Disney Tips · Listicles · Uncategorized

How to Visit Epcot as a Disneyland Veteran

Epcot is a very unique theme park among the US Disney parks. Walt Disney initially intended EPCOT to be the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, showcasing futuristic living and technology. Now, it is one of the most educational parks with the main attractions (*cough cough* the alcoholic beverages) better-suited for adults. It is composed of Future World which preserves some of Walt’s original intentions and the World Showcase. While some of the attractions are very similar to California versions, there is a lot to offer. I’ve divided this post into the main things to see in Future World as well as a more detailed description of what I consider to be the highlights in each country in the World Showcase.

Future World

To Do

  • Living with the Land

This is one of the most unique and educational experiences in Epcot. Definitely go during the day so you can see the scientists hard at work while you learn about agricultural practices and the food that supplies the rest of the resort.

  • Spaceship Earth

Yes, there is a ride inside of the giant golf ball. The line can get pretty long so try to avoid it when the park opens; use a Fastpass+ or go during typical mealtimes instead.

  • Soarin’

This is almost exactly the same as the new Soarin’ at California Adventure; if you’ve only seen the Soarin’ over California version, definitely watch this one. There’s also an interactive mobile game in the queue if you do not use a FastPass+

  • Test Track

This is the same track as Radiator Springs Racers at California Adventure with very different theming. Biggest tip if you are a party smaller than 4 is to use the Single Rider Entrance; you’ll likely be split up but the line is much faster if you do not care about getting a photo. If you really care about designing a test car, you can do so upon exiting the ride.

  • Mission: SPACE

If you don’t get motion-sick (I do and have avoided it ever since my first trip), this is likely the closest you’ll get to feeling like an astronaut. The orange version takes you to Mars and the green less-intense version gives you a view of the Earth from space.

  • Club Cool

Sample sodas from around the world for free! The Beverly is notoriously hard to drink so feel free to prank other members of your party.

  • Garden Grill

This character dining includes meeting Chip, Dale, Mickey and Pluto while dining in a rotating restaurant with views into Living with the Land. It is a lot of food for a party of two but has good options for breakfast and dinner.

  • The Odyssey

This is one of the main hubs for Epcot’s many festivals. Stop in here to get a passport that lists all of the food, drinks and special events for each festival. Booths for all the festivals are in both Future World and the World Showcase. The Festival of the Arts (my personal favorite) occurs in January and February and has several visual and performing arts events including Broadway concerts and seminars on photography and the like. The Flower and Garden Festival lasts from the end of February through Memorial Day and features topiaries, information on gardening and sustainability, and the Garden Rocks concert series. The Food and Wine Festival brings in extra country-specific booths, several more drunk adults on weekends, and the Eat to the Beat concert series from August through November. The Festival of the Holidays in November and December has special performers sharing each country’s holiday traditions as well as spiked coffee or hot chocolate so you can still drink around the world when it’s colder out.

To Skip

  • Disney & Pixar Short Film Festival

If you’re a Disney or Pixar fan, you’ve likely seen all of these shorts already so this is just a nice spot to rest your feet in some air-conditioning.

  • Journey into Imagination with Figment

This is a quirky dark ride with one room for each of the five senses. If you want to try to understand the preponderance of purple dragon merchandise available in the parks, ride it. Otherwise, avoid smelling skunk by skipping this.

  • Innoventions

This space does not include much currently. There are small interactive science exhibits on color and other physics phenomena but only a few people besides me may find this entertaining.

  • The Seas with Nemo and Friends

This is very similar to Disneyland’s Finding Nemo ride. The giant aquarium at the end is pretty cool (the turtles are hard to find) but you can see aquariums when you’re not on a Disney trip.

  • Most other dining in Future World

Except for Garden Grill, the options in Future World are not particularly remarkable or memorable and include more standard American fare that pales in comparison to everything else in the World Showcase.

To Do Time-Permitting

  • Meet Baymax

He can’t talk but he gives great hugs. He is usually available to meet from park open to park close and his queue is indoors.

  • Meet Joy and Sadness

These two are entertaining, Sadness especially, and are not available in Disneyland. Like Baymax, they do not talk and the queue is indoors.

  • Epcot Character Spot

Meet Mickey, Minnie and Goofy (usually) in their traditional outfits while only waiting in one line.

