Ideas for planning educational travel

Home Blog

National Constitution Center brings document to life

National Constitution Center main exhibit
Exhibit, National Constitution Center, Philadelphia, Pa. Credit: National Constitution Center

Editor’s Note: During this period of social distancing, Student Group Tour magazine will continue to provide ideas for planning educational travel. Many attractions and destinations are closed at this time; please contact them directly for updated information. 

The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is located on one of the most historic square miles in the United States.

“Philadelphia is where history was made,” said Kerry Sautner, chief learning officer at the National Constitution Center. “Many groups come to see Independence Hall, where the Constitution was drafted and signed, and then make their way to the Constitution Center, where they will learn how the document affects us today.”

One of the museum’s most iconic attractions is Signers’ Hall, which brings to life the final day of the Constitutional Convention with 42 life-size bronze statues of the Founding Fathers. There are numerous famous faces in the room, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. “This adds dimension to the constitutional story and captures students’ curiosity about the people involved on that momentous day,” Sautner said.

Groups are able to customize a visit with activities, workshops, programs and guided tours. “The Center is a ‘theme park’ for constitutional knowledge in a way that is interactive, immersive, and promotes students having informed, authentic conversations,” Sautner said.

National Constitution Center exhibit
National Constitution Center exhibit, Philadelphia, Pa.
Credit: National Constitution Center

“Freedom Rising” sets the stage for the full museum experience with a 360-degree live theatrical production exploring the role of the Constitution in the American quest for freedom.

“The Story of We the People,” the National Constitution Center’s main exhibit, guides visitors through milestones in America’s history and reveals how the Constitution is as important today as it was in 1787. Here, students can participate in hands-on programs like Balance of Powers in which students explore scale models of the Capitol, White House and Supreme Court as they examine the checks and balances of government.

“Presidential Trivia is a favorite for students and teachers alike, presenting material intended to engage the audience in conversation and understanding, not just factoids,” Sautner said.

The Giant Constitution Board Game is another popular feature. Students compete to make it to the finish line first as they are quizzed on the Constitution and American history.

“The center offers hours of interactives for students,” Sautner said. “We know that students go back to their schools with challenging questions and want to dive deeper. Our online resources extend that learning and empower teachers to continue to make learning about the Constitution relevant by bringing it to the modern day.” 

For more about the National Constitution Center call 215-409-6800 or go to

Article by Michael McLaughlin

Love to Learn in Colorado Springs, Colorado


Editor’s Note: During this period of social distancing, Student Group Tour magazine will continue to provide ideas for planning educational travel. Many attractions and destinations are closed at this time; please contact them directly for updated information.

Offering more than 60 attractions, Colorado Springs is surrounded by natural beauty; the region is full of hiking trails and features one of the most incredible geological wonders on Earth — Garden of the Gods.

The city also boasts numerous educational experiences perfect for student groups. From Olympic and Paralympic history to STEM programs, Colorado Springs is always exciting. Here are just a few of these attractions that make Colorado Springs the unique destination that it is.

Visit Colorado Springs


Space Foundation Discovery Center

The Space Foundation Discovery Center is a STEM-focused attraction offering hands-on learning through special exhibits, activities and presentations. Educators have the option to choose from five tiered voyages that focus on topics like science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Visit the Lockheed Martin Space Education Center where students can use the same state-of-the-art modeling and visualization software used by space industry professionals.


U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum
Credit: Gallagher & Associates

Newly opened this year, the 60,000-square-foot U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum opens its immersive facility — expected to draw 350,000 visitors a year. Experience the excitement of walking into the stadium during the Opening Ceremony in the multimedia, 360-degree “Parade of Nations” exhibit.  The Athlete Training gallery allows students to try six different sports, including the 30-meter dash, alpine skiing and archery.


National Museum of World War II Aviation

The history and science behind World War II aircrafts are displayed at the National Museum of World War II Aviation. The museum brings to life the stories of the men and women who changed the course of world history through a selection of restored aircrafts and more than 3,000 artifacts and historical documents. Student programs blend history and STEM together, allowing students to understand the principles of flight and discuss how this affected World War II.  

The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum practices inquiry-based learning

The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum
The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, Conn. Credit: Claire Ritz

Editor’s Note: During this period of social distancing, Student Group Tour magazine will continue to provide ideas for planning educational travel. Many attractions and destinations are closed at this time; please contact them directly for updated information.

The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut, advances creative thinking by connecting today’s artists with individuals and communities in unexpected and stimulating ways.

