First the STEM.
It is my humble opinion, that any classroom can be an EPCOT: Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.
When Walt Disney first began planning Project X--the super-secret code name for Walt Disney World--he had the intention of creating industrial research facilities where people were solving wicked real-world problems. That, and he built it all on acres of swampland, talk about feats of engineering. Walt Disney worked with companies like General Electric and Ford to help imagineer some of the attractions for the East Coast park. Collaborating with companies allowed for a sort of symbiotic relationship to develop.
As much as this is all well-and-good, the idea of EPCOT still inspires me--almost to the point of naming my room B21 the: Experimental Prototype Classroom of Tomorrow. This school year, I am taking on some new endeavors and, as per usual, have found some inspiration from Uncle Walt. Taking a risk is always Experimental, each year is its own Prototype, and I'm sure you can figure out the rest. Students solving wicked real-world problems is a fundamental principle for Tier 3 technology integration, a goal that I have for my students. Perhaps in the mean time, we'll take a virtual field trip to discover the area of the Spaceship Earth Geosphere.
Now the Weenie. Yep. The "Weenie".
So, the first time I heard this term was while I was on the "Walk in Walt's Disneyland Footsteps" tour with my teacher friend Miss Pernaitis. Our tour guide clarified that Walt could lead his dog Lady anywhere he wanted while carrying a weenie (see also, hot dog) and thus Walt used the term when explaining the design elements needed to get guests moving throughout the park. There is an AMAZING article written by Sam Coons on his blog Theory of Theme Parks that overviews everything there is to know about the "weenies" and their design implementation in Disney Parks.
The one thing I found especially relevant was the use of "weenies" for what is referred to as "wayfinding". Sam's article refers to another by H.J. Miller which defines wayfinding as:
"a goal-directed process of determining routes through an unfamiliar environment."
I'm pretty sure that makes teachers the Walt Disneys of our classrooms and/or EPCOTs, if you will. Stay with me here. "Weenies" are meant to be the beacons that guide students in their wayfinding. They serve as a visual goal in the physical "unfamiliar" environment. Here's where it gets interesting. There's room for weenies in your physical space that can be used to draw students in and guide them to spaces designed for areas your classroom needs. Thinking like a theme park designer in this way, you may even create a space that might make Bob Dillon proud.
The more metaphorical "weenie" of course is your lesson objective--in this way, we are the true designers and architects. We determine the routes our students take, navigating unfamiliar material, sometimes independently, sometimes less independently than we would have liked. That's also something that Walt took into account: getting there can be half the fun--and it should be! On the way to meeting the objective, there are so many fun experiences to be had. I'll say it, make your "weenies" worthwhile. The point is, there are mile markers and bench marks all along the way. Trying to get to Indiana Jones? Stop in the Tiki Room. Grab a Dole Whip. Experience the claustrophobia that Walt's purposeful design in Adventureland to feel like a tiny closed-in Bazaar evokes. Reach your destination.
Not convinced? Next time you visit a Disney Park and see the Castle in the central hub, know that it's a "weenie" and the Walt literally paved your way to it, allowing you to navigate an unfamiliar environment on your own. Don't you feel accomplished?!
Adventure is out there!
Miller, H. J. (1992). Human wayfinding, environment-behavior relationships, and artificial intelligence. Journal of planning literature, 7(2), 139-150.
Abraham Lincoln was Walt Disney's childhood hero.
When I think of Abraham Lincoln, two things come to the forefront of my mind; he was the 16th President whose administration spanned the Civil War, and he failed a TON to get there. The man had minimal formal education, was a somewhat self-taught lawyer, had a nervous breakdown, lost numerous Congressional and Senate races, and yet he never let his failure get the best of him. Walt Elias Disney, born in 1901, wasn't so far removed from Abraham Lincoln. By the time Walt was in school, he was only 45 about years post Lincoln's death. To give you a frame or reference, that would be like our students saying their hero is Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Billie Jean King, George Foreman, or former President Richard Nixon--but I digress.
Walt Disney is often hailed as an innovator, a title that I believe he rightly deserves. But after hearing who his hero was, I am not at all surprised that he developed the characteristics that make for successful innovators. Walt had a beaming example of grit and tenacity which he himself embodied as well. He was also surrounded by people who believed in his dream: his wife, Lillian, and brother, Roy.