  • SpectacuLab

Help inspire the next generation of scientists while watching some cool physics demonstrations including laying on a bed of nails. The acting is really corny so you have to be in the right mood.

World Showcase Overview

The real draw of Epcot is the World Showcase which is made up of 11 different permanent pavilions highlighting the cultures of each nation through food, performances, architecture and shopping.

It is over one-mile walking around the entire showcase so it is usually recommended to pick one direction and go all the way around to save your feet. I prefer to start with Mexico and finish with Canada, and I recommend this direction for starting to Drink Around the World as well. If you need breakfast, start in the Canada direction first or head straight to France.

Regarding dining reservations, I do not usually plan to sit down at any of the Epcot restaurants because of the preponderance of festival booths and small meal options. The one exception may be to get some prime viewing for IllumiNations.

Mexico

  • Margaritas

There are a few options for margaritas in this pavilion. I prefer the frozen Fiesta Margarita (lime, strawberry and mango flavors together) at the outdoor Choza de Margarita stand but there is also La Cava del Tequila inside of the pavilion that has quite a selection of margaritas and fresh tortilla chips in a small space. Both options also serve small plates if you need more to eat.

  • Gran Fiesta Tour

This has a similar magic to it at night as Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland because the ceiling is painted to make it feel like you’re really outside of Mayan ruins. The ride itself is much more quaint but may be getting a Coco re-theming in the near future. If it has a short wait, definitely try it.

  • Coco exhibit in the Mexico Folk Art Gallery

Learn more about Día de Muertos than you did in your Spanish classes by checking out the information on the history and artistry of this traditional celebration.

  • Mariachi Cobre

This is one of the biggest mariachi bands I’ve ever seen and they’ve been performing at Epcot for decades. Definitely stop to listen for awhile, perhaps while enjoying a frozen margarita.

  • La Hacienda de San Angel or La Cantina de San Angel patio viewing of IllumiNations

Mexico has one table-service and one quick-service restaurant that each have views of IllumiNations. Get a reservation for La Hacienda or show up to La Cantina 30 minutes beforehand to get a spot.

Norway

  • Frozen Ever After

This is one of if not THE best boat ride in WDW and the queue is indoors and well-themed. As a Disneyland veteran, this may be the best use of a Tier 1 FastPass+ because it is the most unique option. The animatronics can be a little creepy, so I only go if the wait is less than 45 minutes, during Extra Magic Hours or right before the park closes.

  • Anna and Elsa meet-and-greet

Because of their popularity, these two usually are available to meet from park open to park close. And the wait is mostly indoors! You can skip this if you’ve already met them in Disneyland.

  • Stave Church Gallery

Last time I was here, this had cultural artifacts and inspiration for the Frozen film which was quite educational. As of March 2018, it is closed for refurbishment so some new treasures might be arriving soon.

  • Troll photo opportunity inside the shops

There is a giant troll statue in one of the shops that makes for some pretty hilarious photo ops. Any cast member would be glad to take a photo of your whole group.

  • Akershus Royal Banquet Hall

Because Ariel’s Grotto is no longer an option at California Adventure and because Cinderella’s Royal Table reservations in Magic Kingdom are very difficult to obtain, this is a good option to efficiently meet princesses. Beware that there may be some more traditional Norwegian food like lots of fish.

China

  • Shanghai Disney exhibit in the House of the Whispering Willows

I’m not sure how long this will be here but these photos and dioramas may inspire you to plan another Disney vacation, but in China.

  • Reflections of China 360˚ film

The Great Wall only takes up a small portion of this film. The film has recently been updated and is quite beautiful. You will have to stand while watching the film, so if you’re too tired, at least check out the ceiling of the temple.

  • Jeweled Dragon Acrobats

Check the Entertainment schedule so as to make sure not to miss these talented performers. The flexibility and choreography is impressive and the crowd gets really into it.

  • Mulan meet-and-greet

Mulan meets in an elegant version of her matchmaker outfit from 11 AM to 5 PM usually. She is much rarer at Disneyland so take advantage of this regular schedule and meeting location (she will usually be inside on gloomy or cold days).