Founded by Larry Aldrich in 1964, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum is dedicated to fostering the work of pioneering artists whose interpretations of the world serve as a platform to encourage creative thinking. The Aldrich is one of the few independent, non-collecting contemporary art museums in the United States.

The Aldrich’s educational programs are designed to connect students to contemporary art through innovative learning approaches in hands-on workshops, tours and presentations.

The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum
The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, Conn.
Credit: Caitlin Monachino

“School groups engage with our tours primarily through one of three tour models — ArtWrite, STEAM, and Contemporary What? Tours,” said Namulen Bayarsaihan, the museum’s director of education. “Inquiry-based learning privileges the experience of student learning and self-discovery over traditional lecture or art historical tours that privilege retention of dates, -isms and dry facts.

We share the fun, confounding, exciting and unusual facts that we have unique access to as Aldrich educators.” Bayarsaihan said. “Looking at contemporary art this way empowers students to access new perspectives and ways of engaging with the world at large.”

The Aldrich serves as a laboratory for artists to engage with groundbreaking ideas and techniques — which students are privileged to experience with new exhibits regularly being featured at The Aldrich.

“The biggest draw for students and educators is that if they come back year after year, they will never experience the same thing twice. We are constantly changing our exhibitions throughout the year and there is always something new to experience,” Bayarsaihan said.

In addition to guided tours, The Aldrich’s Studio offers students a hands-on creative outlet, adding fun and experimentation into the visit.

For more information, call 203-438-4519 or visit

Article by Michael McLaughlin

Dollywood aims to make learning fun

Credit: The Dollywood Company

Editor’s Note: During this period of social distancing, Student Group Tour magazine will continue to provide ideas for planning educational travel. Many attractions and destinations are closed at this time; please contact them directly for updated information.

Dollywood, the 150-acre theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, commemorates its 35th anniversary season in 2020.

Packed with rides and live entertainment shows, Dollywood also is brimming with educational resources, said Ellen Liston, senior publicist.

“Students can experience live crafting demonstrations by artisans to explore what life was like in Appalachia in the early 1900s,” Liston said.

Eagle Mountain Sanctuary is a 30,000-square-foot aviary at Dollywood where students can see birds of prey.

“Dollywood proudly exhibits the nation’s largest exhibit of non-releasable bald eagles,” Liston said. “Our Birds of Prey show allows students to dive deeper into the ecology of these majestic animals.”

Dollywood also offers performance opportunities for bands and choirs.

Educators can make physics more thrilling by using the park’s STEM lesson plans that explore the velocity of a roller coaster.

Credit: The Dollywood Company

Dollywood’s celebrated new area, Wildwood Grove, opened in 2019. Earning the 2019 Golden Ticket Award for Best Kids’ Area of any theme park in the world, Wildwood Grove is the perfect place for students of all ages to explore, play and imagine together.

All students on school-sponsored field trips visiting on a weekday receive complimentary lunch vouchers.  

“Dollywood opens the door for students to experience educational material in a fun and stimulating environment,” Liston said. “In a world where our attention is continually vied for by electronics, Dollywood offers an organic way to make learning enjoyable and captivating. We hope to spark the curiosity of young minds and encourage them to learn and love to learn.”

For more information call 865-428-9890 or go to

Sight & Sound Theatres brings Queen Esther to life

Sight & Sound Queen Esther
Queen Esther, Sight & Sound Theatres, Lancaster, Pa. Credit: Sight & Sound Theatres

Editor’s Note: During this period of social distancing, Student Group Tour magazine will continue to provide ideas for planning educational travel. Many attractions and destinations are closed at this time; please contact them directly for updated information. 

Set in the opulent yet perilous Persian empire, Sight & Sound Theatres’ original production Queen Esther is a captivating tale of beauty and bravery. This riveting story is scheduled to come to life in 2020 with magnificent sets, special effects and live animals on stage.

Katie Miller, corporate communications manager, shared that state-of-the-art technology and the fine attention to detail brings these original stagings of Biblical stories to life in an engaging way for students. “Sight & Sound is truly an immersive experience — audiences find themselves in the heart of the story as it unfolds all around them,” she said.

Sight & Sound Theatres’ experience in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, begins with a 2,000-seat auditorium and a 300-foot stage that surrounds the audience on three sides. In Queen Esther, the palace set where most of the story takes place is the single largest moving set piece ever built by the company. In its closed position, it is about 70 feet wide, 41 feet deep and 37 feet tall.

