When you think STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), do you think of a Walt Disney World Vacation?
As the school year ends in the United States, many families head to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida as their vacation destination. Vacations can be a great way to unwind, recharge, reconnect, but also engage the brain in learning something new. Walt Disney World has always been a source of my inspiration for my imagination which furthered my interest in learning about coding and technology.
From the attractions with amazing detail to the background music, Walt Disney World goes above and beyond being a simple amusement park. It is an experience.
If you are a teacher, ask yourself, is your classroom an experience?
If you are a parent, did your child have an amazing experience in their classroom?
Jump ….. 5 Must See STEM Related Attractions in Walt Disney World
Was my child inspired in the classroom this past school year?
You won’t know if you don’t ask your young person. They may not have an answer for you but simply ask. “What was the coolest thing you learned about this year?”. Let them think on it or give you some kind of answer.
TEACHER-PARENT TIP: Getting great grades doesn’t necessarily mean they were inspired or something sparked their curiosity.
It means they did good on quizzes/tests or what educators call assessments. They retained something assigned and answered questions about it. Not that it is right or wrong. It is part of education and another part is inspiring and creating curiosity.
The question is “what inspired your child this year?”.
What has them thinking “that was really fun” or “I wonder how that works”.
When the kids in my coding camps come to my coding lab I often hear the stories of how much they might have liked or didn’t like their classes and teachers. I get all the stories.
Learn HOW TO PICK A GOOD CODING CAMP using my tips.
There are definitely some teachers who are amazing and dedicated to teaching. They exist at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels but we also all know there are teachers who are simply ‘tired’.
I see my coding camp kids midway through the summer as they have signed up for a week of coding or I meet them with them online for a tutoring session. They are typically in full summer mode but are still ready to learn.
Three things that have stayed pretty consistent over the many years I have taught coding in the summer:
This is where you can help.
A Disney vacation trip can help you find ways to get them interested in something new in a way that will surprise you.
Why would you use a Walt Disney vacation to keep learning?
Reason 1: Relax mode. It doesn’t feel like learning. As a kid, I can remember always being excited as we headed out on our vacation. Heck, I still get excited as an adult when I head out on vacation. When you leave the classroom you immediately become more relaxed.
Reason 2: They like it. You are probably traveling somewhere they enjoy. For my family we have always enjoyed traveling to Walt Disney World. When you are doing something ‘you’ want to do, you are more open to trying something new.
Reason 3: Disney is more than a park with rides. It is an amazing place that immerses all senses. It naturally has you looking around and saying…”how did they do that?”.
What does Walt Disney World have to do with learning?
Walt Disney’s story is one of creativity, passion, perseverance, and entrepreneurship. He built his company into an experience unlike any other. The experience is built on the talents of engineers, designers, and a multitude of other professionals.
A young person can learn a number of lessons from all these areas as seen all throughout Walt Disney World.
Isn’t Disney just about princesses and cartoons?
No. As Walt Disney says “it was all started with a mouse” but it certainly didn’t end there. Disney is the umbrella that not only covers the stories of princesses and Mickey Mouse. It also includes Star Wars, the Marvel superheroes, and the Pixar animation movies.
There are plenty of interesting things for all ages and interests.
Walt Disney believed in the practice of "edutainment".
What is an example of edutainment?
All the great teachers know that the key to learning is to get students interested but also engage them.
Learning can be fun and interesting at the same time.
To do that takes effort but I firmly believe you can make any topic relevant and interesting to a young person when you put your mind to it.
Walt Disney understood that.
He combined entertainment with education.
Teachers and parents can lean on Disney as a resource or take good looks at the model they use and weave it into topics you teach in your classroom or at home.
I do this with my coding camps and in the classroom ALL THE TIME.
Do you teach coding (aka software programming)? Here are my Tips for Teaching Coding.
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5 Must See STEM Related Attractions in Walt Disney World
The following are just 5 attractions in Walt Disney World that combine edutainment and STEM but I think the list can grow much larger.
In this list below I identified 5 attractions (and there are more) that capture any or all of the acronym STEM.
Although STEM has become a big buzzword in education and can mean a lot to different people, I like to think of it as getting young and old excited about the new career sectors that are appearing or will be appearing over the next 15 years.