Germany

  • Snow White meet-and-greet

Make a wish with the original princess in the afternoon and early evening. Her lines can be quite long so plan around the times if this is one of your priorities since Snow White is not a regular meet-and-greet in Magic Kingdom or Disneyland.

  • Biergarten

I’ve never been here but I hear that this buffet is beautiful, authentic and a good value. I don’t think there are many health-conscious options though among the sausages and carbohydrate sides.

Italy

  • Venetian Mask shop

The plethora of masks are different every trip and make for a good souvenir because they come in several sizes. The shop clerk may even be able to provide a lesson on the symbols and traditions of mask-making.

  • Best pizza on property at Via Napoli

The pizzas can be quite massive and are not very saucy. This is great for large groups because it is difficult to carry leftovers around all day.

  • Italy patio areas

Because it is almost directly across from the entrance to Epcot, you can usually get the geodesic sphere as a background in your photos here. There are usually Disney PhotoPass photographers lurking on the patio space jutting out over the lake across the bridges. If there isn’t a dessert party going on, this is a good spot to watch IllumiNations as well.

America

  • Voices of Liberty

This acapella group is an absolute must-listen. They are so talented and the arrangements give me goosebumps. Go early to get the best seats.

  • The American Adventure

This has some of the most impressive animatronics as well as a soaring soundtrack. Sit in some air-conditioning while getting a brief history refresher.

  • Festival Concerts

During the festivals, there are 2 or 3 concert sets per day on the weekends. Check the festival pages for the line-up. Hanson and American Idol contestants like David Cooke are consistently part of the line-up but other genres are equally popular.

Japan

  • Mitsukoshi

This is a massive store that is an experience on its own. You can try on kimonos, open up an oyster to find a pearl or purchase all the Pokemon merchandise your heart desires.

  • Matsuriza

These taiko drummers are very entertaining and provide an energizing soundtrack while exploring the pavilion.

Morocco

  • Shopping

In addition to the stalls right near the water, there are several shops hidden in the alleyways of the pavilion that are quite fun to explore. Try on traditional garb and jewelry or just seek refuge from the rainstorms that frequently occur in Florida.

  • Gallery of Arts and History

Learn much more about Moroccan culture by viewing pottery and weaponry in this small gallery.

  • Spice Road Table patio for viewing IllumiNations

Of the patio options, this one will have the worst view because it is near the back of World Showcase. Nevertheless, you can get a spot to sit while enjoying some Mediterranean appetizers, entrees or cocktails which are more unique than in Mexico or the UK.

France

  • Amazing food and drinks!

There’s usually a delicious alcoholic beverage here (La Vie in Rose is particularly popular) during the festivals. Macaron ice cream sandwiches and other treats in Les Halles bakery are one of the best and few breakfast options in Epcot.

  • Impressions de France

This is a great place to sit and rest your feet (or take a sugar-induced nap) while enjoying some beautiful music and scenery from France. Not my favorite country film so you can skip it if you’d like. It runs every 30 minutes but food is not allowed in the theater.

  • Belle and Aurora meet-and-greets

If you’d like to meet Belle in her blue dress (or her red holiday dress in December), be prepared to wait in a long line in the sun. Aurora will meet in her pink dress and is somewhat easier to find here than in Disneyland.

United Kingdom

  • Alice in Wonderland and Mary Poppins meet-and-greets

The gardens make for a wonderful backdrop for photos for these characters that are much harder to find in Disneyland or Magic Kingdom.

  • Phone booth photo opportunities

Have you always wanted to take a classic British phone booth photo? Well you can do so here and fool your friends into thinking that you traveled across the pond instead of just across the country.

  • Yorkshire County Fish Shop

I’ve heard really great things about the fish and chips at this quick-service stop near the International Gateway.

  • Streetmosphere performers

There is a small troupe of Irish performers that is not often on the official schedule but is quite excellent; they can be found in front of the shops. There is a stage in the back that sometimes has a band performing as well.

  • Rose & Crown Dining Room patio for IllumiNations viewing

This is one of the best spots to sit while watching the nighttime fireworks show. Try to make a reservation around the time of IllumiNations or show up 15-20 minutes before to see if there are any patio tables available.

Canada

  • O Canada! 360˚ Film

This is the best film in Epcot in my opinion. The views are stunning and I learned so much about different regions of our neighbor to the north. The song is catchy and Martin Short is perfectly cheeky.