Sight & Sound Theatres Lancaster, Pa
Sight & Sound Theatres, Lancaster, Pa.
Credit: Sight & Sound Theatres

“At Sight & Sound we are passionate about connecting people to scriptures, reminding them that the Bible is just as relevant as it ever has been,” Miller said. “We can’t take credit for the stories we tell — they’ve been changing lives for thousands of years — we just get the opportunity to tell them in a spectacular and entertaining way.”

Auditions for the 45-member cast drew applicants from across the country and around the globe. These actors are joined on-stage by a menagerie of animals, including two Afghan hounds who will serve as Queen Esther’s pets, camels, llamas, donkeys and miniature horses.

The sheer scale of the sets and cast combined with beautiful costumes — Queen Esther features 346 costume designs for 959 costumes and 3,210 costume pieces — and original music all contribute to transporting theater-goers to the world of the story.

Each year, Sight & Sound Theatres draws audiences of 1.5 million. “If we can help a student to see themselves reflected in the characters on our stage, and in doing so bring the Bible to life in a real way for them, then we’ve done what we aspire to do every day,” Miller said.

Sight & Sound also has a theater in Branson, Missouri.

For more information on Sight & Sound Theatres call 800-377-1277 or go to

Article by Michael McLaughlin

5 Stops: San Francisco

San Francisco skyline
Credit: San Francisco Travel Association

Editor’s Note: During this period of social distancing, Student Group Tour magazine will continue to provide ideas for planning educational travel. Many attractions and destinations are closed at this time; please contact them directly for updated information.

Home to a little bit of everything, San Francisco overflows with eye-opening and educational experiences for student groups. With its rich diversity and detailed history, the City by the Bay welcomes students from all around the country, and world, with open arms.

“A visit to San Francisco can open a student’s eyes to a different world,” said Hubertus Funke, executive vice president & chief tourism officer of the San Francisco Travel Association. “Here, in a city that is infinitely diverse, they can encounter sights, sounds, smells, tastes and sensations that may be entirely foreign to life at home. Each new experience brings a fresh perspective and shines a light on new possibilities. Perhaps poet Dylan Thomas said it best: ‘You wouldn’t think such a place as San Francisco could exist. The wonderful sunlight there, the hills, the great bridges, the Pacific at your shoes. Beautiful Chinatown. Every race in the world. The sardine fleets sailing out. The little cable cars whizzing down the city hills …. And all the people are open and friendly.’”

San Francisco Travel Association


Credit: © Exploratorium,

The Exploratorium is more than a museum; it’s an ongoing exploration of science, art and human perception. Step inside a tornado, turn upside down in a giant curved mirror, walk on a fog bridge and explore more than 650 hands-on exhibits. Students will find all of this plus unique programs, discussions and events, a cafe and restaurant, two stores, and more. The Exploratorium’s professional development programs provide educators with the skills, tools and support they need to apply inquiry-based learning and teaching in their classes.

California Academy of Sciences

Credit: San Francisco Travel Association

Home to an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum and world-class research and education programs, the California Academy of Sciences is one of San Francisco’s must-see destinations. From the splashing penguins in African Hall to the wildflowers on the roof, the building is bursting with life. A four-story living rainforest and awe-inspiring coral reef ecosystem will delight visitors of all ages, while immersive planetarium shows will transport audiences through space and time for a new perspective on the planet.

Asian Art Museum

Credit: San Francisco Travel Association

The Asian Art Museum is home to one of the most complete and renowned collections of Asian art in the world, with a collection spanning cultures from Turkey to India and China to the Philippines through 6,000 years. Deepen students’ study of Asian art and culture with a docent-led or self-guided visit. Serving one of the most diverse communities in the country, the museum leads a diverse, global audience in discovering the distinctive materials, aesthetics and intellectual achievements of Asian art and cultures.

San Francisco Symphony

Credit: San Francisco Travel Association

The San Francisco Symphony sets the highest possible standard for excellence in musical performance at home and around the world. The symphony provides school groups an unforgettable and engaging learning experience at Davies Symphony Hall through Concerts for Kids performances and daytime Open Rehearsals. High school teachers and students enjoy a rewarding, educational experience when they witness live music making by the San Francisco Symphony. Open rehearsals provide a behind-the-scenes encounter — a great way to hear orchestral music come alive.