ASK GOOD QUESTIONS using "WHAT": How to visit these attractions
A very helpful guide can be Boston Children’s Museum STEM Sprouts Teaching Guide. In it you find the approach to making a learning feel like an expert by using “what” questions instead of “why”.
“Why” questions can lead a young person to believe there is only one answer. “What” questions focus on what your young person is doing or experiencing.
You can use these questions after you exit the attraction. If you are waiting in line, you can also begin to shape some questions. Asking “what do you think think we will see inside?” or while looking around “what do you think they use that for?”.
Another approach is to ask “How does this work?” or open ended questions that allow a young person to freely express their idea.
I include example “what” questions for each attraction but you can also make your own.
Hall of Presidents
What would you build as an audio animatronic?
What did you notice about the way they moved?
Location: Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom (Liberty Square)
You may be surprised I picked this one.
My family knows I am not only a tech geek who loves teaching technology and coding but I also love history.
On our most recent trip to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, we visited one of the classic attractions, the Hall of Presidents located in Liberty Square. If you never liked studying history, especially on vacation, you would quickly walk past this attraction. It is typically viewed as this boring lecture about United States Presidents. I can hear the groans as I type this. But wait….
In this attraction you are staged in a room that showcases a number of items owned by United States Presidents over the years. Seeing these personal items immediately grabs your attention by making you realize they are people like the rest of us.
It immediately engages you.
When you enter the air conditioned theater and sit on comfortable chairs. The lighting and colors for this particular experience set the mood.
Music begins to play, and the lights go down.
You quickly realize this won’t be a boring history lesson. The screen lights up and a movie begins on a massive 180 degree screen. Even though they are still pictures, they move quickly and have animated effects of snow falling for winter pictures, or puffs of smoke for scenes of war.
It moves quickly and summarizes history we all have heard throughout our school years. It immediately stirs emotions as detailed images and music play on a 180 degree screen. BAM! There it is….it STIRS emotions!
That is the connection. When you connect your learner with an emotion of sadness or happiness you have now made it relatable. Making it relatable gets all those questions stirring in your head.
The show then cuts to a Walt Disney animatronic of Abraham Lincoln who rises out of a chair center stage and gives his Gettysburg Address. You remember it right? Of course, not….booooring.
When the man who wrote it is standing in front of you, looking at you, speaking his words directly to you, it gets your attention.
Audio-animatronics are all over Walt Disney World in many different attractions. They are a combination of robotic engineering and software that now move and sound like real beings or creatures.
Created by Walt Disney Imagineers, these robotic animations in the Hall of Presidents bring a level of realism that jumps out of the history books.
They demonstrate the result of programming robotic hardware to include servos, pneumatic actuators, and circuit boards. Coding of circuits is referred to an embedded programming.
What would you build to live in outer space?
What did you notice when the rocket started to launch?
Location: Walt Disney World’s EPCOT (Future World)
When you enter the building you see all sorts of space exploration items. As you walk along the que heading towards your X-2 space craft, you see along the walls all the great astronauts who achieved milestones in space exploration.
My favorite is one that ties into the 50th anniversary of moon landing. On July 20th, 1969 the Apollo 11 crew touched down on the surface of the moon. This summer of 2019, we observe that 50 year anniversary of when astronauts Michael Collins, Buzz Alrdrin, and Neil Armstrong landed on the moon.
What happens on this ride is truly immersive. During your staging before getting onboard, you watch a video that not only tells you about ride safety but it also is an actor portraying the mission lead who explains astronaut training that you are about to undergo.
The video continues to present you with a countdown as systems are being checked and prepared for your eventual launch.
Depending on which mission you choose, you will either fly around the globe at a high altitude or rocket into space towards Mars. Teams are broken down into 4 person crews (oh…no prior experience necessary):
Sitting in the spacecraft is nothing short than amazing. You climb in and see buttons, knobs, digital display and control sticks. It really looks, sounds, and feels real. Once on board and you are strapped in, each crew member is reminded of their tasks.
During the flight you feel the effects of flight (the more intense does have a much heavier gravitational feel). As the mission continues you are prompted to push control buttons for your specific role. If someone had a camera on me they would see a big smile.
Read the Disney BLOG on what is different between the Orange and Green Missions.
Upon exiting the attraction, you enter the Advanced Training Lab where you can continue exploring the experience via a game where you are an astronaut with a jet pack on the Mars surface, view a Mission Control area, a kiosk for video postcards, and a toddler space themed play area.
