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.