San Francisco Zoo & Gardens

Credit: San Francisco Travel Association

Nestled against the Pacific Ocean, the San Francisco Zoo & Gardens is an urban oasis. It is home to over 2,000 exotic, endangered and rescued animals representing more than 250 species and lovely peaceful gardens full of native and foreign plants. The Leanne Roberts African Region and the Valentine Family Savanna offer a multi-species landscape with giraffes, zebras, kudu, ostriches, storks and more. At Hearst Grizzly Gulch, visitors can get nose-to-nose with rescued grizzly sisters Kachina and Kiona.

World of espionage comes alive at SPYSCAPE

SPYSCAPE, New York, New York Credit: SPYSCAPE

Editor’s Note: During this period of social distancing, Student Group Tour magazine will continue to provide ideas for planning educational travel. Many attractions and destinations are closed at this time; please contact them directly for updated information.

Code names, secret agents, classified information, CIA, MI-6 — New York City’s newest museum, SPYSCAPE, immerses visitors in the world of espionage.

“SPYSCAPE is a new kind of destination,” said Ian Oldaker, general manager. “Visitors are not just informed, they are entertained. It is an interactive experience where visitors get to try their hand at real spy challenges.”

To learn about this world and if they could survive in it, students go “undercover.” Galleries highlight history like the Cuban Missile Crisis or Alan Turing and the Enigma Machine. Exhibits include displays of devices used to conceal, communicate or acquire information. Students then swipe their identification band and complete challenges related to each gallery.

SPYSCAPE, New York, New York

Whether writing in code or deciphering them, spies use a secret language. The Encryption Gallery tells the story of codes and allows visitors to test their code-making and code-breaking skills in the Encryption Challenge.

Students also learn about the most damaging spy in FBI history who sold secrets to foreign powers for two decades. The Deception Challenge places visitors in an interrogation booth to put their lying and lie detection skills to the test.

What does personal surveillance look and feel like? Is there a balance between security, service, and freedom from governments and the corporate world? The Surveillance Challenge immerses students in a 360-degree dome of CCT feeds, where they test their powers of observation.

Perhaps the most exciting challenge is the laser tunnel in the Special Ops Challenge vault.

“Visitors test their strategy and agility as they go through a laser tunnel hitting as many lit buttons as they can while evading lasers.” Oldaker said.

Before leaving SPYSCAPE, students get the chance to discover their inner spy.

“Based on visitors results in the different challenges, they are assigned one of 10 spy roles from Analyst to Spymaster.” Oldaker said. “Students leave with new knowledge about themselves: their skills, characteristics and personality traits and how those could be used in the world of espionage.”

For more information, call 212-549-1941 or visit

Article by Michael McLaughlin

Love to learn in Louisville, Kentucky

Louisville Skyline
Credit: Louisville Tourism

Louisville boasts numerous one-of-a-kind attractions, an internationally-known horse racing culture and one of the best food scenes in the nation. Here is just a taste of some of the top attractions in the city that offer student-friendly experiences and learning opportunities.


Frazier History Museum exterior
Credit: Louisville Tourism

An affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, the Frazier History Museum documents and reinterprets stories from history using artifacts, exhibitions and live daily interpretations by a talented staff of teaching artists. The permanent collection features a wide array of historically significant arms and artifacts of American, American Indian, Asian and European origin. Arms of notable provenance include Teddy Roosevelt’s “Big Stick,” Custer’s pistols and Geronimo’s bow and arrows.


Muhammad Ali Center interior
Credit: Louisville Tourism

Reopening to the public on July 1, the Muhammad Ali Center is a multicultural center with an award-winning museum dedicated to the life and legacy of professional boxer, activist and philanthropist, Muhammad Ali. The center’s museum captures the inspiration derived from the story of Muhammad Ali’s incredible life and the Six Core Principles — Confidence, Conviction, Dedication, Giving, Respect and Spirituality — that fueled his journey. Interactive student visits allow groups to explore Ali’s legacy through a variety of hands-on activities.


Belle of Louisville
Credit: Louisville Tourism

Steamboat travel and transportation revolutionized the Ohio River, Louisville and the nation. To board the Belle of Louisville is to do more than to see Louisville and the Ohio River from a unique perspective — it’s also to step into a piece of living American history. Students can go back in time with a relaxing, two-hour river cruise and escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. A variety of cruise options are offered, including lunch, brunch, dinner, harbor history and dance cruises.

For more information on other destinations and attractions in Louisville call 888-568-4784 or go to

National Aquarium inspires conservation

National Aquarium
Program, National Aquarium, Baltimore, Md. Credit: National Aquarium

Editor’s Note: During this period of social distancing, Student Group Tour magazine will continue to provide ideas for planning educational travel. Many attractions and destinations are closed at this time; please contact them directly for updated information. 

