Features Magazine Volume 69, Issue 3

Teaching Through Song: Hamilton Field Trip

On Wednesday, October 30th, Ms. Schwab’s US History class and Ms. Hull’s English 1 class, both Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English (SDAIE) classes, took a field trip to watch a showing of the play Hamilton in San Francisco. Ms. Schwab had the idea to use music to better teach history after her daughter gifted her tickets for her birthday around the beginning of the school year. She organized the trip, and her English class joined the fun due to the great teaching opportunity. The joint trip allowed for the two teachers to “collaborate in cross-curricular lessons…built around the music,” as Schwab said.

     Prior to the field trip, the classes analyzed about seven songs from each act. In doing so, the students learned a fundamental part of US History, as well as literary devices and listening and reading comprehension. Almost every song conveys an important event or aspect of history, such as “Cabinet Battle #1” and its illustration of the different policies Hamilton and Jefferson proposed. Ms. Schwab’s students also researched the historical figures whose stories are conveyed in Hamilton in order to gain a better understanding of who they were. A student  who went on the trip said that they “wouldn’t have even known Hamilton existed because, in our textbooks, he wasn’t a very major character…so it was a good experience to get to see the other characters’ play in American history.”

     Hull and Schwab’s classes took the BART train and then had a picnic at Civic Plaza where they met up with a group from Clayton Valley High School. “Because our class is friendly and we know each other, it was really fun, especially BART,” said Junior Yelizaveta Kagan. Just across the street, people were holding a protest at City Hall to spread awareness for mental health issues, so a few students, along with Ms. Hull, joined in. 

     The students found the play incredible, especially because the majority of them had not seen it before. A constant theme in Hamilton is change — it’s set around a revolution, after all — so the actors, everything is in motion, only stopping for solemnity. Kagan said, “The stage was not just static…there were a lot of scenes where the stage was moving [while] people were dancing and singing. It was crazy.” The anonymous student explained how those in Ms. Schwab’s SDAIE class “are usually ESL students [who] have trouble understanding textbook information, so by seeing [a] visual presentation and…with the enhancement of music, it help[ed] them to learn better and understand the message that goes through it.” As Ms. Schwab said, “Music is a powerful educational tool and hopefully the songs and the surprisingly accurate historical lessons they impart will live with these students for a long time.” Perhaps more curricula should incorporate theatre and music in order to provide a more well-rounded and interactive approach to teaching, seeing as these students cultivated such a rich understanding of the material as well as enjoying themselves.