Education Reviews · PhD Life · Science of Disney · Uncategorized

Mythbusting Mr. Incredible’s “New Math”

“Why would they change math?! Math is math! MATH is MATH!!” Bob Parr (aka Mr. Incredible) protested in Incredibles 2.

Most people who enjoyed or are heading out to buy the Incredibles 2 (released November 6th, 2018) will likely laugh at this joke. The joke works because so many parents today are struggling with the changes brought about by Common Core math. But is Common Core deserving of all of the jokes at its expense?

Although I sympathize with parents’ difficulties with helping their students with these “new” math problems, as a PhD student studying math education and math teacher education, I also want to share my knowledge about why Common Core math is a change for the better and also not much of a change at all.

Math Education Reform in the 1960s

The Incredibles and Incredibles 2 are set in the early 1960s, a time in which a different math reform called “New Math” was underway. New Math was a movement spurred by the launch of Sputnik and the United States feeling like they were falling behind the Soviet Union in a global competition for success and innovation (which had few tangible measures). The curriculum for new math wanted to enhance students’ conceptual understanding of math – knowing why standard algorithms work – rather than just procedural understanding – knowing how to do a standard algorithm.

Much like what we refer to as “inquiry learning” today, New Math wanted students to try and solve problems before being given the so-called rules, or standard algorithm (this practice is very common in math classes in countries like Japan whose students consistently earn higher scores than American students on international exams). Advocates of New Math argued for less repetitive drilling and instead for math that looked more like what mathematicians did – finding patterns and engaging with ideas like set theory and number theory. Even in this era, parents and teachers bemoaned the new content and strategies for teaching the content that involved more hands-on learning with objects rather than pen and paper arithmetic that they were used to.

Although New Math was effective in shifting the amount of time spent on arithmetic towards incorporating more advanced topics like geometry and calculus, teachers did not receive enough support in the mathematical content to achieve the goals of the movement in their classrooms besides using logic games.

After the end of the New Math movement, the goals of school math continued to swing back and forth between conceptual and procedural understanding, coming to a head in the so-called “math wars” of the 1990s, partly instigated by the Nation at Risk report which again highlighted how the United States was falling behind the rest of the world. Over the course of the decades between New Math and today, research in math education and the psychology of how we learn has made leaps and bounds and has been trying to impact what math looks like in schools.

Common Core in 2000s and 2010s

In the 2000s, the United States again felt like it was falling behind in several global economic indicators relative to countries like China, Japan, and South Korea as well as education leaders like Finland and Canada. The Common Core State Standards were seen as one important step towards preparing our students for the jobs of the future by again foregrounding conceptual understanding. Unfortunately, there are several myths about what the Common Core is and is not. I want to help dispel some of these so that parents and students alike can see how Common Core has not changed math in a negative way.

Myth 1: Common Core is a national curriculum.

This is false! First, the Common Core is not a curriculum.

The Common Core is a set of descriptions of what students are expected to be able to do in each year of school. They do not specify exactly what the content should be to help students master the set of skills nor do they specify exactly how teachers should teach it. To put in terms that the super-speedy Dash Parr would understand, the Common Core is determining where the finish line of the race is – not telling racers how they have to run, what equipment they have to wear, or whether or not they can use their superpowers.

Secondly, the Common Core is not federally mandated.

The Common Core was developed independently from the United States federal government by a bipartisan committee sponsored by a collection of governors and non-profit organizations. Before the Common Core, states were extremely varied in the race they were expecting their students to run. The developers were just trying to make sure the finish line was in the same spot for students in all 50 states so that a student who excelled at the 100-meter-dash wouldn’t be expected to run a mile if they moved from one state to another.  Furthermore, before the common core, it was difficult to compare proficiency levels across states. Continuing the analogy, a student who ran a 20-minute mile might be classified as “super” on one state’s assessment, but “not super” in another state because that state defined “super” as running a mile in less than 10 minutes.

After the standards were developed, states were able to choose whether they wanted to adopt these standards – and the standardized tests that accompany them – or not. Currently, only 43 states are using Common Core standards; several states declined to adopt them or have declined to use the standards-aligned tests. Instead, they’re developing their own standards and tests (that are often built on and look very similar to Common Core).

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Image from CoreStandards.org

The national government under Obama did have an effect on how many states decided to adopt Common Core though because they sponsored a competition called Race to the Top for states and school districts to receive bonus federal funding. To enter the competition and receive money, a district had to demonstrate how it was going to align with the Common Core standards, whether with curriculum or assessments. They had to provide some evidence that they were going to expect students to run the race with the finish line set by the Common Core.

Myth 2: Common Core is part of the Democrat agenda.

This is false also!

I will repeat that the The Common Core was developed by a bipartisan committee and underwent revision from people on both sides of the political divide. Several conservative organizations like the Fordham Institute (a research organization) and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush support the Common Core because they acknowledge the positive outcomes that are associated with raising our expectations of schools. And several liberal figures and organizations like the National Education Association oppose the Common Core because they do not support standardized tests in general or are worried about the impact the change will have on teachers.

Although I am not sure where Mr. Incredible stands on the role of the federal government or liberal vs conservative ideals, I think more of this complaints about math reform would fall under the umbrella of the next myth.

Myth 3: Common Core makes math harder and more complicated.

Many of parents’ complaints that can be found online or in everyday conversation are that the procedures encouraged by the Common Core math standards are extremely inefficient or ridiculous. Frustrated parents think it is more important to get the correct answer to a problem efficiently than to show their work using these complicated procedures.

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The main mistake is that Jack subtracted 306 (3 groups of 100 and 6 groups of 1) rather than 316 (another group of 10).

To these parents I want to say: although some of the procedures may involve strange steps or seem silly, having students solve problems in these ways or in multiple ways helps them achieve conceptual understanding, which is better for them in the long-run (Richland, Zur & Holyoak, 2007; Rittle-Johnson, Star, Durken & Loehr, 2018). Common Core makes math different, not necessarily harder, and is supported by research in math education about how learning the reasons why the efficient algorithm works is better for retention and problem-solving. With the new standards, students are expected to be able to explain and critique (two skills which are more highly valued in the workplace) different methods for solving problems rather than just memorizing one way.

But what about the fact that test scores have gone down since Common Core was implemented?

Yes, scores on yearly assessments have dropped in the first few years of implementing Common Core and this can be interpreted as evidence that Common Core makes math harder. But the tests that have been developed to align with the Common Core standards are considered to be harder partly because they are unfamiliar and ask questions in different ways than the ways students are used to being tested and the way teachers are used to teaching.

This last piece about how teachers and their teaching has been affected by the Common Core is one of the main reasons that I am critical of the Common Core. In many places, teachers have not been provided with enough support for successful implementation. Teachers have to master the very skills that they are expected to teach their students because their math education did not teach them in these ways. Teachers also have to learn new ways of teaching because along with new skills come new misconceptions and mistakes that learners are likely to make. Teachers have spent a lot of time figuring out how to best instruct and help students with mistakes related to the standard algorithm. Now, teachers need help with identifying and remedying the kinds of mistakes that students make when asked to solve problems that align with the Common Core.

But what about parents?

Unfortunately, this does not help parents much because they, like Mr. Incredible, still want to help their kids but aren’t receiving the kind of training that teachers have access to.

Websites, guides and books have been popping up to offer parents assistance with Common Core. But parents don’t need to become experts in Common Core methods; sometimes it can just be better to ask kids about their thinking and discuss it with them. Making claims and defending them is one of the most important skills that the Common Core tests assess, regardless of age level or math content area. Furthermore, try not to pass on math anxiety and instead foster a positive math environment by playing math games or showing your child how you use math confidently in your everyday life. One of the most effective ways to help your kids with math is to promote a growth mindset – the idea that intelligence or success, especially in something like math, is not pre-determined but rather can be developed through effort and a positive attitude – by praising your child for not giving up and trying their best. In my own tutoring of high school students, I find that just expressing enthusiasm for math and how cool I think it is when I realize a new aspect of how math is interconnected can go a long way.

