The Power of Wow

I got to ride Rise of the Resistance today.


I will not be spoiling any of the ride experience in this post and talking about it only in the absolute vaguest of terms. I don't want to lesson the experience for anyone. I did all I could to avoid any information about the ride and I did pretty well. I knew of a few points and ways the ride worked but I avoided most spoilers. It made for quite an experience.

So, without any spoilers, just know there are multiple "Wow" moments in the attraction. Recent E-ticket attractions have their own wows like the first time you realize you are actually controlling the flight path of the ship on Smuggler's Run or the various visuals wows on Radiator Springs Racers like the waterfall and the angry combine. Nothing comes close to the amount of power of the wows on Rise.

There are wows of innovation. I asked myself "How the heck did they do that?!" multiple times. From the attraction launch room, to the ride vehicle itself, to the unbelievable effects work the attraction is the pinnacle of Imagineering technology and innovation.

There are wows of scale. I won't say anything here except to say this ride is BIG. It is monumental in scale and awe inspiring at multiple points as a result.

There are wows of connection. Despite all the amazing cutting-edge technology the attraction is very human. Again, I won't say anything here other than this is the most cinematic attraction Disney has ever made. More than any other you are a part of the story. You are connected the attraction unlike every before.

I walked off the attraction both thinking and saying wow. It is a masterpiece of design and there's nothing else like it.

That said, an hour later I tried the fried guacamole bites at California Adventure, and it nearly matches the wow level of Rise, but that's a story for another day.

I've had an ongoing debate with my colleague about how we do wow in our classrooms. He argues that we have too many of them. When nearly every day is a wow when nothing stands out and our students lose appreciation for what we do. I argue that every experience should be excellent. Disney doesn't avoid wowing their guests on one attraction so another stands out. While I agree with him that students becoming accustomed to wow and not appreciating it is a problem, I just think that means we need bigger wows!

So, how can we replicate these wows in our classrooms? Let's do some Blue Sky thinking!

Wows of Innovation (How did you do that?!)

One reason we need to Keep it Up (Mickey's 10th Commandment) is that innovation matters. This weekend, in addition to my trip(s) to Disneyland I attended the California Council for the Social Studies state conference. I got to learn some new tricks and techniques from some of the most innovative history teachers in California. Some are tech wows (Peardeck is pretty cool it turns out), others are simple activity wows (how have I not used sensory paragraphs as story intros in history before?!) I'll get to take these new and novel ideas back to my classroom where students have not experienced them before. To me, and to them, it will open up doors to wow with innovation.

I think the area where most teachers have room to do this is with their classroom presentations. Whether it is a lecture or simply your Google Slide outlining the agenda for the day, we are constantly putting things in front of our students. We present all. the. time. Learn some new tricks and wow them!

As many know, I'm a huge fan of building off of the hard work of others. Envato marketplace is a wonderful place to look for cutting edge presentation templates. These templates, while not free, will save you dozens of hours in creating "how did you do that?!" moments in your presentations. My personal favorite is a package called Massive X. It has incredible photo animations, infographics and animated maps. All very easily add a unique touch to your shows. For example, with the photo animations you just drop in a picture and it adds layering and parallax effects to give it a sense of motion.

There's tons of great tricks out there and teachers sharing them. Get on Twitter! @Stacyyung and @historysandoval are two fantastic teachers who are constantly sharing awesome, innovative wows that you can borrow!

Wows of Scale

When can you "go big" in your classroom?

While we may not be able to build objects of immense scale like the Imagineers we can still make our lessons feel big.

One of my favorite lessons is my Where Am I? activity. At its core its a DBQ. Students analyze 6 documents and answer a question using them as evidence. It feels so much bigger. There's a deep, participatory narrative, fun animations and, most importantly, a big (virtually at least) intro video.

Kids love this lesson because it is bigger than just our classroom. We're in the jungles of Latin America even though we haven't left our four walls. The scale of the Rise attraction makes it feel incredibly real. I know I'm not in space but I might as well be. We can bring in scale by giving our kids a bigger audience than just our rooms. Post their work online. Skype in a professor or expert on your topic. Go big and bring the wow!

Wows of Connection

When we connect to a story it holds far more meaning to us. This is why I've always pushed back on the idea that history has to be relevant to our kids. Most of the stuff I connect to isn't relevant to my life. Video games, movies, Disneyland - all ultimately irrelevant. If a topic easily connects to their lives great but going out of our way to force a connection is inauthentic and misses the point.

We can add connection in much easier ways. Play a snippet of a relevant pop song. Drop a movie or cartoon character into your presentation. I have a great picture of Patrick Starfish, mouth agape, that I drop in a few times throughout they year when I share an amazing, and often irrelevant fact, such as that the Inca made their bridges out of dried grass.

Know your audience (commandment 1) and make them part of your story. Rise works so well because it feels so real. You become a part of it very early in the experience and it doesn't let go until you step off the ride. Figure out how to do that in your classroom and you'll have them just as hooked!

We don't have the budget or skills of the Imagineers when it comes to creating experiences but we can still definitely learn from them. Try to wow your students with something this week and see how big it pays off!

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