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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

How Disney Cruises transformed my views of education



As I put my brain on autopilot and sailed off on a Disney Cruise, the last thing I expected was to learn something about education, but my classroom will be different because of it.

Why on earth would my kids join a "lab" at sea?


When I pre-enrolled my 10 and 11 year old in the "Oceaneer Lab", the "market-teer" in me said skeptically,

"Don't they know anything about kids, Lab sounds too much like school and they don't want to do school on a cruise ship."

However, it was aptly named "Lab." When I arrived the kids found an incredible computer island, a wall of microscopes, an animation center, video games (many educational), three televisions with comfy beanbag chairs, and stations for building and making things. Fun music played in the background and the areas were lit with varied and appropriate lighting for the activities taking place there.

I checked them in, put on my pager, and expected to receive a call from them in minutes. The call never came. They loved the learning activities. Even my five year old was incredibly entertained (and educated) during his time at the club.

I felt a little guilty sitting in the top deck coffee shop drinking my latte and reading a book. I checked on them every hour for the first day until my comfort level was up.

I was stunned and amazed as I realized that these Disney folks were EDUCATING my kids. My kids loved it and didn't want to leave. (They did science experiments, cooking activities, learned to animate, had cultural literacy experiences, and more.)

It was good that I had some time to cogitate because this really blew my mind. Here are some things I took away from their program and the whole experience!

1) A good Education can be entertaining.

Prudish educators will glare over their half glasses at my post on this one!

I don't think entertainment is an expectation. However, if I think about it, the classes I've loved most in my life were fun. The professor or teacher was animated and in love with their subject. Sometimes their classes would border on the theatrical. I enjoyed what I was doing and saw value in the subject.

I was invigorated with new ideas before during and after class. I was engaged!

What's wrong with "making flubber" while music videos of Robin William's Absent Minded Professor playing in the background? (I had to leave the the family "Pirates of the Carribean" dance deck party at 10 pm and check my daughter back into the lab so she could do this experiment. It taught measurements as well as solid and liquid states. She wanted to go! Wow!)

I'm not talking about dumbing down lessons. If you've been reading me for a while, you know that I believe in an EXCELLENT education.

I am talking about involving multiple senses. We must learn to create engaging environments for learning. We need fun and creating experiences that will impress upon young minds the concepts we are teaching. We are competing with XBoxes and a customized entertainment society here. Music, video, bright colors, and engagement are essential to reaching and retaining this generation. It's not as hard or expensive as we think, its just out of the box and uncomfortable to the sanitized, sterile educator who wants the school to feel more like a hospital than an exciting place for kids. (Oh my goodness, what if they actually got excited about school and thought it was a cool place to come!)

Entertainment and education are not mutually exclusive. I don't like the term "edutainment" because it was tagged on many marginally good video games with little educational value. How about entertaining education!

2) Cleanliness habits are easy to promote.


I was so impressed. They had big tubs of sanitizing wipes with a crew member asking each person to use them. As I entered all dining areas, we all were given these wipes to wipe our hands and then toss in appropriate receptacles. For the kids it was even more often. They used them before eating, after eating, and after walking through the ship. They did this pretty much during every transition in addition to hand washing at appropriate times.

How I will apply this in my classroom:

I teach keyboarding and computers. I am going to purchase big tubs of sanitizing wipes and have them wipe their hands as they come in the room and return from the bathroom. I have noticed in the past that some people using the same computer would be out sick on subsequent days but never really put it together until this weekend. This is important and I will do this religiously this year.
Lunchrooms should change
I'm going to promote using a similar system in the lunchroom. Think about it. We are having them wash their hands before going to the lunchroom, but how many surfaces do they touch on the way there? Community door knobs, halls, poles, noses, mouths, etc.

And when children leave, they have just spent thirty minutes touching their mouths. They are going to touch so many surfaces as they leave including those that kids with clean hands entering the room will touch. They should also clean up after lunch.

No, we cannot sanitize the world, however, I think that Disney (and all cruise ships) have been forced to innovate in some very practical ways because of the microsmic proximal relationships that exist on a cruise ship. We have similar environments in our schools. I don't think washing hands is enough! (Especially with concerns about bird flu.)

3) Safety - Where are the kids?

My biggest concern about having my children in an onboard program was safety. I was very impressed. The children checked in with their "key to the world" cards that were swiped and then filed. The computer then marked that they were there. To check them out, the staff swiped my card AND I had to give them my secret word. The children's cards were then swiped. The system could give them a list at any time of what kids were supposed to be there. If they were checked out, they knew by whom and at what time!

They used tablet PC's and magnetic swipe cards. I also was issued a pager and the children or staff could page me at any time with a text message or a request to come pick them up.

As the children (or should I say students?) went through the ship, a person responsible for tracking them went with them in addition to the "teacher." They were positioned at the sole entrance/exit and when the group moved, they walked at the end of the line with their tablet pc. As soon as they arrived, they set up at the door and were effectively the "guardian" as they checked the cards of anyone leaving or entering the area.

I was impressed! We are going to look at some sort of arrangement like this for our church activities. I know some schools use similar set ups. It just makes a lot of sense.

Field Trips and the swipe card system
It would also make sense for field trips. No more, "who's on the bus" and counting heads. With each kid swiping their card, you'd have a list of whose with you and who is not. After sporting events, you'd know whose parents had checked them out and who was supposed to be riding.

Attendance - Tardies are handled!
How about using it to take attendance.? Swipe into class and swipe out? Hmmm. (No more, I wasn't late to homeroom, the swipe would handle it.)