  • Le Cellier Steak

One of the signature meals from the expensive restaurant in this pavilion is usually offered as a smaller option at the festival booth. Quality does not usually suffer so it is a good deal.

  • Cheddar Cheese Soup (on Poutine)

Another one of the signature items from Le Cellier’s menu is this soup and it has recently become available at the Refreshment Port on top of poutine. It may also be available as a side on its own.

  • “Natural” photo opportunities

The waterfalls can provide mist that is refreshing on a hot day and are photogenic if they don’t get your camera wet. The gardens here are also a nice backdrop for photos.

Out the International Gateway

One of my favorite areas in WDW is the Boardwalk area just a short walk outside of the park entrance between France and the United Kingdom.

  • Ample Hills Creamery

This ice cream parlor has the best ice cream I’ve ever had and this is the only location outside of New York. The Ooey Gooey Butter Cake flavor and ice cream flight are not-to-miss.

  • Beaches

Enjoy your ice cream with your toes in the sand and a view of Epcot or Hollywood Studios fireworks. This is an especially quiet and empty area, considering it is open to the public.

  • ESPN Zone

If you need to get your sports fix, duck in here for a game, some beer and pub food.

  • Wyland Gallery

This is a fine art gallery that I greatly enjoy browsing through. There is plenty of Disney and Star Wars and oceanic art from numerous artists. During the Festival of the Arts, Disney artists will do signings and meet-and-greets here.

 

Sorry this was so long! Let me know in the comments if I skipped over any of your favorite Epcot experiences!

Disney Tips · Listicles · Uncategorized

How to Visit Magic Kingdom as a Disneyland Veteran

I’ve become the go-to person for all of my California friends (most of whom have had at least one visit to Disneyland) planning visits to Walt Disney World so I thought I would compile a list of my tips for how to make the most of a vacation as a Disneyland veteran.

We’ll start with Magic Kingdom. Magic Kingdom is the most similar to Disneyland so Disneyland vets might be tempted to skip it but there are several special things about Magic Kingdom that are worth a full park day. Below I outline which attractions are must-dos, which can be skipped, and which are good to do if you have time or the must-dos have really long wait times.

General Reminders

  • Plan your 3 FastPass+ ahead of time (60 days in advance if you’re staying at a Disney hotel, 30 days if not)
  • Plan your meal reservations ahead of time (180 days in advance if you’re staying at a Disney hotel)
  • Magic Kingdom is much bigger than Disneyland so you’ll be walking much farther between attractions

Attractions To Do (Not in any order)

  • Splash Mountain

So many WDW veterans claim Splash Mountain is their favorite ride and I never understood why because I never liked Disneyland’s version but WDW’s actually makes sense and has some unexpected additions that make it a much better ride. Look out for the train up above in the last scene!

  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

The interactive queue on this is fabulous but the FastPass+ makes you skip a lot of that. The ride itself is family-friendly but is an interesting blend of classic dark ride with animatronics and roller coaster. It is worth experiencing, but try to do it with the least wait – right before the park closes, during Extra Magic Hours, or first thing in the morning.

  • Big Thunder Mountain

This also has a pretty awesome queue with lots of interactive elements (use hand sanitizer after playing!) and is just as exciting as Disneyland’s version.

  • Space Mountain

This is nowhere near as exhilarating as Disneyland’s Space Mountain but it has charm and it is interesting to experience the original version

  • Enchanted Tales with Belle

Because I have yet to write a Science of Disney post on this attraction, this still is probably the most magical attraction to me because of the magic mirror. Seeing little kids participate just embodies Disney magic and if an adult in your party participates, it’s a good memory too. This is the only free way to get a picture of Belle in her yellow dress. Also, it’s unique to WDW.

  • Haunted Mansion

With more of a New England flair, WDW’s version has the best queue of all and has some unique show scenes. Soak it all in!

  • Carousel of Progress

This used to be at Disneyland and was designed by Walt Disney so it is a must-do in my book. Great place to sit down and relax and potentially take a nap.

  • PeopleMover

Also a Disneyland original, this is much faster-moving than you might expect. Great to ride at any time of day but try to ride it when there’s less than a 30 minute wait (which is most of the time).

