Posters and Wienies!
Mickey's 4th Commandment of theme park design is use a wienie. I've written about wienies before but it is such an important (and fun!) commandment that we're due for another look. A wienie is a visual magnet that draws people into an experience. Matterhorn Mountain is visible from miles around and draws you to Disneyland from the 5 Freeway. Sleeping Beauty's castle dominates your view when you step out of entry plaza lobby and onto Main Street USA drawing you into the park.
While I'd love to build a mountain or castle in my classroom that seems unlikely. Thankfully, Disney uses many more wienies that are much easier to recreate. My personal favorite are the attraction posters. These posters, which line the entry way out of the entry plaza lobby, are modeled after the movie posters one would find in any theater lobby. These posters are catalogued in a beautiful coffee-table book entitled Poster Art of the Disney Parks, co-authored by Imagineering archivist Vanessa Hunt whom I got to meet recently (which was awesome!).
The book collects poster art from Disney parks all around the world. It was interesting to see how the styles tend to change from location to location. The posters at Disneyland largely all have a retro feel whereas the posters at Tokyo DisneySea all look very modern. I'm a sucker for the traditional so the retro ones are my favorites but the modern ones have some interesting takes as well. In every case the posters serve as wienies - visual introductions indicating which experiences you should go seek out.
What if we presented our classroom experiences as movie posters? Assuming we're doing them well our lessons have all the necessary aspects of a good movie already - action, adventure, mystery - so, why not? We may not be able to make mountains, but thanks to the internet we can definitely make posters. It may not be easy but it sure easier than building a castle! Here's a sample of the ones I've made for my entry wall so far.
So, how do we make these? If you are a tech wizard you'll want to use Photoshop as it does a great job of scaling images. If you are going to print your masterpiece at poster size you'll need a very high resolution so that it doesn't come out looking pixelated. However, I'm not a tech wizard so I'll use the generic tool that works for all jobs - PowerPoint!
Step 1 - Set your canvas size. Standard movie posters are a slightly odd size. I recommend sizing your canvas at 3' by 2'. These dimensions are very close to a standard movie poster, are easier to find a frame for and, most importantly, are a standard size that can be printed at many online stores without additional charges. In PowerPoint click on the Design tab and then Slide Size. Choose Custom and set your width to 24 inches and your height to 36 inches.
It is important to work with a properly sized canvas so you can arrange your elements properly and get a good idea of how much an image will have to scale up to fit your canvas. Again, you don't have to have to scale up too much. The more you scale the less sharp your final poster will be.
Step 2 - Plan. What feeling are you going for? Excitement? Whimsy? Mystery? What movies exist with a similar feeling? What do the posters for those films look like? Can you borrow elements from those designs? Can you borrow (steal) the design entirely? In imagineering this the Blue Sky phase. Just aim as high as you can imagine. Get all the ideas down, then worry about logistics.
Step 3 - Gather your art. I am not good at creating art. I can't draw and, as I said, I'm not great with Photoshop. I have to rely on others for the art piece. My favorite site for this is Pixabay.com. Their images are completely free and come in very high resolutions. Many even come as vectors which are infinitely scalable so they will look good no matter how much you enlarge them. They have a huge collection but sometimes they won't have quite the right piece you're looking for. In that case I suggest Bing images. It has some advantages over Google Images, notably it is quite a bit easier to actually get to the high quality version of the image you'll want. When you search make sure you click on Image Size and choose Extra Large. 1000 x 1000 resolution is the absolute minimum you'll want to use.
A last option, which I am eager to pursue, is to use your students. Especially at the high school level you likely have some talented young artists in your art or graphic design classes looking for an opportunity. They'll work cheap! Maybe you can swing some class credit for them. At the very least you can put their name on the final poster. They'll be thrilled to see their work valued in such a way. If they do the work on white canvas you can easily scan it into your computer and use PowerPoint's background removal tool to clear out the white space leaving you with just the image you need.
Step 4 - Write your copy. I like to use the bottom part of the poster, the billing block, to tell the story of my lessons. Borrowing again from the Imagineers, I write a short lesson description using actions. This is not a learning objective - it is an attraction description!
Step 5 - Arrange it all. This is where PowerPoint really shines. You can add titles, try out different fonts and colors and move things as much as you want.
Step 6 - Create it! In PowerPoint to turn your arrangement into a picture file you just click edit > select all then right click on the slide and select "Save as picture." If you're going to show your poster as a digital file you're done. If you're going to print it you now have the file you'll need. One site I highly recommend is Bingbanners.com. For less than $10 they'll print your poster on canvas which holds up great in class and well enough outside for short periods. They look great and will last far longer than a paper print.
Now display it. Remember, the idea is for the poster to serve as a wienie so if you can put it on an outside wall you'll have the best results. First impressions are important. We like to think that our students' first impression comes when they enter the room but truth is our outer walls tell a story too. For most of us that story is "nothing special to see here" as our walls look like any other in the school. If your wall was the one with lesson posters what impression would that leave your students? I know how I felt as a kid every time that snowy peak of the Matterhorn showed up in the car window. That's the power of the wienie!