Everything Starts with a Story

posted Feb 27, 2018, 2:45 PM by Kevin Roughton   [ updated May 22, 2018, 2:51 PM ]
Disneyland vs. Knott's Berry Farm - the never-ending argument - right? Wrong, of course. The only people who choose Knott's are those who hate crowds. Disneyland is light years ahead of typical amusement parks in design (as evidenced by their prices which are equally light years ahead.)  

The secret to their design? Everything starts with a story.

Attractions (rides) start as storyboards - just like any movie would. You are taken through the ride bit by bit, room by room, with the story being told all along the way. In the case of many of rides like Indiana Jones that story is being told while you are in line before the ride even begins. Sometimes the story is very clear (like in say, Peter Pan's Flight) and in others a little more of a backstory that  you have to work to discern (like Big Thunder Mountain) but it is always there. Every attraction starts with a story. So too do their restaurants, shops, music choices, walkways, trash cans, restrooms, food options and hotels. Walt Disney was a story teller at heart and it shows.

The Haunted Mansion, an attraction deep in story, recently was overhauled to make the story even more a part of the experience. The basics of you becoming one of the 1,001 "happy haunts" has not changed. Madam Leota still speaks from her crystal ball and you are still beckoned to "huuuurrrryyy baaaack" by the ghostly bride as you exit the ride. In between though you see much more of the bride's story. You see how she turned on her husband (or husbands depending your interpretation!) and how things ended in a rather grisly manner. Nothing is ever stated directly - it all comes through visuals - but a close eye will reveal the story.

We can do story in our classrooms as well. I've talked about this in the past when talking about thing like Imagineering a DBQ but I was reminded of it again this week. This week we experienced my Digging for the Truth: The Tomb lab. I built this lab two years ago as an introduction to our Diffusion unit. It is an investigation into the tomb of Shi Huang Di using pictures of the artifacts found there. Students analyze the artifacts to learn what they can about China. They learn that they understood metallurgy, had a form of writing and were unified under this emperor. It has a sense of danger as they see video clips discussing the traps originally built in the tomb and the high amounts of mercury measured down in the tomb. The video clips, from History Channel's China's First Emperor, are fantastic. The narrator has a foreboding tone and the animations and recreations are top-notch. I was quite happy with the lab already.

But it didn't really have a story throughout.


It had a narrative intro. It started with a plane landing in Xi'an China and a short description of the memorial hill built for the emperor. It told the story of the tomb being discovered by a farmer digging a well. Then though, it was just kind of a series of artifacts. My student teacher, who ran the lab for most of periods, commented after his first run through that he wanted to tell more of a story as it went along as it felt like just going through the motions. Of course, I agreed. We worked out a story for each of the exhibits that helps drive home the danger of the investigation while still getting to the content we want the kids to learn.  In fact, having a scripted story allowed me to go even deeper with the content. For example, I added a description of how we could determine the material an object is made of. 

The investigation now closes with this observation: We never found the body! This deepens the mystery and helps to set up the final video clip where it explains why the inner tomb has not yet been opened. 

So, while the lab was already pretty good it is notw much better. It's not just a roller coaster, it's an attraction! I have no doubt it will be more engaging than before and will draw students in even deeper. It was an easy switch too. It didn't take much to add the narrative to the lab.

Where can you add a story to spice up your lessons?