  • Country Bear Jamboree

This is unlike anything at Disneyland, unless you saw the version at Disneyland way back in the day. Nothing will prepare you for Big Al.

  • Jungle Cruise

The jokes are different at night and there’s a temple that is different from Disneyland’s version. I’m biased because this is one of my favorite attractions.

Characters To Do

  • Mickey Mouse in Town Square Theater

This is one of the most magical things about WDW. Don’t watch YouTube videos beforehand or you’ll ruin it.

  •  Gaston

He is much easier to find in WDW than in Disneyland and seeing everyone else interact with him makes the line fly by. Try to show up at least 15 minutes before the times listed in the app because a queue does form ahead of time.

  • Anastasia and Drizella (and if you’re lucky, Lady Tremaine!)

These characters are listed in the app and can be found near the arches behind the carousel. They are crazy and very entertaining.

  • The Fairy Godmother

She isn’t usually listed in the app but meets just behind the castle near the path to liberty square. All of the videos on YouTube make her seem delightful and it is a really unique character interaction.

Entertainment To Do

  • Happily Ever After

This really is spectacular if you have a good view of the castle. Try to find a great spot at least 1.5 hours before or twenty minutes before for a less-good spot.

  • Festival of Fantasy Parade at 3:00 pm

I never understood the appeal of parades until I saw this one. Every aspect is beautiful and the dragon is very impressive.

  • The Muppets Present…Great Moments in American History

This is really unique to Liberty Square and has a plethora of puns. Check the app for showtimes.

Bonus To Do

  • Visit the Tangled-themed bathrooms in Fantasyland near Haunted Mansion
  • Check out the Big Top Circus behind Fantasyland (roughly where ToonTown is in Disneyland) for some unique character meet-and-greets and some good souvenir shopping
  • Try a citrus swirl at Sunshine Tree Terrace – it’s like Dole Whip but orange dreamsicle flavored

Things to Skip (unless you have young kids; not in order)

  • Winnie the Pooh

It is pretty much the same as Disneyland’s version. But the Hundred Acre Goods shop at the exit has lots of Winnie the Pooh merchandise if you love the characters. There is an interactive queue that is cool though.

  • Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin

It’s a lamer version of Astro Blasters that looks outdated and has the guns attached to the carts.

  • Barnstormer

This is a roller coaster intended for kids like Gadget’s Go Coaster in ToonTown.

  • Mad Tea Party

This is the exact same as Disneyland but covered.

  • Tomorrowland Speedway

This is a lamer, less-themed, smellier version of Autopia.

  • Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid

This is the exact same as the Little Mermaid ride in California Adventure but it does have a much more fabulous queue if you wanted to see it.

  • Prince Charming Regal Carrousel

Your standard carousel but surrounded by strollers.

  • Aladdin’s Flying Carpets

Like Dumbo but with a chance that you’ll get squirted with water and with longer lines.

Things to Do Time-Permitting (listed in order of most must-do to most skippable)

  • Astro Orbiter

I absolutely love riding this at night because it is so high and has spectacular views, so is much better than Disneyland’s version. Only ride two adults per rocket if you’re intimate with the other person. Skip if you don’t like heights.

  •  Dumbo

This is such a classic and is way more fun as an adult than you might think. The lines are usually much shorter than at Disneyland.

  • Mickey’s PhilharMagic

I found this 4D theater to be quite charming and nostalgic and Disneyland doesn’t have it.

  • Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor

If you like corny jokes or improv and need a place to sit and relax, this is perfect. Also unique to WDW.

  • Peter Pan’s Flight without a FastPass+

There is an interactive queue that has a lot of magical elements. If you don’t care about this or the line is longer than 60 minutes, get a FastPass+ or skip it because it isn’t worth it otherwise.

  • it’s a small world

This is such a classic but is much less impressive than Disneyland’s version because it is inside. If you’ve ever wanted to walk near the facade, check it out. Look for your name on the signs in the last room.

  • Pirates of the Caribbean

I am always very underwhelmed by WDW’s version. They redid the “We Wants the Redhead” scene in February 2018 so that’s the only redeeming feature.

  • Swiss Family Treehouse

This has a great view at twilight; you can actually get a shot overlooking Main Street and is the version that Disneyland had before it became Tarzan’s Treehouse.