I'd love to hear from someone who is using this now!

4) Changing scenery is a powerful tool.

I expected when I checked them into the lab that the kids would be in the lab the whole time. However, all of the kids moved throughout the ship. When the teens were not using their area, the 8-12 year olds would be having a "class" in there. The kids had a "change of scenery" during the day at least every hour and a half and sometimes every forty five minutes.

In school, what if Class A has a really "cool" reading corner? Why can't Class B come visit Class A's "reading corner" while Class A is at PE or lunch.
Why are kids so much better at the beginning of the new school year and semester? They aren't bored. They aren't used to their surroundings. Things are still "cool." When routine sets in, minds wander.

We should break up the routine. What are the coolest places in the school? Who has done a good job with an area? That area should get used by a variety of students.

I know this turns over the turnip cart, but it makes a lot of sense! Why do kids love the computer lab? Because they don't get to go there every day!

Change the scenery sometimes and reengage the learner!

How I change the scenery:
When I have something important to talk about, or I want the kids to think, I take them outside. After teaching my ninth graders about goal setting, I give them a goal setting sheet. We go outside and sit on the grass or they lay down and look at the sky. I talk a moment and then let them find a place for 15-20 minutes.

I ask them to set goals for their high school career. Many of them tell me that they changed the course of their lives as they pondered alone and looked at the clouds.


5) New tools of engagement: put kids on stage.


I was fascinated as my mind opened up to new possibilities. I watched my 5 year old on a mini stage with a microphone as he was being shown on tv. The other kids were sitting at circular loungue type tables as they snacked and watched him on stage and on the TV's mounted around the room. Each child 4-6 years old had a "talent" to show.

Kids love an audience, a stage, and a mike. What if we had similar set up at school? Kids would mount a small (6" high) stage with mike in hand to deliver their book reports, memorized poetry, etc. TV's or mikes would capture the performance in either audio or video format. It could be republished on the school intranet to share the learning. Podcast and video equipment would be centralized and classes would rotate through the area like a lab. They could sit at small tables and take notes or eat a snack.

Disney called this "Studio Sea," I'd like to see something like a "Studio See." This type of arrangement is what needs to happen to harness the changing dynamics of society as students become teachers of themselves.

6) Harness entertainment to inspire

We saw three shows on the ship, two of which moved almost every member of our group to inspired tears. Using Disney characters that everyone knows, their "Golden Mickey" night used such superstars as Whoopie Goldberg, and Tim Allen to converse with a cast member about people such as Walt Disney who had a dream, experienced failure, and pursued success.

I felt renewed and excited as they ended the show with the words "Find your dream and make it fly!" My dream is to become an author and I've been working diligently on a book this summer. With all of the work on this book, I needed this encouragement.

My children were agape and quiet for the one hour show. We were all entertained but we all got "the message" and left changed people.

How I use this in my classroom:
I always select one movie per class each year. It depends on the class and my objectives but I've shown in their entirity: Chariots of Fire, October Sky, FISH, and the John Foppe Story (he has no arms and types with his feet -- he makes you ask, "what's your excuse?)

Other movies I use to teach:

  • War Games (make sure you have a cuss buster) to teach the origins of computers and the Internet,
  • Sky Captain and the world of tomorrow (to teach animation, CG, and green screen technology.) Documentaries from the Matrix (Bullettime innovation) the new Star Wars trilogy (CG and model building), and the original star Wars (how they built models on ping pong tables and drove by with a golf cart) to teach the process of innovation and that many times answers have to be created.
  • Clips from the three Lord of the Rings trilogy to teach about how one must overcome difficulties and that life is hard sometimes.
  • I've even used a hilarious Saturday Night Life clip with Mike Myers to help my kids relax before the SAT.
  • I have a great keyboarding video that I show at the beginning of typing that helps kids understand WHY.

Video clips are GREAT conversation and exploration starters. The documentaries on movies are an amazing wealth of information. Even if the movie is an R, you can find many G rated documentaries in the Extras section of the DVD. I always watch the documentaries! (History buffs should watch the documentaries with National Treasure.)

Literature teachers have often used this "trick" to engage their students. No wonder so many kids are captivated by great literature. Our students are more visual than ever, using video clips doesn't demean the message, it enhances it.

Caveat
Again no video clip or computer activity or technology could ever replace a good teacher! These are all tools in the belt of a good teacher. We must not steer teachers away from tools because they are "fun." Good administrators (like mine) allow innovation and effective use of entertaining tools in education.

I do not respect teachers who play all day and don't teach anything. That is not learning, that is babysitting. I also do not respect teachers who drone on while students drool on the desk!

Good teachers engage their students. Good teachers find ways to excite and inspire their students. Good teachers do their best. They know that perfection is never attained. They learn to find peace the self satisfaction of doing their best at a job worth doing.

Teaching is a noble calling. You are never paid enough. You are rarely respected enough in a world that elevates power and prestige. But you are carving your legacy in the annals of history through the positive (or negative) changes you encourage in the lives of your students.

How do you engage your students? How do you entertain while you deliver a first rate education?

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A note: I'm giving you an excuse to "research" this amazing education. You've just been given an excuse to go on a great cruise. I've traveled many places and been on quite a few cruises, but this one was far superior to the others I've been on. It was very kid friendly and had no casino. With an adults only, teens only, and kids only areas, as well as family events, there really was something for everybody to do. And the food....mmmmmm. Delish! I could go on, but I won't.
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