The buzz among everyone in my family is always, “I want to be an astronaut”. I smile and start thinking about looking for that online application for applying to the astronaut program….again.
What other designs did you see work?
What are ways cars will be different in the future?
Location: Walt Disney World’s EPCOT (Future World)
Test Track is currently sponsored by Chevrolet and it has seen a relatively recent refurbishment that makes this a perfect STEM oriented experience. My son, pictured here when he was younger, loves everything about this attraction.
Test Track is a an excellent engineering experience where you can design your own prototype vehicle adjusting it’s design as it impacts four key areas:
- capability – how the vehicle handles rough road conditions
- responsiveness – how the vehicle maneuvers
- power – acceleration & speed
- efficiency -how the effective/aerodynamic is the design
Visitors in the que get to select various options for their automobile via a touch screen. The designs can get pretty creative and wild looking. Once you select your options you can assign it to your profile via your Walt Disney World Magic Band.
But it doesn’t stop there.
As you continue along the que you arrive in the loading area where you board a 6 passenger vehicle. Before boarding, you tap your Magic Band which contains your vehicles options and it assigns it to the vehicle you are riding.
Once boarded and seat belts checked, you go through a series of tests that measure your options. This is where you get an exciting ride while understanding that your options may or may not have been the most ideal for the conditions.
Where the ride really gets your heart racing is well….when you race it on the oval loop that reaches 60MPH as you drive outside of the building.
When you complete the course you get to see how your design did as compared to other designs.
A great way to get feedback on something you created!
What made the ride move?
What did you notice about how times have changed?
Location: Walt Disney World’s EPCOT Entrance
As you enter Walt Disney World’s EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) you can easily make the case the EPCOT is just one big STEM oriented land.
Many recognize the geodesic dome as the symbol of EPCOT and the design itself is a great STEM topic to talk about with students. Opened in 1982 this unique design known as a geodesic polyhedron, it has many facts but one that always intrigued me is the fact that when it rains water does not run off it but is collected by one inch gaps between the triangles on the face and into a gutter system. The water ends up in the World Showcase Lagoon.
What is inside is one of the attractions I love the most.
Winding throughout the inside is a narrated attraction where you sit in a omnimover system that acts as a time machine.
You travel all throughout history of how information is shared from the stone ages to modern times. It is a great encapsulation that makes you think of where we have been as a people and where we are going in terms of computing and information.
There is a scene depicted as the fall of Rome and the burning of the Library of Alexandra. You smell the wood burning while the narration speaks of how so much information was thought to be lost only to be “backed” by Islamic and Jewish scholars who had a copy.
You continue to roll through history with various other key moments but the one that always fascinates me is the one of a lone figure building one of the first home computers in a garage located in California.
There is some discussion as to who this is. Some say it is Steve Wozniak. Disney informs us that it is a homage to the great tech companies that started out in garages in California.
As you begin to descend a touch screen comes to life presenting you with a series of questions as to how you would like to live your life in the future. Once complete, a video is generated that incorporates a photo of you they take as you begin the ride.
When you exit the ride, you enter a space known as Project Tomorrow: Inventing the Wonders of the Future.
There are a series of interactive attractions where kids and adults can explore:
- a 3-D human body
- powering a city
- a driving simulation
- a memory reaction game
Pandora Conservation Initiative Utility Suit
What can it help someone explore?
What gives it power to move?
Location: Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom (Pandora)
Although Pandora a fictional planet based on the James Cameron movie Avatar, the practices and techniques are based on earth world science.
When I first saw the Pandora Utility suit, I was blown away by its level of detail. More importantly, I found myself saying “what if” as I think you will too.
It is a suit designed to protect you from the hazards found on Pandora while studying and performing research on the planet’s ecology. This is a great way to introduce learning about biology and our impact on nature.
It also weaves in the engineering feel as when you see this mechanical suit in motion, you can get a sense of how helpful it can be.
The suit made it’s debut on April 22, 2018on the anniversary opening of the Animal Kingdom.
Check out these “Behind the Scenes” of the utility suit from Disney.
But there is so much more!!
These are my Top 5 STEM attraction in Walt Disney World but the list can go on.
I hope whatever Walt Disney World park you visit or any other location you visit on your vacation you find ways to spark imagination and ignite curiosity.
After all…learning can be fun and it is more fun when you do it while in Disney!
Have a great vacation!!
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