The Future of Common Core

Social scientists in academia and in policy are doing a lot of research on how these new standards are changing the lives of students. Some places are showing signs of success, like closing the achievement gap between more and less disadvantaged students. Research is also being done on improving teachers’ ability to teach Common Core, which doesn’t mean having them just take more math classes, but rather understand the connections among math content areas like students are expected to do. More work still needs to be done on how to effectively help parents become more capable and confident with Common Core. One of the first steps towards helping students is acknowledging the historical precedent for Common Core math and embracing the new ways of solving not as infuriating challenges to adults’ superpowers of patience but rather as incredible opportunities to learn together.

Additional reading

Vox has a great explanation of the Common Core

NPR has a Common Core FAQ as well

Disney Trips · PhD Life · Science of Disney · Uncategorized

How spectacular is Epcot’s SpectacuLAB? From a teaching and learning perspective

Only the magic of Disney could turn the demonstration of a few “high-tech” measurement tools into an entertaining, interactive story that might actually be good at teaching kids (and adults!) some simple science concepts.

If you haven’t had a chance to see it before, the SpectacuLAB is a 30-minute play about an intern’s first day in a science lab learning about the lab’s cool technology through “experiments” that involve members of the audience! As of 2018, the SpectacuLAB is sponsored by Murata and most of the actors are real scientists from Science from Scientists, a non-profit that aims to get more 4th-8th grade kids interested in science. The show aims to teach force, acceleration, barometric pressure, and sound waves using Murata’s accelerometer, pressure sensors, and ultrasonic sensors.

Overall, the show is endearing and fun to watch at least once (I even saw the show as part of a second date!), but it wouldn’t hurt to incorporate more research-based evidence about learning science into the experience.

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The Good

1. The show’s scientists are actually good role models for increasing diversity in STEM.

Research has shown that having a personal relationship with a scientist as well as seeing positive images of scientists increases students’ commitment to STEM and the SpectacuLAB can facilitate both of these. Both times I’ve seen the show, at least one performer has been a person of color or a woman (or both!) and kids have opportunities to start to build relationships with these scientists by participating in the show and asking them questions during Q&A. Although the majority of the audience is likely to be White and there are still many other institutional barriers hindering increased diversity in STEM, this show is a step in the right direction.

2. The show uses effective analogies, both to real-life experiences and across contexts.

To help explain pressure, the show makes analogies between ultrasonic sound waves making music to a car’s back-up monitoring, and to ears popping on airplanes.Incorporating students’ real-life experiences into science instruction is one of the most highly encouraged practices in the Next Generation Science Standards because it helps students see science all around them. There are also analogies between several applications of force – smashing one cup, smashing 1000 cups, applying weight to balloons, and laying on a bed of nails. This kind of careful control of what is being compared highlights what aspects are important for the scientific principle to hold – the distribution of force across a greater area – while downplaying more extraneous aspects – like the materials.

3. The show incorporates Jungle Cruise-esque humor and moments of suspense.

Although the empirical evidence on the effectiveness of humor and suspense on learning is weaker than for other techniques, there is some support that both are effective for creating memorable experiences. Humor has been shown to help memory (for punny jokes, in particular, see Summerfelt, Lippman, & Hyman Jr. 2010), and increases student motivation. On the flip side, the fear associated with moments of suspense may also be effective for learning. Usually suspense and fear are stressful and stress hinders learning, but the SpectacuLAB resolves the highly suspenseful moment of having someone lay on a bed of nails. Just like when music or horror movies resolve tension, the resolution of a suspenseful moment may help learning because it is a strong emotional experience. Both humor and suspense affect the dopamine reward system in the brain; linking the memory for science content with happiness from dopamine may help the learner retain the information longer.

The Less Good

1. The science doesn’t always work perfectly – especially the barometric pressure sensors.

The barometric pressure sensor game is very entertaining to watch but the sensors don’t always change color predictably, which can make the game frustrating for the players and confusing for trying to understand the science behind it. I think this demonstration could benefit from a screen showing a representation of air pressure in the room to explain what the different colors represent more than just a graph of where pressure is high or low. Even when the other experiments don’t go according to plan (like balloons popping unexpectedly or the ultrasonic drums being slow to respond), the scientists roll with the punches pretty well and this provides more opportunity for interrogation of the ideas after the show.

2. The show doesn’t allow for enough active learning opportunities.

Although holding a sensor is more active than sitting and watching someone else hold a sensor, this still isn’t the most effective way to learn. Active learning is when students (of any age!) are “engaged in” the learning process. Some examples that have been shown to be effective are self-explanation or even think-pair-share. Self-explanation – the process by which a student explains their own ideas to themselves through writing or speaking – has been shown to be effective for learning and retention, especially when dealing with multiple representations like in science. Think-pair-share is a common practice in classrooms at all grade levels in which students first think about their response, then tell a partner, and then share out to the whole class. These strategies are more effective for learning because they involve more construction of knowledge and questioning of relationships among ideas. Due to time constraints, these strategies are hard to incorporate in such a short show, but hopefully the show still inspires kids and adults alike to continue conversations about the content after they leave the theater to engage in more active learning.

3. The show could more strongly encourage more scientific practices.

Although the audience is exposed to a fair amount of scientific practices in the show – such as replication of results by repeating an experiment, manipulating independent variables (like stronger versus weaker applications of force), and interpreting data in graph forms – more opportunities could be built in for practices like making and revising hypotheses, and creating representations. When explaining force and pressure, there is some encouragement of making hypotheses but this could be incorporated more frequently and more broadly by getting the whole audience to share their ideas with even just a show of hands. Going along with the lack of active learning strategies, audience members don’t get the chance to demonstrate their understanding in scientist-like ways. Providing activity pages that encourage them to draw what pressure looks like, or make models about their predictions for additional scenarios could help them feel more like scientists. Outside of the theater, there are small interactive exhibits that allow visitors to practice more with the ideas from the show in authentic, scientist-like ways but these aren’t even mentioned during the show.

What are your thoughts on the SpectacuLAB? Which learning or physics concept would you want to know more about?

Additional Reading

Tsui, L. (2007) Literature review on strategies to increase the diversity of STEM fields

Allen-Ramdial, S. A. & Campbell, A. G. (2014) Reimagining the pipeline: Advancing STEM diversity, persistence, and success

Humor and learning popular press article

Humor and learning research article

Suspense and learning

Prince, M. (2004) Active learning

Berthold, K., Eysink, T. H. S., & Renkl, A. (2009) Self-explanation

Gentner, D. & Toupin, C. (1986) Surface similarity hinders analogy

Next Generation Science Standards

Disney Tips · Disney Trips · Uncategorized

Tips for Walt Disney World’s Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party

Here are my best tips and tricks for maximizing your time at Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party!

Schedule

First thing you need to know is that you can enter the park as early as 4:00 PM! So start traveling to the Magic Kingdom between 3:00 PM (if you’re parking and need to take the ferry or monorail) and 3:30 PM (if you’re taking the monorail from the Polynesian, Contemporary, or Grand Floridian or a resort bus).

4:00 PM to 7:00 PM

Option 1: Do any rides that you really want to do that will be closed during the party

OR

Option 2: Get in line for your must-do rare character meet-and-greets. Waits for Jack and Sally can be as long as 3 hours!

Get dinner during this time as well! Having one person in your group do Mobile Order to get quick-service food that you can eat in line for characters is one of the most efficient uses of your time.

7:00 PM to 9:00 PM

Most of the special party ride overlays and characters start meeting at 7:00 PM so figure out your priorities for this block of time. Waits for the lines will be pretty short and none of the ride overlays are can’t-miss if the lines get any longer than 20 minutes. If you care about party-specific merchandise, try and buy it as early as possible during the party because they could go out of stock for the night.

9:00 PM

If there’s a chance of inclement weather, get a spot for the first Boo to You Parade in Frontierland. The later showing might get cancelled if it is raining too hard. If there isn’t going to be bad weather, keep meeting characters or riding rides!

9:45 PM

Get a spot for Hallowishes in the hub area near the castle. The farther away from the park entrance on Main Street you can get, the better. This is an epic fireworks show and you’ll have a good view from mostly anywhere, but the recommended areas will really immerse you in the experience.

11:00 PM

Either get a spot for the Boo to You Parade (it is worth seeing twice from the opposite side of the street from where you first saw it) or do any last minute character meet-and-greets or rides before the end of the party. Trick-or-treating at this time is what I would recommend because the cast members will be trying to get rid of candy and you will only have to carry around a heavy bag for a little while.

