggenheim & MOMA Collections Online and Tour NYC

By Howard Clemens

The virtual tour of a historical site, art museum or even a college or university has become the standard for many websites’ online visitors. As an educational tour consultant for many years, I do not recommend that students gain their whole experience from the online tour of an art museum. There is no replacement for seeing art in person. I always encourage a visit to at least one major museum when student groups travel to a city like Washington D.C. or New York City.

Nowadays, teachers can more easily prepare students for a student trip to New York City by virtually taking their classroom to the destination and specific sites in that place, such as museums. This is the beginning of a blended learning experience. Visiting the actual destination and seeing current exhibitions and authentic paintings or sculptures complements the online viewing experience. A visit to New York City allows students to wander inside the museum, the district and the community – learning to see art as part of the fabric of life.

I want to focus on two specific international art museums in New York City – The Guggenheim Museum and Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). Part of these museums’ permanent collections are available for viewing online – with more being digitized and added.

The permanent collection of many museums is not available for viewing at all times. Often major works of art are in storage. Some are in the restoration process, while some are only displayed for special shows or regular exhibits and rotated back into storage. The work of famous artists also goes on tour and is leant to other museums. Traveling art brings notoriety and resources to a museum.

All of this may frustrate the art student and teacher. Exposure to the works of the masters helps students acquire new techniques and gain inspiration from fellow artists ideas about color, form and theme.

Teachers can more easily develop lesson plans around the work of specific artists in these digital collections. Or, perhaps teachers will focus on studying periods of art, and the type of work and artists who defined that era.

Let’s step through a sample blended learning exercise, utilizing digital works in these two collections to understand Modern Art of the first part of the 20th Century.

First, go to the page on the MOMA website where you can search for artists:
http://www.moma.org/collection/works?classifications=

Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)
MOMA is named after the Modern Art period and has an outstanding collection, with 200,000 works of modern and contemporary art in the collection and 61,000 works available online. A look into Pablo Picasso’s work will show students that Picasso was an adept painter who also made lithographs. Students can even view the drawings that later became paintings – gaining insight into Picasso’s artistic process.

Guggenheim Museum

Now, let’s visit the Guggenheim’s collection, and see more work by this master painter who took Paris by storm. Visit: http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/collections/collection-online and search for ‘Picasso.’ Guggenheim’s collection contains many selected and famous paintings by Picasso, beginning in the early part of his career in 1900 and ending in 1965. Art students can observe and analyze the evolution of an artist, beginning with an interest in painting the figure and people, and evolving into a fascination for abstraction. By viewing Picasso’s work, students will understand why he is often referred to as the progenitor of Cubism.

As students are tasked with viewing Picasso on their own, they will learn more from Moma.org and the Guggenheim’s website about the subject matter of individual pieces. Picasso’s contemporaries, such as Edgar Degas and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec are also mentioned in painting descriptions and Picasso’s biography.

Complementing these studies in the classroom, a visit to MOMA or the Guggenheim Museum to see some of the actual works of Picasso or his contemporaries is an excellent way to blend the classroom experience with real world encounters. Students can wander around the interior of the museums, viewing real works and learning more about the Manhattan communities where MOMA and the Guggenheim are located.

The number of masterpieces in museum collections in New York City is staggering. To have these works available for viewing online is a phenomenal leap. This can be said for other large urban museums housing collections as well. The number of digital masterpieces available will continue to grow and expand.

Use technology and student tours as a means of inspiring students to gain insights through careful study of the masters who have gone before them.

For more information about scheduling a student tour of New York City, request a quote.

Living History Makes Student Travel to Washington DC and Williamsburg Memorable

By Howard Clemens

Watching history come alive can be a great way to engage student travel groups when visiting the Washington D.C. area. Living history programs are character reenactments from Revolutionary, Colonial and Civil War eras of American history. Attending one will give historically accurate information garnered directly from texts. Living history programs challenge students to take a deeper look at the characters that created the historical accounts read in the classroom today.

