Whether your middle school class is from the area or you're traveling a great distance to be there, Orlando is certainly a beautiful option full of extravagant and wildly fun educational attractions. Even the theme parks, which are numerous, can be easily made into educational destinations if you so choose. Or else, there are plenty of natural, artistic, cultural, and historical destinations in which your middle schoolers will learn and have fun.
Wells' Built Museum of African American History - A prominent and one of the first African-American physicians in Orlando, Dr. William Monroe Wells built the Wells Hotel in 1921 specifically for the African-American locals who were refused from segregated hotels. Soon after, Dr. Wells built a casino next door where top performers of the day entertained patrons. In 2009, the historic Wells Hotel was transformed into a spectacular history museum showcasing the community's African-American heritage, Civil Rights Movement history, plus art and artifacts collected from Africa. Both the Hotel and Casino are fully renovated and open for touring.
Sea Life Orlando Aquarium - There are other options for marine life viewing in Orlando, though none quite so open to educational tours. Sea Life is a wonderful aquarium holding over 5,000 sea creatures including zebra sharks and barracudas, green sea turtles, pufferfish, and stingrays among others! Exhibits range in interactivity from the glass viewing tanks showcasing jellyfish and sharks to the interactive Rock Pool where you can touch live sea animals like starfish and green sea anemone. Learn about the aquarium's mission to rescue and protect the world's sea creatures, participate in an educational program or demonstration, and much more!
Orlando Museum of Art - Founded in 1924, the Orlando Museum of Art is a regional institution and a staple of the community. It also happens to be an excellently curated, wonderfully designed art museum with plenty of incredible works in store for your group. Though they are closed Mondays, you have six days of touring opportunities every week so stop by and see the collections featuring African and American art, ancient American art, contemporary art and graphics, and more! The stylish exhibitions rotate and are ultimately temporary though you may explore series of works from local or nationally-known artists or galleries on hot topics in art. The museum offers interdisciplinary school field trips for all ages as a proven way to instill a love of art and learning in the students.
Harry P. Leu Gardens - A 50-acre tropical and semi-tropical botanical garden in the heart of Florida, Harry P. Leu Gardens surrounds history, innovation, and conservation with a beautiful face. Begin your visit at the Leu House Museum, a historic 19th century mansion whose latest owner started the beautiful gardens you see today. At the house, you'll learn all about the past owners, tour the historic home and period decor, and learn more about the Leus whose love of gardening gave us something truly special. Then you can go out into the lovely gardens and see what's in bloom. At any given time, the staff (and the website) can tell you what exactly is blooming in the gardens. Right now, you can find Confederate jasmine, roses, southern magnolia, shell ginger, and plenty of others to keep your senses entertained and educated.
Orlando Science Center - We love science museums and Orlando's premiere scientific destination makes learning fun! Your group has four full floors of discovery, covering the exhibit halls from Our Planet and NatureWorks to DinoDigs, All Aboard, and Engineer It! The Orlando Science Center is perfect for early middle school grades though even eighth graders will find something to enjoy here! Stop by the Crosby Observatory and see the night sky for yourself, try out one of the science stations for a personal experiment or demonstration, and check out the on-site 3D theater to see when the next showing begins.
Walt Disney World - It may not seem, at first blush, like taking middle schoolers on a field trip to a theme park would be a good idea, but simply consider the opportunities. Disney World has four major theme parks, two water parks, and Downtown Disney's shopping, dining, and entertainment district at its disposal. Your group, for education's sake, can stick to Epcot and Animal Kingdom, though Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios are educational in other ways as well.
Epcot is the well-known home to the International Showcase through which your students can tour the world. The pavilions are surprisingly authentic, even down to the employees who hail from their pavilion's country. You can teach them about a myriad of topics from customs to history, touring the art galleries and informational films along the way. Animal Kingdom, likewise, is the perfect spot to enjoy Disney while learning about conservation practices, the importance of sustainable living, animal biology and behavior, and so much more!