Why do schools plan a Washington, D.C. trip for 8th graders? Visiting Washington, D.C. aligns with the 8th grade history standards in most states. Here’s a list of the 8th grade history topics that are taught in Massachusetts:
- 8.T1 The philosophical foundations of the United States political system
- 8.T2 The development of the United States government
- 8.T3 The institutions of United States government
- 8.T4 Rights and responsibilities of citizens
- 8.T5 The Constitution, Amendments, and Supreme Court decisions
- 8.T6 The structure of Massachusetts state and local government
- 8.T7 Freedom of the Press and News/Media Literacy
*Beneath each of these topics, there are a number of more specific standards to be addressed. For a comprehensive look at these standards, go to https://www.ixl.com/standards/massachusetts/social-studies/grade-8.
A cursory look at these topics makes it clear why D.C. is the destination of choice for student travel in the 8th grade. All of the topics above can be further explored during a well structured D.C. trip. When proposing a D.C. trip to their school committee, many educators cite a few of the selected topics above to justify the trip. Educators often create charts that clearly show how a specific activity in D.C. supports a standard. For example, a visit to the National Archives allows students to see the Constitution and Bill of Rights in person. Access to these incredible primary source documents certainly complements and furthers a student’s connection to topic 8.T5.
- Place-Based Education (PBE ) has picked up momentum in schools. PBE is any learning experience that immerses students in a place outside of the classroom. The PBE experience must be supported in the classroom prior to the experience and afterwards. With the proper support, PBE has seen great success, and a growing body of research in education illuminates the importance of PBE for students. PBE has been accredited with promoting social emotional skills, increasing student engagement through authenticity, and enhancing students’ community connections. PBE also supports the rise of project-based learning. “PBE deepens personalized and project-based learning, providing a way to connect these efforts to students’ local community and environment for engaging learning that leads to more engaged citizens.”
The Washington, D.C. trip is just one way that schools can successfully provide their students with a meaningful PBE experience.
- The D.C. trip fosters an increased level of independence. Many middle schools bring their students away for a PBE experience in the 6th or 7th grade to a location that is closer to home, typically a setting that revolves around team building and nature. Traveling to a different state as eighth graders helps students increase their independence and build their self confidence. One can argue that the real “learning” on this trip is far less about addressing each of the standards and is much more about a growing sense of self.
- The D.C. trip is a ceremonious way to end a journey as a middle schooler. This reason is unofficial but honest. The D.C. trip is often viewed as a capstone to the middle school experience. Ideally, students are not only making meaningful connections to the curriculum and building a stronger sense of self, but are also creating positive lifelong memories from their 8th grade year.