12:00 AM

Watch the final showing of the Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular. This is a very fun show and there will be far fewer people at the latest showing. Getting as close to the stage as possible is not necessary unless you want some up-close photos of the Disney villains. Hades, Maleficent, Oogie Boogie, Lady Tremaine, Dr. Facilier, the Evil Queen, Jafar, and Cruella De Vil all make appearances as well.

General Information

Special Attractions

  • Deep Space Mountain
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Mad Tea Party
  • Performers in front of Haunted Mansion
  • Cadaver Dans Barber Shop Quartet in Frontierland (find showtimes on the official map)

Closed Attractions

  • Jungle Cruise
  • Enchanted Tales with Belle
  • Meeting Ariel as a Mermaid in Ariel’s Grotto
  • Mickey’s Philharmagic (Treat Trail)
  • Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor (Treat Trail)
  • Carousel of Progress (Treat Trail)
  • Meeting Tinker Bell (Treat Trail)
  • Tom Sawyer Island (Treat Trail)
  • Enchanted Tiki Room (Treat Trail)

Additional Treat Trail Locations

  • Splash Mountain
  • Country Bear Jamboree
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Walt Disney World Railroad in Fantasyland
  • Columbia Harbor House
  • Pinocchio Village Haus
  • Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café

Characters

Liberty Square

  • Jack and Sally (very long wait)

Main Street

  • Mickey Mouse (in Halloween costume)

Fantasyland

  • Minnie, Daisy, Goofy and Donald (in Halloween costumes)
  • Anastasia and Drizella
  • Queen of Hearts, Alice, Tweedle-Dee, Tweedle-Dum, Mad Hatter
  • Cruella
  • Pooh, Eeyore, Piglet and Tigger (in Halloween costumes)
  • Ariel and Eric
  • Belle and Gaston
  • Seven Dwarfs (very long wait)
  • Rapunzel, Tiana, Cinderella, Elena (like normal operating hours)

Tomorrowland

  • Lotso
  • Stitch in Elvis Costume

Adventureland

  • Tarzan,  Jane and Terk
  • Moana
  • Captain Jack Sparrow
  • Aladdin, Abu, Genie, Jasmine
  • Jafar

Food

There isn’t very much party-exclusive food besides some desserts, so try and get some food before the official 7 pm party start so you can spend most of the party time doing party-specific activities.

Some of the best snacks available for 2018 are:

  • Pumpkin Cheesecake at Main Street Bakery
  • Maleficent Lime Soft Serve Cone at Storybook Treats in Fantasyland
  • Candy Corn Soft Serve at Auntie Gravity’s in Tomorrowland
  • Hades Nachos at Pecos Bill’s in Frontierland
  • Caramel Stuffed Pretzel at the Cider House in Adventureland
  • Zero Waffle Sundae at Sleepy Hollow in Liberty Square
  • Jack Skellington Cake Pop at Sleepy Hollow in Liberty Square
  • Madam Leota Dessert at Liberty Square Market
  • Oogie Boogie Meringue at Gaston’s Tavern in Fantasyland
  • Muenster Smash Burger at Cosmic Ray’s in Tomorrowland

Shows

Boo to You Parade at 9:15 pm and 11:15 pm

If you’re a parade person or not, this parade is worth seeing! Some people will try to snag the best spots for parade viewing up to an hour before show time, but if you don’t mind standing behind a few other people, you can get a spot about 15 minutes before the show starts. Frontierland is usually less packed than Main Street.

Hallowishes at 10:15 pm

The best Disney World nighttime entertainment besides Happily Ever After, watching videos on YouTube does not do justice to the feeling of being surrounded by fireworks.

Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular at 8:30 pm, 10:45 pm, and 12:00 am

This show is hosted by the Sanderson Sisters but has several other Disney villains who come out, sing their songs, and crack jokes.

Other Photo Ops

  • On “Market St” where you enter the party with character busts
  • On Main St and in Town Square for all the pumpkin decor
  • In front of the Haunted Mansion, there are several fun “magic shots” if you have access to Memory Maker
  • As you’re leaving, there are several projections on the ground and smoke effects coming out of the train station that are really spook-tacular!

Would you be interested in some science of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party? If so, comment below!

Science of Disney · Uncategorized

Science of Disney: How Ants Find Food

Foraging for food is an essential premise of a Bug’s Life – the ants have to collect enough food to feed the grasshoppers and get food for themselves. The movie got some parts of this process right – ants do often travel in a line to get from a food source to their nest – but the process is much more impressive than just following the leader.

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From Pixar’s A Bug’s Life

To harvest food, ants use a combination of several different sensory systems – smell, sight, and touch.

Ants have four to five times more odor receptors than most other insects. It is unclear whether all 400 ant genes for different olfactory receptors are actually expressed but this allows ants to distinguish several different scents. For comparison, humans have 1000 genes for different olfactory receptors (proteins to detect chemicals) but only 350 to 400 of them are actually found in cells. Ants use these odor receptors to sense the presence of food up to several meters away depending on the species, but more importantly, they use these odor receptors to detect pheromones.

Pheromones are chemicals secreted by ants (and several other insects and animals) for a variety of purposes. Whereas many mammals secrete pheromones to mark their territory, ants secrete pheromones to mark a trail towards food (as well as to recognize each other, attract mates, and signal alarms such as when an ant dies). Other ants will detect these chemicals with their own antennae and follow the trail towards food and back towards their nest.

Detecting pheromones is important for the emergent process of how ants form lines – it isn’t because they are watching other ants with their eyes or because they are programmed to follow each other. Ants can more easily detect pheromones along trails that have the strongest pheromone scent. Ants who travel on shorter trail between the nest and food can make more trips in an hour than ants traveling along longer trails, which means the shorter trails will have more pheromones deposited due to the path being more heavily traveled.

This is kind of like how humans try to find information online. If a page is particularly useful, it will get more page visits. With more visits to a page, a website’s ranking in Google searches increases which makes it easier for additional people to find the information they need – this shortens the path from search to result because this is the path that other people have traveled.

How do ants get back home?

In addition to leaving pheromone paths, ants use sight and touch to get back home as well. These senses come in handy especially when an ant has traveled a far distance and their pheromone scent has dissipated and is more difficult to detect. When an ant is searching for a new food source, they store images of their path so that they can identify landmarks on their return journey.

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From Pixar’s A Bug’s Life

Ants also know where their home is based on the sun’s position. Researchers were able to help ants that were traveling backwards, pulling a cookie crumb that was too big to carry moving forwards, find their way back home by adjusting where light was coming from. This suggests that ants have an understanding of their general position in their surroundings.

Additionally, ants are believed to be able to count their steps and keep track of changes in direction on their path when searching for food. Researchers have tried several ways of disrupting this ability with little success, which has promising applications for programming robots to navigate dangerous areas.

Furthermore, there is research that suggests that ants may be able to detect magnetic fields and vibrations because placing magnets near nests serves as an identifier for ants: they sometimes search for their nest based on this cue.

Can ants sense when it is going to rain?

The ants in the colony in a Bug’s Life had to collect enough food before the rainy season. This and the frequent observation that ants leave their nests around the time of rainstorms suggests that ants have some way of knowing when it is going to rain, but is this based in any scientific fact?

Currently, there is no definitive evidence that ants can detect changes in the weather, but they have other interesting behaviors. Most ant species actively forage at times of day and seasons specific to their species. Most of these behaviors are due to ants’ abilities to detect temperature and atmospheric moisture changes. Because ants do not have blood but instead free floating fluid called hemolymph, they have to regulate their body temperature based on external factors. Small changes in moisture affect ants’ abilities to bend their joints, so they might remember that this correlates with rainstorms.

According to Dr. Kirsti Abbott, ants may be able to detect changes in air pressure through their breathing mechanism – holes in their exoskeleton called spiracles. Because drops in air pressure frequently precede rainstorms, ants may learn this association as well.

References

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/10/061018094651.htm

https://www.popsci.com/ants-find-way-walk-backwards-navigation

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982212009323

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140526182749.htm

https://news.vanderbilt.edu/2012/09/10/ants-have-an-exceptionally-high-def-sense-of-smell/

Listicles · PhD Life · Princess Life · Uncategorized

Pixar Women, PhD Part 2

EVE – Ecology.