  • Walt Disney World Railroad

This does not have the same dioramas as Disneyland’s but it is kind of cool to see behind the scenes.

  • Enchanted Tiki Room

This is almost the same as Disneyland’s. It is a good place to cool off with a short wait if you need to.

 

What are your must-dos? Anything you disagree with? Let me know in the comments below!

Disney Trips · Education Reviews · Uncategorized

Science Behind Pixar Museum Exhibit Review

Since starting my PhD in Learning Sciences, I’ve taken quite a few classes that have been focused on the design of learning environments and museums in particular. So I have become overly critical of museums and museum exhibits as learning opportunities because I am now better equipped with theories and ideas about what educational goals the designers were intending to achieve and how they were trying to do so.

Even with this more critical perspective, I think the Science Behind Pixar exhibit at The Henry Ford was the best museum exhibit I have ever experienced. Even if you aren’t a huge Disney or Pixar fan, I highly recommend going to see the exhibit in its next location (it is set to close at the Michigan location after March 18th) or at least check out the website that has a majority of the activities available online (linked below) because you’ll learn a ton about movie-making in addition to applications of science and math that you may never known about.

Overview

The entire exhibit is meant to showcase the combination of art, math, and computer science that enables Pixar to create their award-winning movies by telling the stories of how a movie gets made. Additionally, one of the explicit and NSF-funded goals of the exhibit was to support novice learners in understanding computational thinking, specifically problem decomposition.

These goals are accomplished through nine themed areas aligned with nine departments of Pixar Studios:

  1. Story & Art
  2. Modeling
  3. Rigging
  4. Surfaces
  5. Sets & Cameras
  6. Animation
  7. Simulation
  8. Lighting
  9. Rendering

After watching an introductory video that highlights the majority of the content dedicated to Story and Art, museum visitors enter the Modeling department and proceed through the rest of the departments at will. In each department, there are videos and interactive activities centered around a Pixar challenge that had to be resolved using math and science. The videos include interviews with Pixar employees about their childhoods, their jobs and about the math and science they used to solve the challenge in their department. In each department, there is at least one guided exploration activity and one more open-ended exploration activity designed to give visitors hands-on experience with solving the challenge for the department.

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Some of my favorite activities for their content and engagement were the Programming Natural Variety in Sets & Cameras, Surface Appearance Workstation in Surfaces, and Crowd Simulation Workstation in Simulation which will likely be getting their own blog posts soon!

What Was Done Well

The overall story and flow of the entire exhibit really gave a nice direction to the exhibit as a whole. The introductory video (also available on the exhibit homepage) outlines the various jobs of the departments at Pixar that contribute to making a film – the same jobs that you’ll get to try a hand at in the exhibit. With each activity having at least two workstations, multiple people could be engaging at the same time which increased the capacity of the exhibit and encouraged interaction among visitors among and between parties.

The effort put forth to really make this a family-going experience was apparent in all of the elements of the exhibit. Each video and screen-based activity also had a transcript and audio recordings of the instructions so that blind, deaf, or hard-of-hearing patrons can have equal access to the content. One of the aspects that I appreciated most was the presence of stools in front of many of the videos and activities and the placement of the video screens at more of a kid level than an adult level; providing the stools allowed adults to get down at the kids’ level for more intimate interactions, to provide a lap for smaller children, or to just rest their limbs for a lengthy exhibit experience.

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Additionally, one of the strongest and most consistent arcs throughout the exhibit were the stories from the Pixar employees about how their childhood and passions shaped their career. From mentions of the computer program Logo to breaking an expensive camera apart to figure out how it worked, these personal touches were clearly intended to inspire younger visitors to lean in to their hobbies and keep dreaming of one day working for Pixar. Knowing more about the various positions at Pixar can help kids figure out career aspirations in STEAM fields that they might otherwise never know existed.

The science and math content was foregrounded in each activity with brief descriptions and diagrams. Science content included the physics of light and color and materials as well as engaging in experimental practices like making predictions and testing variables systematically. I learned about applications of 3D coordinate planes, angles of rotation, how to create 3D objects from 2D shapes, the Monte Carlo simulation, and mathematical patterns in nature to name a few.