Disneyland's opening day July 17, 1955, Black Sunday, was a mess. There are quite a few people who can tell the story of ticketing scam that resulted in double the expected admission, asphalt that hadn't set because of the hot summer heat, an unfinished Tomorrowland, and the plumber's strike that left Walt with the having to choose between working drinking fountains of toilets (he chose toilets). For some, this looks like failure. To Walt, these were "opportunities in disguise." Double the ticket sales meant the park was popular, the unfinished land sparked curiosity about what would fill it--and in turn, perhaps created the interest in returning to see what Tomorrowland would become. Weenies aside (more on that in another post), Walt was able to shape his park and perspective to create a magical place that is continually evolving and changing to meet the needs of its guests. He also prided himself on immersing guests in a world where they could feel like kids again, where they could experience stories and adventure, and forget some of their worries for an afternoon. Walt created Disneyland, he just decided, and did it--without fear of failure, because the need for a place for families to spend time together existed. Education needs innovators; our students need innovators.
As much as "Disneyland is your land", so is your classroom. Each and every day you teach, you have the opportunity to immerse your students in the worlds of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy. Nay-sayers and critics aside, you have the opportunity to create magic for your students in whatever way you deem appropriate, available, and attainable. As Walt would say, "It's kind of fun to do the impossible." If the impossible fails? Perhaps in the process off failure you have inspired one of your students.
And, as with anything in innovation:
"We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths." -Walt Disney
I feel like these are questions I ask myself on a daily basis, answer, and then revise constantly.
My dad's second wife once told me that I would be a good teacher after watching me work with my then-step-sister on her homework. In college when I changed my major in my junior year from Athletic Training to English, the first question I often got was "So are you going to be a teacher?". My answer at the time was always a resounding NO. I thought I would go into publishing or become an editor. During my undergrad, the thought of being responsible for molding young minds seemed too daunting. I was much happier with the idea that my most important responsibility at the time was giving guided tours of my favorite workplace to-date.
My teaching journey began when I decided to leave a call-center job in finance. At the time, I was living in Arizona and was ready to do just about anything to get out of being on the phone 10 hours a day. You see, like a lot of teachers I know, I'm a bit of an introvert. Taking calls all day was exhausting. After only 6 months of work in AZ, I was enrolled in the Master's in Special Education/MM Credential Program at Chapman University, my alma mater. While enrolled in the program, I worked for the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD). I got a lot of amazing experience working for CARD. Not only did I see first hand what the home life of some of my future students was like, I also got to shadow some kiddos at school and get a unique outsider-but-insider perspective.
In the time since then, I've worked in a private 1:1 school teaching AP Lit and Comp students, moved on into a very affluent and litigious district teaching 5th and 6th grade SAI 1's and 2's, and finally come to settle in my current role as a high school resource math teacher. I've been a travel teacher, shared a room with an orchestra, and for the first time this year I'm getting my very own full-sized classroom.
Teaching math was something I never saw myself doing, and yet, I have cultivated a deep appreciation for the subject. Jo Boaler's book Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students' Potential Through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching was a game-changer for me. It gave me permission to teach math in a way that is much different from the way I was taught. And you know? That's what our students need.
Subject matter aside, this year I have tried to open myself up to as many new teaching ideas, experiences, and schools of thought. I've listened to so many podcasts, audiobooks, TedTalks in an effort to become better for my students that things are starting to run together. In the upcoming year, I hope to start integrating standards-based grading, UDL, and my Google Certification training.
Most importantly, I want to do a better job of engaging my students. After reading Innovator's Mindset and Teach Like A Pirate, I want my class to be somewhere both my students and I want to be. In the past, I'd resolved to hold myself to some professional ideal that I made up in my mind at one point--those ideals made me a bit stuffy, rigid, and probably quite boring. I'm trying to let go of the idea of what "a great teacher" looks like and allow that "great teacher" to look like me.
As long as I'm putting my student's needs first; I can be good, I can be great, I'm not an imposter.
Here's to another year 2018-2019, bring on the learning!
Now go get your free slurpee!