EVE’s sole mission was to collect data about life on Earth. She’ll likely need to work on her data analysis skills but armed with a PhD, she will be invaluable to the re-colonization of the planet. Specializing in urban ecology or sustainability, she will have a lot to contribute to establishing a healthier relationship between humans and their new ecosystems.

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Ellie – Latin American Studies.

Ellie’s one dream in life was to go to Paradise Falls in South America. Based off of Iguazu Falls in Argentina, Ellie’s dream might have come true sooner if she studied Latin American Studies in graduate school. She could have done field research near the falls or at least traveled to conferences hosted in the region – and conference travel is a great way to see new parts of the world using university (or external scholarship) funding! Focusing on ecotourism or the relationship with animals across different Latin American cultures would be perfectly suited for her experience as a zookeeper!

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Joy – Positive Psychology.

Eternally optimistic, Joy would want to figure out how to bring that same happiness to others. The positive psychology branch of psychology focuses on human flourishing rather than floundering, on what makes a good life worth living, with several studies on techniques for promoting feelings such as self-confidence, compassion and gratitude. Joy might even build on work by Fowler & Christakis about how contagious happiness is. I’m sure she’d be looking out for Riley too by investigating how this phenomenon holds in young adult populations. I wonder if this might even explain the popularity of boy bands.

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Sadness – Social Psychology.

On the flip side of Joy, Sadness would likely study depression, dabbling a little bit in its relationship to memory formation. I would be worried about Sadness facing impostor syndrome while in graduate school but with Joy by her side and studying depression herself, I think she’s well-equipped to take on any emotions that come with the hard work required.

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Cruz Ramirez – Mechanical Engineering.

Cruz is apparently quite a whippersnapper with the latest technology but she’s also mastered motivational speaking. She’ll put those smarts to work studying ways to improve engines (and other machines to train her fellow cars). Her personality will really shine through when she leads her own lab because she will likely be a very engaged mentor and well-regarded member of her department.

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Mama Imelda – Musicology.

Mama Imelda always wanted to do music but repressed that part of her when Hector left her; pursuing a PhD in Musicology would allow her to fully appreciate music. While she would not be performing as much, she would be able to study music and its cultural contexts. I think she might be particularly interested in exploring several case studies of familial relationships with music in Mexican culture.

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Coco – Marriage and Family Therapy.

If only Coco had earned her PhD earlier, maybe Hector could have visited his daughter on Día de los Muertos a few more times. Coco would definitely use her doctoral training to help her own family and dozens of others resolve their interpersonal conflicts. She could even specialize in Latin American therapy and would be a valuable resource in the era of family separation at the U.S. border.

Voyd – Astrophysics.

I can already see it: Violet and Voyd earning their PhDs in physics simultaneously even if they are across the country or world from one another. With the ability to create wormholes, Voyd would likely be fascinated with the next best thing: black holes. Thus, a PhD in astrophysics would give her the training on the underlying mechanisms of her own powers and she’s already got a get-up suited for space travel.

Edna Mode – Textiles.

Although most fashion designers do not have their PhDs, Edna is something else. These programs are found more outside of the U.S. but would be well-suited for her passions for materials that need to perform in extreme conditions. With her reputation, she would likely be a superstar at conferences and would no doubt be able to find a great deal of funding. She might not enjoy the longer-term projects typical of PhD research but she seems well-suited for pulling all-nighters to prepare for presentations the next day.

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Listicles · PhD Life · Princess Life · Uncategorized

Pixar Women, PhD Part 1

Bo Peep – Animal Sciences.

Bo Peep has conspicuously been missing in the last two Toy Story movies and I think the possibility of her disappearing to go earn her PhD in Animal Sciences is somewhat likely (although I don’t know how she would be able to manage without her support system of the rest of Andy’s toys). This shepherdess would be overly qualified to conduct research on sheep behavior and agricultural practices that can improve the lives of her baaaa-es and other ruminants.

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Gypsy – Quantum Physics.

Armed with the knowledge that her moth (and other butterfly) wings are composed of nanostructures with incredible potential for new technologies, Gypsy would want to better understand the physics underlying her own biology. Because the structures are so small that they need to be studied with electron microscopes, Gypsy would have to pursue knowledge in the realm of quantum physics. Then, she would be able to explain how light interacts with these materials for various applications even if most people think it’s just magic.

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Rosie – Theater and Performance Studies.

Rosie was quite theatrical in her role as rhinoceros beetle tamer in P.T. Flea’s circus. She would combine her affinity for the performing arts with her curiosity about gender studies. With most of her life having been defined by her relationship with her husbands, Rosie would spend the years of her PhD examining how women were portrayed in various plays, musicals, and other genres.

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(For the princesses of Bug’s Life, check out this post)

Jessie – Conservation Biology.

Jessie would turn her passion for taking care of various critters into a career. Although she might have had a mildly traumatic experience with museum conservation, biological conservation is much more up her ally. She’d be able to save species on the brink of extinction by collecting data on ecosystems – her focus of course would be on the deserts and mountain areas of the American West and their animal inhabitants.

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Boo – Mythological and Religious Studies.

Boo’s formative experience in the Monster World would shape her desire to understand why other people develop a fear of monsters when she clearly was not afraid. This field would give her the tools to explain why people believe what they believe as well as document how societies cultivate shared beliefs. If she really has time-traveling powers as the Pixar theory says she does, she could even do comparative analyses of medieval Scottish beliefs with ideologies of Monstropolis.

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Roz – Criminal Justice.

I’m pretty sure that Roz already has her PhD in Criminal Justice, but even if she doesn’t, now that her mission at Monsters, Inc., she has plenty of time to go back to school. Her dedication to finding the bad guy and maintaining secret identities is the glamorous side of studying criminological theory, public policy, statistics, and forensic science, all of which she would be trained in as a PhD student.

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Dory – Cognitive Psychology.

Motivated by wanting to better understand the relationships between her own memory loss (specifically, anterograde amnesia or the inability to form new memories) and her seemingly more proficient place-based memory, Dory would pursue a PhD in Cognitive Psychology. She would likely study various techniques to assist in coping with anterograde amnesia while using those techniques herself to become a successful academic. She might also specialize in spatial and place-based memory and spend a few years on a project investigating the neuroscience of hippocampal place cells.

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Helen Parr/Elastigirl/Mrs. Incredible – Material Sciences and Engineering.

Although the origin of supers’ powers in the Pixar universe is still unknown (whether it is due to genetic mutation or some sort of government experimentation), Elastigirl would want to leverage her expertise in flexibility in her PhD program. She would research the stretchiness of various materials like hydrogels and conditions that affect this property to improve its durability and functionality in military and civilian applications.

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Violet Parr – Physics.

Violet’s powers are both a function of visible light, so she would study physics, and more specifically optics, to earn her doctorate. Because invisibility requires modifying the frequency of light reflected off of objects to be in a range that is not visible to the human eye, Violet would build on the research that Edna had to have known about to develop the teen’s supersuit so that the phenomenon can be more deeply understood. While her shield generation also seems to rely upon ultraviolet light, it defies Newtonian laws of physics so she would definitely have to do a few experiments to be able to explain this ability.

Sally Carrera – Law.

Sally says that she used to be an attorney so she has earned her doctorate in law already. Although she did not very much enjoy her legal career, she used her knowledge to help out Lightning McQueen when he got into trouble in Radiator Springs. She could do plenty more pro-bono work for other troubled cars but also seems to be well-suited to consulting for people fighting to preserve historical landmarks and fighting against business owners who want to destroy such things to turn a profit.

Colette Tatou – Organizational Psychology.

Colette’s experiences in Chef Skinner’s kitchen would make her interested in improving the working conditions of several other kitchens, especially for women in the industry. Earning her PhD in Organizational Psychology would give her the theories and tools to be a consultant to numerous restaurants to improve their productivity and employee satisfaction. Maybe Disney Parks and Resorts would even hire her!

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Which Pixar PhD woman are you most like?

Disney Tips · Disney Trips · Science of Disney · Uncategorized

Science of Disney: Elephants and Bees

One of earth’s biggest creatures is being saved by insects.