The activities were designed with several learning principles in mind. Leveraging the power of story-telling for learning, the linear nature of the exhibit made it more memorable and the pieces building on each other scaffolded visitors to build integrated knowledge structures.

The activities were both authentic and exploratory, which, according to constructionism and inquiry-based learning, are some of the main requirements for a successful learning experience. In particular, the open-ended activities allowed visitors to apply and further hone their understanding of the math and science principles to create and experiment with tools that Pixar employees would actually use. For example, the Programming Natural Variety activity involved adjusting parameters to generate grass with different appearances which seamlessly integrated randomization and scientific research on nature’s mathematical patterns.

Furthermore, the exhibit used several comparisons (what my PhD research focuses on, so I’m biased!) to demonstrate the power of the technology for telling better stories such as subdivision and surface refraction contributing to more realistic characters and lighting significantly altering the mood of a scene.

 

What could still be improved

More inclusion of more recent movies

I was disappointed to not see more from Pixar’s Coco but the exhibit was designed before the movie came out. Cars 3 which has also received lots of praise for featuring Cruz Ramirez as a female protagonist and Finding Dory were also not included (although there is a large model of Dory for one of the activity stations or to take pictures with). If you or your child are going in with the expectation of seeing these characters or learning more about the technological advancements for these movies, you may be disappointed.

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More resources for parents and educators to use with their children in the space

While several of the interactive activities are accessible and engaging for learners of all ages, providing at least some questions for adults or children to ask of each other would likely spark more conversation and curiosity around the math and science content. I found myself asking one child who was trying to achieve a spooky mood for the Up lighting activity, “How did you do that?” and I think having more questions to get kids to explain their learning and processing can help them take away more from the experience.

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More detail on some of the science or resources to follow-up with to learn more

My interests were definitely piqued but I found that the “More Info” buttons included in some of the activities did not provide enough of a detailed explanation of the science and math underlying the technology. While my desired level of understanding may not align with that of the target audience, having these materials more easily accessible in a pamphlet or more obviously linked on the website would be helpful to other curious attendees (The Pixar in a Box on Khan Academy seems to have the most in-depth and germane resources but I had to click beyond the front page to find it). Including some scannable QR codes to more in-depth explanations would have also been a modest yet helpful addition.

More representation of minority employees and characters

While Pixar has recently said that they aim to include the voices of more women and people of color in their company and products, this was only somewhat represented in the exhibit materials. Several of the video interviews with employees were with white males and people of East or South Asian descent who are stereotyped to be good at math and science; I only recall one black woman and she was an intern and not yet a full employee. As the company moves towards more diversifying the workplace, some more interviews can be done and hopefully more of the movies will center around characters whose stories have not yet been featured on the big screen.

More Resources

The official exhibit website has several of the videos that can be seen in the exhibit for people that cannot attend or for those who want to get a better idea of what to expect. Most of the content of the exhibit is available online except for some of the Animation activities that required physical interaction such as to create a stop-motion video of Luxo Jr. jumping.

The webpage for educators has several resources for teachers and parents alike to use with their children. Many of the laudable inquiry-driven activities from the exhibit are available online in full (I found that they worked better in Safari than in Chrome) and there are some additional activity cards with guiding questions to ask students.

The Pixar in a Box collaboration with Khan Academy is surprisingly extensive. There are a handful of sequences of videos and activities around story-telling, simulation, color science, virtual cameras, effects, patterns and more science and math topics. I have not had time to completely explore it but I am usually skeptical of Khan Academy content because it is predominantly lecture-driven and the questions and activities aren’t much of an improvement over inauthentic, rote worksheets. At a glance, the Pixar touch likely makes it more engaging and productive than what I might usually expect from Khan Academy.

The webpage for researchers has direct links to the purposefully designed computational thinking activities and information about posters that were presented on research done in the exhibit. Some of the posters feature more details on the demographics of the research participants and the vast majority are Caucasian. I hope that more efforts are being made to recruit more students and families of color to attend the exhibit. More research should also be done on whether the online materials are being used by similar populations.

Ask a Pixar Scientist allows curiosity to continue beyond the exhibit by publishing kids’ and adults’ lingering questions with responses from actual Pixar employees.

 

Let me know what resources and activities you thought were the most fun to play around with online or in-person or which ones you’re most curious about learning more about!