National Aquarium, set in the heart of the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, Maryland, draws more than 1.3 million visitors each year, many of which are student groups.

“The National Aquarium is consistently ranked one of the top three aquariums in the United States,” said Nora Campbell, the aquarium’s director of sales. “Student visitors will have the opportunity to journey from an Australian river gorge to the canopy of a rain forest to the depths of an Indo-Pacific reef and beyond at the National Aquarium. They’ll get up close and personal with 20,000 unique animals in a variety of stunning, award-winning habitats and discover the tie that binds these varied ecosystems and animals together — water.”

National Aquarium is made up of two main buildings and five levels of exhibits. In the “Tropical Rainforest” exhibit, two-toed sloths, golden lion tamarin monkeys and many species of frogs surround students as birds fly overhead. “Dolphin Discovery,” the aquarium’s largest exhibit, offers a glimpse into dolphins’ daily lives; marine mammal experts chat with guests about caring for and teaching them. The 225,000-gallon, ring-shaped exhibit “Shark Alley” brings students nose to nose with several shark species.

National Aquarium
‘Dolphin Discovery,’ National Aquarium, Baltimore, Md.
Credit: National Aquarium

In addition to self-guided exploration, student groups can watch 4D movies, take behind-the-scenes tours and participate in educational classroom programs.

“The National Aquarium offers a variety of age-appropriate classroom programs for middle and high school students, such as our hands-on squid dissection, Aquarium Careers program and Phylum lab,” Campbell said. “We offer private group dining with an animal encounter, known as our Dine and Discover program, which offers a variety of personalized menus and options.”

Other dining options include two on-site cafes and a la carte options. Groups also can select from pre-arranged options, such as box lunches, private dining in the Harbor View Room and lunch vouchers.

Student groups can expect to spend between two to three hours at the National Aquarium.

National Aquarium
National Aquarium, Baltimore, Md.
Credit: National Aquarium

“Through our unparalleled exhibits and conservation-based programming, we hope to create a community of hopeful conservationists in all our guests, driven by our focus on changing the way humanity cares for our ocean planet,” Campbell said. “The hope is that students leave the aquarium with a feeling they can make a positive change in their environment and share the lessons they learned with others.”

For more information on National Aquarium call 410-576-3833 or go to

Exploration Place activities aim to inspire

Exploration Place
Credit: Exploration Place

Editor’s Note: During this period of social distancing, Student Group Tour magazine will continue to provide ideas for planning educational travel. Many attractions and destinations are closed at this time; please contact them directly for updated information.

Reopening to the general public on July 4 and to members only July 1-3, Exploration Place in Wichita, Kansas, allows students to learn by doing.

A large portion of the science center’s exhibit galleries are hands-on and focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

The 20-year-old center is located in a Moshe Safdie-designed building on the bank of the Arkansas River.

“We are embedded with the community — so you’ll experience many exhibits that focus on our state,” said Christina Bluml, director of marketing and communications. “For example, the award-winning aviation gallery ‘Design Build Fly’ centers on engineering and manufacturing of airplanes. This industry is core to our economy and Wichita is known as the Air Capital of the World. In this gallery, students will design airplane seats, test landing gear, practice their riveting and painting skills, use GPS to determine a destination inside a luxury business jet, test pilot a craft and much more.”

Another favorite Kansas-based exhibit is the aquifer in the “Kansas Explore” gallery. Students investigate the structure of this water source and why aquifers need to be replenished. They also define their own water footprint — making them think how they can better conserve water. 

Exploration Place also offers traveling exhibits. This area changes every two to three months, and it features special exhibits that no other organization in the area hosts.

Student groups are encouraged to visit the Digital Dome Theater — the largest theater of its kind in Kansas — with a 360-degree, 60-foot screen.

Exploration Place
Credit: Exploration Place

Bluml said Exploration Place provides a break from the classroom and a break from devices — whether phone, tablet, computer or video game.

“Our science center is hands-on — you’re learning by doing — it’s fun, engaging and memorable,” Bluml said.

Exploration Place’s ultimate goal is to inspire the next generation of STEM workers. “Those going into STEM careers have been on the decline, and we, along with all science centers and museums, are working hard to increase the interest of children and adults to pursue these careers,” Bluml said.  

For more information call 316-660-0600 or go to