As part of Animal Kingdom’s 20th Anniversary celebration, I attended a Tiffins Talk in which I enjoyed a four-course meal inspired by and specially prepared to accompany a presentation from a Disney scientist about their conservation efforts. During this talk, Dr. Joseph Soltis gave a very engaging talk about how he, his colleague, Dr. Lucy King, and the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund are helping to save elephants with honeybees.

What’s the problem?

Elephants are impressive creatures but the species has faced constant treats from humans. Even with reductions in the ivory trade, humans and elephants still come into conflict, especially in countries like Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, and Sri Lanka. One of the biggest causes of human-elephant conflict is crop raiding, which is when elephants wander onto farmland in search of food. Because they are so big (and have big stomachs), the farms are decimated and the farmers lose both their own food and their source of income. As a result, farmers sometimes kill or hurt elephants to prevent further damage and protect themselves.

What could be done?

If only there were some way to keep elephants out of farms. Standard or even heavy-duty fences won’t work because they are expensive to put up and maintain and elephants might knock them over anyways. By putting collars on elephants to track their location, farmers can be alerted any time elephants cross a virtual fence line and then scare the elephants away enough times until they are conditioned to not even approach a farm. Again, these collars are expensive and still can result in more conflict than is necessary. Other techniques, like the ones outlined in the Save the Elephants Human-Elephant Conflict toolbox, can also help to some degree. Fortunately, some observations from locals led to some scientific discoveries that have significantly reduced human-elephant conflict.

Elephants often retrieve food from trees – whether it is the fruit or the leaves. But one Kenyan guide that was leading Dr. Soltis and Dr. King, shared that he had noticed that elephants never retrieve food from trees with beehives. Elephants in Zimbabwe are also known to forge entirely new paths through jungles to avoid trees with beehives. This is quite curious because elephants have relatively small areas that are sensitive enough to potential bee stings (inside of the trunk, eyes, and ears) and it does not make a lot of sense that such large creatures might systematically avoid bees if they cannot do much damage.

Studies about Elephants’ Fear of Bees

So the researchers set out to see not whether elephants are harmed by bees but instead to study whether elephants are afraid of bees. Rather than using actual bees, researchers played recorded bee sounds using giant speakers hidden in foliage near elephant meeting spots. And then they watched to see what the elephants did. When the bee sound was played, all but one elephant family ran away in under 90 seconds; half of the families ran away in under 10 seconds. In contrast, when just white noise was played (because it is always a good science to have a control condition), all of the elephant families stayed in the area for about four full minutes or casually walked away. This suggested that elephants have learned about and/or remember their personal experience with bees and that bees do not have a pleasant association. Similar behaviors were observed in elephants in Sri Lanka in response to the sounds of Asian honeybees (King, Pardo, Weerathunga, Kumara, Jayasena, Soltis, & de Silva, 2018).

Communicating about Bees

In addition to running away in response to hearing bee sounds, elephants produced rumble calls, shook their heads, and tried to throw dust on themselves. To better understand this behavior, Dr. Soltis, who is an expert in elephant rumbles and has conducted several studies with the elephants at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, headed up a follow-up study. He wanted to know specifically if elephants’ rumble calls for bees were actually being used in similar ways as to how humans screaming scream “Spider!” or “Mouse!” when they are fearful and want to alert others.

To answer this question, the research team used a similar protocol as with the recordings of bee sounds except in this case, the speakers played recordings of the rumbles that the elephants had made in response to bee sounds. Elephant families moved away from the speakers much more often and moved farther when the rumble calls for bees were played than when just white noise or when modified rumble calls were played. Additionally, families moved faster and shook their heads more when the rumble calls for bees were played than for the other two control sounds. Dusting behavior was not observed to be significantly different across conditions. It seemed that indeed, elephants were communicating their identification of the presence of bees to others so that they all could avoid being stung.

Conservation Implications

As a result of this discovery, Dr. Soltis, Dr. King and their partners in Kenya wanted to put this research to use. They could have given the farmers some large, expensive speakers to play bee sounds but they did something even better. The research team started testing the effectiveness of bee fences for reducing crop raiding. To set up a bee fence, beehives are set up at the perimeter of farms and connected with wire. Any time an elephant hits the wire, the hives are disturbed and the bees produce swarming sounds. These are the same sounds that elephants are afraid of so the elephant will run away from the farm. The early tests were successful and crop raiding has significantly declined for farms with beehive fences. Not only do the beehive fences protect the farms and thus allow the farmers to keep their main source of income, the honey from the beehives can also be harvested and sold for additional revenue.

Unfortunately, you cannot buy this elephant honey directly outside of Kenya, but you can donate to Save the Elephants using the links here to support this program and prevent further human-elephant conflict.

What would you want to research in partnership with Disney? Comment below!

References

King, Soltis, Douglas-Hamilton, Savage & Vollrath (2010)

Lucy King’s Dissertation (2010)

King, Douglas-Hamilton, & Vollrath (2007)

King, Lawrence & Douglas-Hamilton (2009) Beehive fences deter elephants

King, Douglas-Hamilton, & Vollrath (2011) Beehive fences effective deterrents

Soltis, King, Douglas-Hamilton, Vollrath & Savage (2014) Different Elephant Alarm Calls for Humans and Bees

King, Pardo, Weerathunga, Kumara, Jayasena, Soltis, & de Silva, 2018

Save the Elephants – Elephants and Bees Project

Save the Elephants – Geo-Fencing

Science of Disney · Uncategorized

Science of Disney: Buzz’s Spacesuit

“Buzz Lightyear to Star Command, Buzz Lightyear to Star Command”

Named after Buzz Aldrin, one of the first men on the moon, Buzz Lightyear had a pretty spiffy spacesuit complete with a wings, a laser shooter, and a simple voice-recorder that could transmit his adventures to the intergalactic headquarters. According to John Lasseter (former chief creative officer at Pixar), the design of Buzz’s suit was inspired by the suits worn on the Apollo missions. How does Buzz Lightyear’s spacesuit compare to what astronauts really wear? Let’s find out.

 

 

Outside the spaceship

Most importantly, space suits – called EMUs for extravehicular mobility units – need to provide the proper air pressure, oxygen and temperature for astronauts to breathe and otherwise function in space. Without proper air pressure, the water in the astronaut’s body could boil at body temperature (37˚ celsius) instead of the much higher temperatures (100˚C) at sea level. To provide livable conditions, many EMUs fill with air (primarily oxygen), causing astronauts to function kind of like they are inside a human-shaped balloon animal.

Secondly, these suits also need to facilitate movement to move about and fix equipment, whether on the moon, the International Space Station, or near and distant planets. Increasing the ease of moving with minimal effort requires trade-offs with air pressure regulation and thus increases and the risk of sickness for the astronauts due to imbalances between oxygen and nitrogen. Other concerns are protecting against the elements in space – including radiation and micrometeorites traveling at very high speeds that can potentially abrade or otherwise damage the layers that compose EMUs.

Suits that are intended for use in 2018 and beyond have received a few design upgrades over early spacesuits. They have been designed with more flexible joint areas and zippers for greater mobility and comfort, vents to allow the release of moisture so that astronauts can keep cool, and gloves capable of operating touch-screens with finer dexterity.

 

Inside the spaceship

Inside the ship, astronauts need to be able to move about, eat, sleep and go to the bathroom. They usually are not as concerned about facilitating breathing because the inside of the space ship is carefully controlled to allow life-preserving conditions, but modern suits still are capable of serving these functions in case of emergency. As a result, spacesuits for intravehicular activity (IVA) have fewer layers, and are thus lighter-weight, more flexible, and easier to don and doff (contraction of do off).

Compared to Buzz

Appearance

The suit that we always see Buzz wearing is most similar to an EMU, and is designed to be similar to the Apollo spacesuit. Keeping the consistency of the white color of the suit helps to deflect solar radiation and stand out against the black of space; whereas Buzz has purple and green accents as symbols of Star Command, the red stripe accents on Apollo suits helped to differentiate among astronauts.

Basic Features

His suit is a combination of hard upper pieces and soft lower pieces, much like Apollo suits. Also like the Apollo suits, Buzz’s suit appears to have a backpack but whether it houses the life support system (including oxygen tanks and carbon dioxide removal system, water cooling system, two-way radio and batteries for electricity) is not apparent. Buzz’s helmet is globular like the Apollo suits but more closely resembles more modern IVA suits because it is clear rather than reflective. Because it is clear, Buzz’s helmet is likely incapable of deflecting the harmful rays of sunlight that are more intense in space than when filtered through Earth’s atmosphere and thus suited only to intravehicular activity.