Mount Vernon, a Treasure of American History, Inhabited by Characters
What sorts of characters become known throughout time? Leaders do. Mount Vernon is a well-preserved site of one of the favorite founding fathers, George Washington and his second wife, Mary. The Mount Vernon property is teeming with life. Also known as Ferry Farm, this estate is populated with many of the characters of living history, including the proprietors, George and Mary Washington themselves. Students can inhabit different parts of the estate and be exposed to different viewpoints, from viewing slave quarters, to the working farm and mill, to the interior of Mount Vernon itself.

Recreating Mount Vernon as a Working Colonial Estate
Today, students might refer to a property like Mount Vernon as ‘sustainable living.’ Everything needed to feed, clothe and house the many inhabitants and visitors of the estate was cultivated here. A tour of Mount Vernon that includes living history presentations could easily take half a day. Students groups will watch and listen as re-enactors make wool and refine locally grown flax into fiber and show how horses treading wheat to remove seeds. Student tour groups can listen in to a conversation of the overseer, the blacksmith, or George Washington himself. Living history makes learning more interactive and gives students an entirely new perspective of history.

Social Studies and history teachers may want to combine a tour of Washington D.C. and Mount Vernon with a few days in Williamsburg, Virginia. Give student groups the opportunity for total immersion in the 18th Century time period while they tour the former capital of Virginia with Living History around every corner.

The 18th Century Capital of the Colonies: Williamsburg, VA
Colonial Williamsburg is the largest living history museum in the world. In the 1920s, John D. Rockefeller invested in the languishing historical buildings in Williamsburg. He hired the best artisans and restoration experts to rebuild the town correctly. Today, the former 18th Century capital of Virginia is the perfect setting for students to experience living history.

Imagine walking the streets of Williamsburg and being immersed into the 18th Century style of living. Students will see many of Colonial Williamsburg’s character actors passing in the cobblestone streets in 18th Century garb. The old buildings all look the same as they did then – made of red brick and mortar. The shops include a blacksmith, candle maker, and a silversmith, among others. Inside some of the Colonial homes, the servants are busy with everyday tasks. Students will watch and listen and may ask questions. As they walk through, they will see servants working in the gardens or kitchens of an authentic Colonial home, clothed in the garb of the 18th Century and using implements and foods harvested there and common in that era.

For another type of interactive experience, group leaders may opt to prearrange a lunch or dinner at an authentic tavern in Colonial Williamsburg.

Each of the characters encountered on the streets of Williamsburg speaks in Colonial tongue and has a story to tell about their place in time. The Court House and the Armory have been restored to their former character.

Student groups may watch living history programs in the courthouse specially designed for learning about Colonial law in Virginia, through the eyes of those who were judged. Or, take a student group on an evening tour of the “Ghosts Among Us” or “Pirates Amongst Us” to stimulate their imagination and recollection of the way history unfolded for some.

Jamestown Settlement
Students will love visiting Jamestown Settlement – another full immersion into the 17th Century. Just down the road from Colonial Williamsburg, situated on the James River, is where the first colonists landed in 1607. Board the replicas of the three ships, see a Powhatan village as it was in the 17th Century, and enter the replica of James Fort, the original home of new settlers in this country. Students will hear character actors speak from a variety of perspectives, including: common sailors, maids, Indians, and even the King James I.

Learning about history through books and film can be a great foundation for a student trip to Washington D.C. and Williamsburg. Living history programs provide a more intense and focused investigation into history, one that engages the student and makes a definite mark upon memory. After experiencing the characters of history the memory is attached to a real place.

“The willing suspension of disbelief” is required for a full (and fun) immersion into Early American history. The character actors do an excellent job of bringing all of the props, setting and the stories to life. Teachers can augment the experiential learning by assigning follow-up writing exercises or creating quizzes for students to observe and answer questions while on tour.

For more information about a living history tour of Washington D.C., Mount Vernon and Williamsburg, request a quote.