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It is with great excitement (and a little bit of nervousness) that I'm happy to announce the official launch of The Imagineering Education Podcast on the Bramble Jam Podcast Network! Each week, we’ll seek answers to one big question, “What would it look like to design schools like Disney designs theme parks?” Inspired by the work of Disney’s Imagineers, and drawing upon my nearly thirty years of work as a teacher, principal, professor, and educational consultant, our conversations with experienced and renowned practitioners from the fields of education, entertainment, business and design will provide listeners with ideas and resources for creating engaging experiences and spaces to motivate and inspire learners of all ages.
Throughout my career as an educator, I've been blessed with many incredible experiences that have allowed me to work with and become connected to an amazing group of talented leaders from a wide variety of fields who have now graciously agreed to share their knowledge, expertise, and insight with us as part of this podcast series. It is my hope that you'll be encouraged, uplifted, challenged and inspired by what they have say.
To help launch this endeavor, I called upon two long-time friends and frequent collaborators, Chris Beyerle and Ken Morrill, to be my first guests on the show. Chris is a Gateway to Technology Engineering Teacher at Dr. Phinnize J. Fisher Middle School and a 2020 Finalist for South Carolina's STEM Educator of the Year Award. Ken is a veteran Visual Arts and Design teacher who serves with Chris at Fisher Middle. We had so much to talk about that our chat became two episodes instead of one. In "Episode One: Welcome to the Show," our topic of our conversation centers on the importance of cultivating creativity and imagination in students. In "Episode Two: Bringing Learning to Life," Ken and Chris share numerous examples from their classrooms of ways in which problem-based and community-focused learning experiences can inspire students to grow their creative capacity.
At one point, our discussion turned to the impact of stories in classrooms, in our lives, and in society as a whole. As a tease for Episode Two, here's a bit of what each had to say:
Why are stories important?
Ken: We’ve sort of lost a common culture; stories used to be what bound us. They created broad cultures because they told the story of “us.” We’ve kind of moved away from that in the era of social media, being able to find these little niches where we fit in and kind of bury into that. I also think YouTube has so much content that you can find your way out of what used to be family time or church time or wherever we heard our cultural stories. But I think bringing stories into the classroom at least bonds that class to commonality. It creates culture within that classroom around which we now share these ideas and these hopes and these experiences so we can move forward. We have students coming from so many different directions now; different cultures locally and even how they spend their time with hobbies and what they watch online. Any time we can tell a story that contextualizes learning for a kid but also brings (an) emotional connection, it can help create a common culture in the classroom.
Chris: Good storytelling has a component of hope, which we all need, especially right now in the world we live in with so much uncertainty. Stories help us get through hardships. Storytelling shows us that it is doable, there is hope. There is a possibility. In stories, there’s usually that relatable character that we can connect with on an emotional level that shows me, “I can do this. I can see their struggle is similar to mine and so I can get through this.”
"Just for Fun"
While we were able to cover a wide range of topics over these two episodes, unfortunately, we did not have time to get to our "Just for Fun" questions. Fortunately, both agreed to write out their answers to those so that they could be included in this post.
So, just for fun, here we go:
If you could change one thing about education right now, what would it be and why?
Chris: I have so many thoughts about this but I'll chose one for this question that I think is simple to do and actionable today. After listening to the podcast, you might recall us mention how business partners, community experts, or mentors are vital to developing or inspiring our students. If I could change one thing, I would want to change the mindset that students can only learn from their one classroom teacher. What I mean by that is that I feel as though if we want to prepare our students for a variety of careers that are yet unknown to the student, why not bring in those career experts face to face with the students? We do a good job modeling what a teacher does, why not bring in an engineer to model what engineers do? Or an artist for what artists do? Or a scientist for what scientists do? And so on.
What if this was a requirement each 9 weeks? What if they (the community experts) were the ones that presented the next real challenge in our classrooms? How might students engage differently with the work? Whether students are learning from the teacher, co-teacher, admin, teacher aid, parent, or community expert, students should be given regular opportunities to learn from others beyond their classroom teacher. A teacher might be the "coach" guiding the lesson but there can be a lot learned from engaging with a career professional in the same space.
If we really want to make a shift in our next generation of learners, why not help them see past the walls of the classroom and help them understand they are a part of a much bigger community of experts that they can talk to. We now have the world at our fingertips with the Internet and I understand our schools might have more restrictions on visitors now due to the virus. But how might we connect with these folks virtually? Why not reach out to invite a local author to show students about how to write a poem or short story? Why not reach out to your local city council folks to have them hear from students on their ideas for improvements they might want to see in your city? You have heard the phrase, "It takes a village to raise a child." I think its time we start inviting more folks from the "village" to come show our students a variety of ways to make a living.
From my years of experience, I have learned it takes one small moment or idea planted in their mind that can change the course of their lives. My challenge to all educators reading this is find an expert you can connect with on your next project, you might inspire a few students that might pursue that career field. Imagine the impact of one face-to-face conversation from a real expert. Imagine students speaking with the visual effects expert from one of their new favorite movies. Imagine the barriers you might have removed from your students' minds. Imagine the hope you might bring them. Imagine that.
Ken: I would (and will) get kids out in nature far more often. The rigid walls of our classrooms separate us too much from the world we are tiny piece of. In nature, we could play, feel grass and leaves and dirt, turn off the screens, and reconnect with one another and ourselves. Our current world of smooth surfaces pales in comparison to the many textures of our Earth. Imagine learning about the weather by tasting raindrops and cloud spotting.
If you could be a character in any movie, who would it be and why?
Chris: I would have to say Nick from the movie Honey I Shrunk the Kids (1989). Might sound strange right? But what I appreciate about his character is you can see from the film his ability to think critically, problem-solve, and innovate creative solutions. Though his dad made some incredible inventions, he seemed to inherit the engineering skills or the engineering-like mind. He seemed to love to invent and tinker with things. Also, I think it's neat how at first he is the one teased by his neighbors, but ends up being the one with the creative solutions to help them out of a lot of problem situations. He also had some pretty rad adventures flying on a bee and falling in a bowl of Cheerios.
Ken: If I could be one character from any movie, I would be Dr. Emmett Brown from Back to the Future 3. If I could have gone back to 1885, I would have traveled to Rochester, NY to see Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony side-by-side fighting for the rights of the people. I watched the BTTF trilogy so often as a kid just hoping to travel back to 1955 or 1885 to see my heroes marching.
I'd also like to get stuck in the Old West to live a much simpler life. While Thoreau was dead twenty years before my expected travel to the Old West, it would have been pretty cool to really understand how he could have "gone to the woods to live deliberately". While traveling from Rochester to Concord, I might as well go a little further and meet a young John Dewey. What an inspiring trip that would be!
To hear more from Chris and Ken and learn about their work, listen to Episodes One and Two of The Imagineering Education Podcast on your favorite podcast platform and be sure to subscribe and leave us a review. You'll find us on iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and more.
Thanks so much for joining us on this new adventure and we hope you'll listen each week as we work together to Imagineer Education!