Wings

Astronauts don’t have wings because they don’t have to fly without a spacecraft. Plus, the minimal gravity on the moon and lack of gravity away from the surface of planets makes wings a bit useless. Wings that flap like a bird’s would still be useful in controlling movement inside a space station but wings that serve just to allow lift and gliding (like those on Buzz’s suit) wouldn’t be very helpful.

Outside the spaceship where there are essentially no air molecules like in Earth’s atmosphere, wings would be even more useless. Modern astronauts use a separate unit that attaches to their spacesuit and is equipped with multiple thrusters to control their movement when outside the spacecraft.

The lack of air molecules in space is why planes can’t go to space and why we need spaceships with powerful thrusters and with parts capable of being detached to create momentum to move the ship instead of relying on lift and drag. The wings on a space shuttle are only for guiding upon exit and re-entry back into the Earth’s atmosphere.

 

Retractable helmet

Although Buzz’s retractable helmet is pretty cool, it likely isn’t feasible for real astronauts. The seal between the helmet and the suit is one of the most crucial aspects ensuring astronauts’ survival. The glass part of the helmet needs to be one piece of extremely strong material to prevent gaps that would throw off the air pressure and temperature regulation, rather than the typical layering of sections of material in many retractable items (like lightsabers or straws). If there is room in the astronaut’s helmet for the piece of coated Plexiglass to move back and forth, there would have to be a fail-proof mechanism for ensuring that the seal between the glass and the rest of the helmet is secure. This mechanism would have to operate without vacuum sealing because the air pressure in the head cavity needs to be similar to the air pressure surrounding the rest of the body inside the suit.

Cross-space communicator and log recorder

Most of the communication equipment is housed in an astronaut’s helmet when engaged in activity outside the spacecraft; when inside the spacecraft, astronauts more often wear headsets with earphones and microphones like we see in everyday purposes on Earth. Buzz is more often seen communicating via a wrist microphone which is inefficient because astronauts are often using their hands for other tasks, like holding onto handles inside and outside the spacecraft to control their movement. It is much more important for this visible real estate on astronauts’ wrists to have information about the internal pressure of their suit and their availability of oxygen than for communication (or a mirror to be able to read these stats located on the chest panel).

Wrist laser

Again, wrist real estate is extremely valuable for astronauts. Having a laser located there might not be the best option and modern astronauts rarely have use for a laser in the ways that Buzz does (usually for threatening or attacking enemies). The closest thing that astronauts have to a laser weapon is probably welders for when they are fixing their space station or ships. However, lasers are being used in other ways in space such as measuring distance between objects in orbit, detecting substances, cleaning up space debris, and transmitting more information more rapidly. Even still, the entire beam of the laser from origin to destination point isn’t visible to the human eye because there aren’t sufficient particles in space to reflect and make visible the light of the laser beam.

Suits of the Future

Dava Newman and her colleagues at MIT and beyond (including a former astronaut!) are working to design a new spacesuit called the BioSuit that is skintight and will make it easier for astronauts to move while still providing the necessary air pressure, temperature and oxygen. New materials and a carefully calculated exoskeleton are supposed to exert enough pressure on the astronaut’s body for all of the body’s cells to maintain functionality. They are also working on a different type of junction between the helmet and suit so that astronauts can turn their necks and look over their shoulders. Although they are still a ways off from having a space-proof suit, the research also has many potential biomedical applications as well, such as helping monitor and correct abnormal motor movement in stroke and cerebral palsy patients.

As we learn more about the effects of wearing spacesuits and living in zero gravity, maybe we can eventually go beyond to the special features seen on Buzz’s suit, or even the grappling hooks and magnets that come with the new and improved utility belt in Toy Story 2. But first, infinitely more research needs to be done on safety and health of astronauts before we can envision this or the emergence of something like Star Command.

Citations

Dava Newman’s BioSuit

Spacesuits for 2018 and Beyond

3D Printing and Suits for Mars

SkinSuit Prevents Muscle and Spine Problems from Zero Gravity

Wikipedia page on the Apollo spacesuits

Wikipedia page on skin-tight suits

Trade-offs of mobility and safe air pressure in spacesuits

NASA Spacesuit Features

WIRED piece on the evolution of spacesuits

Air & Space Magazine evolution of spacesuits

NASA laser usage in orbit

Disney Tips · Listicles · Uncategorized

How to Plan FastPass+ as a Disneyland Veteran

As I was writing my list of tips for How to Visit Walt Disney World (WDW) as a Disneyland Veteran, I realized that the FastPass+ system can be extremely overwhelming. So I decided to write a more in-depth post on the system and include my opinions for the best choices for FastPass+ at each park.

General Tips

FastPass+ at Disney World is very different from Disneyland’s system in that there are no paper FastPass+ tickets and you can plan FastPass+ in advance.

Planning Ahead:

  • You can plan 3 passes per day per person ahead of time
  • All three of a person’s advance-planning passes have to be in the same park
  • If you are staying at a Disney hotel for your trip, you can make your FastPass+ selections in the My Disney Experience app or online starting at 7 AM EST 60 days ahead of the first day of your trip
  • If you are staying off property for your trip, you can make your FasttPass+ selections starting at 7 AM EST 30 days ahead of the first day of your trip
  • Once you hit the 60 day or 30 day mark, you can select FastPass+ for all the days of your trip if you have tickets linked to your reservation
  • The usual recommendation is to get the earliest times for FastPass+ as possible so you can reach the point of being able to make additional FastPass+ selections faster
  • As a general rule, avoid using advanced FastPass+ selections for night-time shows because these are some of the latest possible time slots and you will not be able to make additional selections day-of until the night-time show

Tier System:

Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom FastPass+ operate on a tier system for selections made in advance. Some of the most popular attractions are in a different tier from the less popular attractions and you are restricted in how many of each you can select. In these three parks, you can only use your advanced FastPass+ reservations to select one attraction in Tier 1 and the other two selections must be from Tier 2.

In the Parks:

  • You cannot make new FastPass+ reservations until you have used or cancelled all three of your FastPass+ selections
  • Once you have used (or cancelled) all three FastPass+ reservations, you can select FastPass+ in the same or a different park
  • You can use a FastPass+ at anytime between the 10 minutes before the starting time of the hour window and up to 15 minutes after the the ending time of the hour window
  • When making FastPass+ selections the day-of, you can select a new FastPass+ as soon as you use a FastPass+ even if you’re still in line
  • If your day-of FastPass+ selection has a time window that is more than 2 hours from the time you made it, you will be able to select a new FastPass+ two hours after you made the selection
  • There is no limit to how many times you can modify or cancel your FastPass+ selections

So which attractions should you use FastPass+ for? Read on for my recommendations!

Note: One thing that WDW has that blows Disneyland out of the water is the level of detail in their queues. I know Disneyland has way better theming than Six Flags but WDW has outdone themselves, partly to keep people dry and cool and protected from the Florida weather. This fact definitely influences my recommendations for how to use FastPass+ as a Disneyland veteran.

Magic Kingdom

Recommended Initial 3 FastPass+ Selections

  • Splash Mountain (if during peak times or summer time) otherwise Big Thunder Mountain
  • Enchanted Tales with Belle
  • Meet Mickey Mouse at Town Square Theater

Why these three? Most adults would probably want to use their FastPass+ for the four main roller coasters (Space, Splash, Big Thunder, and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train) because they usually have the longest lines. Of the four, Splash Mountain and Space Mountain have the least interesting queues and thus most worthy of using a FastPass+. However, Splash usually has really short waits during the cold months or when it is raining so doesn’t necessitate a FastPass+ at those times. The Big Thunder Mountain queue can get really long and is mostly outside but it does have many interactive elements and decor that are entertaining.

Enchanted Tales with Belle is one of the most magical experiences at Walt Disney World, even without kids. FastPass+ for this attraction usually goes pretty quickly and can get to have long waits because it isn’t a very high capacity ride.

