How can students be expected to make real-world connections without venturing out into the real world? Sometimes learning requires students to get out of the classroom, and perhaps even out of the state, to truly learn. A group of sixteen Grade 5 students got that opportunity in March when they traveled to Washington, D.C. with their teachers, Joe Villaluz, Terry Fuller, and me, Lisa Lariscy. Their experiences on the trip helped them answer the Grade 5 Project Based Learning (PBL) question, “How do we as artists create a museum experience that connects our community with the people and events of the American Revolution?” After learning all about the American Revolution, the students are encouraged to follow their passions and create a museum experience that is meaningful to them.
We began our journey in Jamestown, Virginia. It is one of the best places to dive into the story of America’s beginnings from the founding of America’s first permanent English colony in 1607. Students learned exactly what makes a great museum experience – a story within a story – so we ventured on to a living history park that contained a reconstructed fort, armory, church, and Powhatan Indian village. Costumed interpreters shared their stories throughout the settlement. We even climbed aboard the fully operational 17th-century reproduction vessel, Susan Constant.
Traveling on, we stepped into a living history museum the day we explored Colonial Williamsburg. 18th-century history came to life as we were immersed in conversation from authentic first-person perspectives. IPA students took a deep dive into the past and explored medicine, weapons and ammunition, and even met a tinman who shared his craft.
Perhaps the most fun was getting a little lost inside of Thomas Jefferson’s hedge maze at the Governor’s Palace as students were asked to reflect upon the question, “If museums are places where we learn about our past, how can they become a place where we can imagine our future?”
Next on our list was a visit to Mount Vernon which provided a full sensory, place-based experience for students to explore the grounds, buildings, and gardens of George Washington’s estate on the banks of the Potomac River in Fairfax County, Virginia. The furnishings and artwork represented George Washington’s interests and priorities as he was directly involved in designing Mount Vernon. This gave the students a lot of insight into how museums are designed and cared for.
Onward to the heart of Washington, D.C., students toured the assassination location of President Abraham Lincoln. At Ford’s Theatre, they learned information about the life and death of our nation’s 16th president, saw a pillow and coverlet used to ease Lincoln’s suffering on that fateful night, and viewed the famous Lincoln Book Tower. Students learned that one of the important aspects of a museum is artifact preservation.
Making a brief stop to our nation’s capital, the students saw National Statuary Hall, including the bronze sculpture of Kamehameha I donated by the State of Hawaiʻi in 1969 where the Grade 5 students reverently presented our school oli. At this moment, students were reminded that museums play a crucial role in preserving Hawaiʻi’s local culture.
Posing on the steps of the Washington National Cathedral the students could appreciate the great architecture that draws in over 270,000 visitors every year. Being that this is both the third-largest church building in the nation and the fourth tallest structure in D.C., the students were definitely in awe!
In keeping with the noteworthy architecture, our stop at the FDR Memorial was of particular significance as the entire memorial dedicated to the 32nd President was constructed to be accessible to visitors with varying physical abilities. Students took time to discuss the importance of equal access by all being incorporated into museums.
We were able to stop within viewing distance of the Lincoln Memorial and Yuriah Yurong ‘27 seized the opportunity to recite the list of U.S. Presidents, a goal that all Grade 5 students are currently trying to complete. Not only did he accomplish his goal, but he did so in an historic location! When the group toured the memorial itself, the students collectively recited the Gettysburg Address at the base of Lincoln’s statue – a moment to remember.
During the trip we also viewed several public artistic monuments, including the Statue of Ben Franklin at The Federal Triangle, The Awakening sculpture, and the bronze Albert Einstein Memorial statue, to name a few. And no American history trip would be complete without a visit to the International Spy Museum. The students saw more than 750 artifacts with photos and interactive displays tracing the complete history of espionage, from the Greek and Roman Empires, Middle Ages, the Revolutionary War, and all subsequent American conflicts. This museum offered hands-on learning and visual aids to hold any child’s attention. The students took away ideas on how to incorporate hands-on learning into the museum experiences they would later create.
The Grade 5 learning trip to Washington, D.C. proved that students need opportunities to explore their curiosities, time to experiment, and a space to make sense of what they learn in the classroom. Real-world projects, such as creating a museum experience, engage students in solving problems or in creating products as would be required in the real world. PBL allows students to be active learners in something of interest to them. Throughout this unique learning process, IPA teachers act as guides and let students take the lead in asking and answering their own questions, collaborating, and critiquing their work. The five essential components of project-based learning (real-world connection, core to learning, structured collaboration, student-driven, and multifaceted assessment) are achieved throughout the Grade 5 American Revolution PBL.
Guest post by Lisa Lariscy, Elementary Curriculum Coordinator