Sure, a trip to Walt Disney World may sound like all fun and games. But Ashley Hall’s annual eighth-grade trip to Orlando, Florida, is so much more.

Now in its fifth year, this class trip gives students in eighth grade a chance to explore astronomy and the history of space travel, learn about the physics of amusement parks, and make real-life connections to their current math and science courses.

“Everything we do on the trip has a direct connection to the eighth grade science curriculum,” says Upper School math teacher and seasoned trip leader Crystal Wilkins. “We start with a visit to the Kennedy Space Center to learn about space exploration. Then we head to Disney World to investigate the application of physics to roller coasters through Disney’s educational workshops.”

As members of the Disney Imagination Campus series, students get to enter the park before it opens and go behind the scenes of big-ticket rides to learn more about the science that makes them work. “Each year we get a different experience,” says Wilkins who has chaperoned the trip four times. “The programming is always evolving so we get to focus on different rides. It never feels stale which is one reason I like going on this trip.”

Students start each scientific ride exploration with a hands-on demo focused on a specific concept. “This could be the animatronics of the ride, the special effects of the ride, or the actual movement of the roller coaster,” says Wilkins. The group then gets to experience this concept, whether it be Newton’s laws of motion or the electromagnetic field, firsthand by going on the ride. After, they reconvene to share what they observed.

“It’s truly just an extension of what they do at school,” says Wilkins. “But my favorite part of this trip is that it’s a chance for them to really show what they know in an exciting new context. When they’re raising their hands, answering questions, they make me so proud.”

While the trip’s unique hands-on lessons in STEM are truly unforgettable, they are not the only lessons eighth graders leave Disney World with each year. “When we’re in the park, they have a lot of freedom which comes with a lot of responsibility,” says Wilkins. “They must manage their time and look out for one another—without their phones. Afterward, there’s always this moment of pride for them: ‘Oh my gosh, we navigated Disney with our friends without our phones! We were responsible. We can handle anything.’ It’s almost become a rite of passage.”