Meeting Mickey Mouse is the other attraction that has the longest wait time and is a unique meet-and-greet that you can’t do anywhere in any other Disney park in the world, so I highly recommend using a FastPass+ to meet him here because, as of March 2018, he talks! If you don’t care about meeting characters or you watched videos on YouTube of this meet-and-greet, then use your last FastPass+ on another roller coaster.

I actually recommend NOT getting a FastPass+ for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train because 1) it has such a cool queue that standing in line is an attraction by itself, 2) because they are so hard to get for early in the day, and 3) because the ride itself isn’t that spectacular that you shouldn’t be heartbroken if you don’t ride it. If you can get a FastPass+ day of or go when the line will be shortest (Extra Magic Hours or right before park close), then do that.

Honorable mention

  • Any other roller coasters
  • Any princess and Tinker Bell meet-and-greet
    • These usually have wait times between 30 and 60 minutes unless you go right before the park closes.
  • Any classic Disney attraction
    • Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Dumbo, Jungle Cruise, Small World, and Peter Pan all can have pretty long waits and are good uses of a FastPass+ if your top choices aren’t available.
  • Rides for Younger Guests
    • Magic Carpets of Aladdin, Winnie the Pooh, Barnstormer, and the Tomorrowland Speedway can get lengthy queues and if you have a child in tow, it is best not to wait too long for these attractions, especially because several of these queues are exposed to the elements.

Not worthy of FastPass+

These attractions usually do not have longer than a 30 minute wait or have FastPasses available day of that you can snag if you must ride them.

  • Mickey’s PhilharMagic
  • Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor
  • Mad Tea Party
  • Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid
  • Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin

Epcot

Recommended Initial 3 FastPass+ Selections

  • Frozen Ever After (Tier 1)
  • Spaceship Earth (Tier 2)
  • Mission: SPACE (Tier 2)

I recommend these three options because they allow Disneyland veterans to prioritize new experiences at Disney World. Frozen Ever After is unlike any boat ride at Disneyland and has phenomenal animatronics; the queue is worth waiting in because it really is beautiful but it is usually longer than 45 minutes or an hour. An ideal time for this FastPass+ would be between 10:30 am or noon so you can peruse the World Showcase (which opens at 11 AM) in a clock-wise direction immediately afterwards.  The other two attractions in Tier 1 (Soarin’ and Test Track) are the same as or a lesser version of their Disneyland counterpart.

Spaceship Earth is the most iconic attraction at Epcot and the regular queue is the exact same as the FastPass+ queue. It isn’t the most thrilling ride but I definitely think it is the most must-do attraction of the Tier 2 options. Try and get this as early or late in the day as possible so you can do it on your way in or out of the park.

Mission: SPACE is one of the more thrilling rides in Epcot. It makes me motion sick but is a pretty cool opportunity to feel like you’re in a real space ship if that doesn’t bother you. The Orange version is more intense and takes you to Mars; the Green version gives you a view of the Earth from space. Try to do this in the morning after you’ve had a little bit of time to digest your breakfast.

Honorable Mention

Other worthy options for Tier 1:

  • IllumiNations
    • Make this one day-of instead of in advance so that you can make additional FastPass+ selections in the park earlier in the day
  • Soarin’
    • This is almost exactly the same as Disneyland’s version and has a less educational (and thus sub-par in my view) queue. Still a fantastic ride and can get pretty long waits throughout the day so try to do this during Extra Magic Hours if you can.
  • Test Track
    • This has a different theming than Radiator Springs Racers but is essentially the same. I usually use the single rider line to avoid long lines. Be wary that this will close during inclement weather but that if a ride is closed during your FastPass+ window, it will likely turn into a FastPass+ that can be used on any attraction.

Other worthy options for Tier 2:

  • Living with the Land (if the line is long)
    • This is a fabulous and educational attraction that a lot of people skip. The line is usually not more than 15 minutes but if it is, definitely try to get a FastPass+ day-of or swap your Mission: SPACE FastPass+ for this if you get motion sick.
  • Meet Disney Pals
    • Meet three characters while only waiting once. This will be three of the Fab 5 characters (Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy and Donald) and they are in their classic outfits with some themed set pieces.

Not worthy of FastPass+

These attractions usually do not have longer than a 20 minute wait or have FastPass+ available day of that you can snag if you must ride them.

  • Pixar Film Fest
  • Journey Into Imagination with Figment
  • The Seas with Nemo & Friends
  • Turtle Talk with Crush

Hollywood Studios

Recommended Initial 3 FastPass+ Selections

  • Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith (Tier 1)
  • Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (Tier 2)
  • Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular (Tier 2)

Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster has a single rider line so this FastPass+ isn’t absolutely necessary but can be worth it because it is a coaster that is unique to WDW.

I’m surprised Tower of Terror isn’t in Tier 1 so I think this is the best value for a Tier 2 FastPass+ and you don’t miss any (just go a bit more speedily through) of the incredibly themed queue.

Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular is the only way to satisfy an Indiana Jones craving at WDW and is a pretty great show to boot. Being closer to the front is definitely better in that you’ll be more likely to be selected as an extra in the show!

Honorable Mention

Other worthy options in Tier 1:

  • Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage
    • Having a FastPass+ for this might allow you to show up closer to show start time and still get a decent seat. You could swap out Indiana Jones for this one if you’d like or Tower of Terror if you don’t like the drops.
  • Fantasmic!
    • There are usually FastPass+ available for this show day-of but even then, there is plenty of room to try to get a standby seat.
  • Toy Story Mania!
    • These wait times can get crazy high but the queue is fabulous and the same ride can be found at Disneyland so it isn’t necessary to do.

Other worthy options in Tier 2:

  • Star Tours
    • You bypass all of the cool outdoor queue but because most of the indoor queue is the exact same as Disneyland’s queue, this ride is almost only worth doing with a FastPass+
  • For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along
    • You’re not guaranteed to get a better seat but try and be in the middle of the crowd when entering so you don’t have to go all the way across an aisle and can get a middle seat.

Not worthy of FastPass+

These are all shows that happen regularly and thus have a high capacity and a standard wait time of however long the show is (between 15 and 30 minutes).

  • Disney Junior – Live on Stage!
  • Muppet*Vision 3D
  • Voyage of the Little Mermaid

Animal Kingdom

Recommended Initial 3 FastPass+ Selections

  • Flight of Passage (Tier 1)
  • Kilimanjaro Safaris (Tier 2)
  • Festival of the Lion King (Tier 2)

Flight of Passage, even close to a year after it has opened, still has wait times longer than 2 hours. Get a FastPass+ if you can; this is the only reason to try and wake up at 7 AM EST to reserve your FastPass+ ahead of time. The standby queue has the most spectacular theming though, so if you can, ride it twice if the wait time is under 120 minutes. The wait time is especially short when it rains at night!

Kilimanjaro Safaris used to be the most desirable FastPass+ in Animal Kingdom. The best times to go on this attraction are early in the morning, at dusk, or right before the park is closing at night. The line gets longer in mid-day and it can be unbearably hot so the FastPass+ can be more worth it in that you skip a longer line at these times.

Festival of the Lion King is the best entertainment at Walt Disney World in my opinion and the shows regularly fill up. FastPass+ will most likely put you in the warthog seating area (right in front of the sound booth for superior audio quality) or elephant seating area (in-between the two entrance curtains and excellent views of the Simba float) which have a higher percentage of seats close to the action.

Honorable Mention

Other worthy options in Tier 1:

  • Na’vi River Journey
    • Until wait times at Pandora die down, this is the only other option in Tier 1. If you cannot get a Flight of Passage FastPass+, take this one happily because the wait times are usually much longer than the 45 minute max that the short ride is worth.

Other worthy options in Tier 2:

  • DINOSAUR
    • This is one of the best attractions to do at rope-drop or early in the morning because no one heads this direction. There are lots of interesting things to look at and learn in the queue even when there’s a long line so feel free to take your time even if there’s only a 10 minute wait.
  • Expedition Everest
    • This is another great ride to do at rope-drop but is especially epic late at night so try to get a FastPass+ day-of for the later hours if you can. There will be close to no wait before, during and after Rivers of Light and there’s a single rider line when the standby wait is longer than about 30 minutes.
  • Kali River Rapids
    • This queue can get very long during the hotter months so is worth getting a FastPass+ for day-of or if all the Pandora options are already gone. However, this is practically the same attraction as Grizzly River Run at California Adventure.
  • Finding Nemo – The Musical
    • This is a relatively long show (40 minutes) and the waiting area has practically no shade. With a FastPass+, you can be choosier with your seats and will be waiting for showtime in the air conditioning longer.
  • Meet Favorite Disney Pals at Adventurers Outpost
    • Meet Mickey and Minnie at the same time here. Lines can be over 30 minutes.
  • Up! A Great Bird Adventure
    • This show is new and the seats can fill up pretty fast. Some of the best seats will be on the aisles in the front sections.

