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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Pixar Helps Teachers Find Creativity ‘in a Box’

By Peter DeWitt — December 17, 2015 2 min read
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Have you ever done one of those killer worksheets? You know...the ones that you couldn’t believe you finished and wanted to keep forever? Yeah, probably not. However, do you remember those teachers who inspired you to work harder on innovative projects that helped you authentically collaborate with others? Do you remember how they got you to explore things you never thought you would ever do?

We definitely remember those teachers in our lives.

They were the ones who weren’t afraid to take risks in front of us, and challenged us to take risks as well. They set up a classroom climate where rule following took a backseat to risk-taking. Those are the teachers who are perfectly matched for “Pixar in a Box.”

Pixar in a Box?

Recently, Pixar University and Khan Academy partnered together to create Pixar in a Box, which is a free set of resources and curriculum that can be used in classrooms or at home. Khan Academy is well-known for helping teachers and students flip their classrooms. And Pixar...we know Pixar. They have inspired generations of kids with movies like Toy Story, Monsters, Inc. Finding Nemo and Cars.

21st Century Skills...Still?
Since before 2000 we have all heard about 21st century skills, and then the conversation moved into preparing students for college and the workplace. In order to do that we know that we have to move away from a 19th century way of learning to more innovative methods of engaging our students. Pixar in a Box is one resource to help teachers and students meet that goal.

In an interview for Education Week and the School Administrators Association of New York State (SAANYS), Elise Klaidman, Director of Pixar University who led the initiative said,

Teachers on every level have contacted me during my whole experience here, and have been asking if we could help them incorporate some of what we do into their curriculum. They wanted it embedded into the learning of their students, and asked how we could help to support their creation of curriculum around animation and around what it takes to do what we do."

Those teachers understand that innovation looks different from the way they may have been educated and sometimes that may look messy...meaning that the teacher isn’t the fountain of all knowledge and learns right with their students. It also means that it isn’t neatly packaged into one subject over the other, but it does float through all the pieces of STEAM, which we know means science, technology, engineering, the arts and math.

Brit Cruise, Content Producer at Khan Academy, said

From the outset our guiding principle was, "So what math are we teaching?" Our guiding principle was tell the most authentic story, or the most natural story, whatever feels natural in terms of the context of Pixar. So at a very high level that means we've organized our content around the production pipeline of how a movie gets made. That was an important decision because at the beginning we had tossed around the idea of having a mathematical view at the highest level. So here's our geometry module, here's our algebra one module, but we quickly threw that away in hopes of, again, always keeping the general audience in mind, we would work around the production pipeline."

Klaidman supported Brit by saying,

I would say shifting first from inspiring to more learning, and knowing that I think all of us who work here know how lucky we are to have learned, what we did at school. And then be able to find relevance and meaning with things we were interested in in this wonderful place called Pixar."

Klaidman went on to say,

And all of us who were students, and to all who have kids. We often have heard things like I don't have to learn this math anyway. And had some students learned that math was really creative maybe they would have taken a different path. So we have this gift of this great work we get to do and we know that it matches up with the content they need to learn in school. Why not allow them to learn it in context of really exciting, creative work?"

Inspiring Learning
A few months ago I saw a picture posted on Facebook by my friend Tony Sinanis. Tony and his son Paul were visiting a museum in New York City, and Paul was creating some sample Pixar animation through the computer. Tony was blown away and Paul was certainly having a good time.

Paul, nor any child, shouldn’t have to go to museums to create a little innovation of their own. Not that museums aren’t important because they are, but students should be able to create their own animation without going out of the classroom. They should see that math can help tell a very creative story. And just like the animated characters Paulie created at the museum, Pixar wants to help students and teachers do it at school any day they want.

Cruise said,

The most practical, obvious thing we did first is that we created one-hour, hands-on extensions of all our initial lessons that could be done alone or in groups. We optimized it for classrooms and tested it in classrooms. So that at least there is a piece that was very much designed for classrooms. It's up to the teacher how the students go through that lesson, if they do at home, if they do it together, etc."

Cruise continued by saying,

The goal is to really excite and motivate my 12 year old self. I actually do visualize it as creating content that you can then send back in time, but then just make it a little bit easier for that kid to take a few steps that would have been really hard otherwise. Because I remember Toy Story coming out, and even asking my teacher, "Can we do an animation class?" There was just no material to actually plug into that classroom. This teacher just let us play with a computer basically. So we created a content that we can gift to ourselves."

When it comes to Pixar in a Box Klaidman says,

I think that it can be an exciting place for students and teachers to learn together, because there will be new content for all of them. Yet, the teachers will have real expertise in certain areas, and all of them will have creative ideas that can compliment each other. And one of the most important skills we know that are important for 21st century and beyond is collaboration and the ability to learn from each other and work together, which is certainly what we do Pixar."

Collaboration between a teacher and a group of students is way better than any worksheet that’s out there.

Connect with Peter on Twitter.

Picture of Paul courtesy of Tony Sinanis.

Pixar pictures courtesy of Pixar Entertainment.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.