Not worthy of FastPass+

  • Primeval Whirl
    • This is a terribly uncomfortable and sometimes painfully jerky ride that is very similar to Goofy’s Sky School at California Adventure. If it is any longer than even 10 minutes, I highly recommend you skip it.
  • It’s Tough to be a Bug!
    • The same show as what used to be at California Adventure with epic punny movie posters. It is pretty cool to go under the Tree of Life but the FastPass+ doesn’t get you much
  • Rivers of Light
    • FastPass+ will likely be available right up until show time and even then there will be plenty of seating because this isn’t that popular of a show.

Please let me know if you agree or disagree with any of my recommendations in the comments below!

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Disney Tips · Listicles · Uncategorized

How to Visit Hollywood Studios as a Disneyland Veteran

Personally, Hollywood Studios is my least favorite park and part of that has to do with how many attractions it shares with the Disneyland Resort. But if you’re a huge fan of Star Wars, then this is the WDW park that you’ll probably enjoy most. In addition to my recommendations below, there are lots of great streetmosphere acts, pretty photo spots and plenty of shops to fill time when not waiting for the few attractions.

To Do

Attractions

  • Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith

This launch coaster is the biggest thrill ride in this park. To me, it feels like a shorter, indoor version of California Screamin/The Incredicoaster because it goes upside down (even though I could barely tell that it went upside down). There’s a single rider line that’s usually pretty quick also!

  • The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

I recommend this ride not only because of the nostalgia that Disneyland veterans might have for the original theming of Tower of Terror but also because there’s extra ride elements that make it much cooler and better themed than Disneyland’s previous iteration.

  • Slinky Dog Dash (When Toy Story Land Opens)

This ride is totally unique to Walt Disney World and seems like it will be a great family-friendly coaster that’s a step up from Gadget’s Go Coaster and with friendlier theming than Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

  • Muppet Vision 3D

Another attraction that used to be at Disneyland, this 4D show is actually quite amusing and has the nostalgia factor for those of you that remember and miss it (I don’t).

  • Walt Disney Presents

This walk-through attraction includes a wonderful museum-like trip through Walt’s animation history and history of the parks and includes models and information about upcoming movies and attractions like Galaxy’s Edge. Additionally, there is sometimes a character meet-and-greet (Star Lord and Groot have been there as of this blog post) and either a film preview or a film on Walt’s life that brought me to tears. Come here if you need some air-conditioning!

  • Star Wars Launch Bay

This area houses character meet-and-greets that you can find in the app (Chewbacca, Kylo Ren, and sometimes Rey and BB-8) as well as an area where jawas wander around and interact with guests. There is also a small art gallery with Star Wars art you can only get in the parks and a separate, large Star Wars shop. The Launch Bay Theater in this area also screens a film about some of the stories of the passionate people who have worked on Star Wars movies.

Entertainment

  • Meet Mickey and Minnie

This is the only place where you can meet Mickey in his Sorcerer’s Apprentice outfit (my personal favorite) and Minnie’s glamorous pink starlet gown will make any family photo look fabulous. The uniqueness of these outfits make this the place I most highly suggest meeting Mickey and Minnie.

  • Meet Olaf at Celebrity Spotlight

You can’t meet this guy in Disneyland and for a character who can’t really move his hands, he’s still pretty expressive.

  • Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular

If you’re like me and have a craving for Disneyland’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye while you’re at Disney World, this is the closest you can get besides the track of DINOSAUR. This show has all of the humor, fight scenes, and explosions galore of an Indy film and you might even be selected to be an extra in the show! There are rumors that this might be replaced in coming years so see it while you can!

  • Disney Movie Magic & Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular

This park’s nighttime entertainment involves lot of projections on the facade of the Chinese Theater. Some of the coolest effects are the ways that they use lasers to make you feel like you’re in the middle of a battle and there are fireworks and fire coming from several locations around the main plaza.

Food & Drink

  • 50’s Prime Time Café

This restaurant is an experience and not just a meal. If you only want to do one table service meal at Hollywood Studios and don’t want to splurge for Hollywood Brown Derby, I would recommend this place.

  • Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater

The theming in this place is out of this world and the milkshakes are too. For some upscale versions of theme park burgers and a few other delicious sandwich options, I recommend this place to give your feet a break while you watch a few sci-fi trailers.

To Skip

Attractions

  • Alien Swirling Saucers (When Toy Story Land Opens)

This is the same ride as Tow Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree at the Disneyland Resort and the lines will probably be extremely long for awhile after the new land opens in June 2018.

Entertainment

  • For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration

Unless you or someone in your party really loves Frozen, the Frozen stage show at the Hyperion Theater in California Adventure is far superior. If you must see it, try to go only about 5 to 10 minutes before a show is supposed to start to check if there’s still room or else wait for the next show. The snow falling at the end of the show never ceases to be magical.

  • March of the First Order

This happens so frequently that you really do not have to plan for it; it is more likely to get in your way. I personally don’t think there is anything too special about stormtroopers marching (with much poorer form and worse synchronization than even a terrible high school marching band) but I guess you can get some up close and personal photos.

  • Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away

This is the lamest thing that Disney has ever made to cater to Star Wars fans. The show is solely composed of characters (some of whom have died in the films) coming out and posing on stage without saying anything. The only chance you have of interacting with them is to lurk by the path they take to come on stage. And it happens several times a day.

Food & Drink

  • BaseLine Tap House

This place pretty much only has beer and some less than amazing appetizers; you can get a much better beer selection at Disney’s California Adventure.

  • Most quick service

There aren’t really any unique or can’t-miss treats or meals to get at the counter service locations here and it feels like there are a lot of them. If you can, I would try to do table-service or go to Epcot (if you have a park-hopper), the Boardwalk or Disney Springs for lunch or dinner instead.

  • Hollywood & Vine

This is character dining that mostly appeals to the target audience of Disney Junior (sometimes dinner has characters from the Fab 5, but Tusker House at Animal Kingdom is a much better option). Food-wise, I’ve heard that it is actually bad.

To Do Time-Permitting

Attractions

  • Star Tours

You have the exact same options for scenes as in Disneyland’s version but part of the outdoor queue looks like Endor and I’ve heard that ewoks can sometimes be spotted.

  • Toy Story Mania

The ride is the same as the Midway version at California Adventure but the queue for this attraction has absolutely incredible theming.

Entertainment

  • Fantasmic!

I almost put this on the To Skip list because the refurbishment of Disneyland’s version blows this show out of the water. But, I think this one is worth seeing just for the Pocahontas scene and to appreciate how Disney actually planned seating for one of its most popular shows. You will usually have to pick between seeing this and having a good view of the Star Wars fireworks so decide for yourself which is more important. My usual choice is to leave early and either park-hop to Magic Kingdom for Happily Ever After or walk to Epcot to catch Illuminations, picking up Ample Hills ice cream on the way.

  • Beauty and the Beast-Live On Stage

Somehow Disney has managed to scale down it’s Oscar-winning film into a 25 minute swirl of costumes and choreography with voice recordings for everyone except Belle and Gaston. This show is fine but I would be much happier if Disney were to replace this with Mickey and the Magical Map from Disneyland or a more original show.

  • Voyage of the Little Mermaid

This theater adaptation of The Little Mermaid is very outdated so the effects are laughable yet oddly charming. If you have time to kill before a FastPass+, go for it but there are plenty of other things that are more worth your time.

Food & Drink

  • Hollywood Brown Derby & Lounge

I haven’t yet had the opportunity to dine here but I hear the theming and food are spectacular and will give you all of the Los Angeles vibes. This dining option is the one thing for which I might make a special return trip to Hollywood Studios.

  • ABC Commissary

Stop in here to get a free cup of water and check out the costumes and props from your favorite ABC shows like Grey’s Anatomy.