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South Jordan Journal

Bingham High teacher learns from Disney World officials how to inspire students through creativity

Sep 08, 2022 11:32AM ● By Julie Slama

In his first year of teaching, Bingham High English teacher Braxton Thornley learned about mission escape lessons from a colleague.

He tried it out, then COVID-19 hit. 

This past year, Thornley incorporated more of the lessons, having his students engaged in solving a series of problems that led to clues, which ultimately led to lock boxes with an assortment of rewards. 

“It’s more critical thinking and problem solving,” Thornley said. “The idea here is that rather than just having a teacher stand in front of a class to lecture for an hour, you can get information to your students in a more exciting way by having them solve problems and then record their answers to those problems and use that information.”

So, when the fourth-year teacher heard about Disney’s Imagination Cam pus’s 50 teachers celebration, he applied, using the mission escape lessons for his 500-word essay that described how he inspires creativity in the classroom.

“I had some spy music playing and a video on with some spy instructions, essentially, that said, ‘you're a spy for the day. Here's your first clue,’” Thornley said. “Their goal was to get into the lockbox, so they went through a series of problems where they had to look at arguments and identify what logical fallacies were being used and describe why they were logical fallacies. The further they got, the more complex the problems got to lead them toward the lockbox. Some of the students loved it and were all really excited about it. Some of them were frustrated because it wasn't just the straightforward, ‘do this’ and that's kind of the point of it, too. I wanted them to think and apply what they were learning. When we shift the way we present education, it engages students a little bit more.”

Thornley’s lesson was deemed creative, one of those a student always would remember. Amongst the thousands of teachers who applied, he was selected as one of the nation’s 50 who received an all-expense paid trip to Disney World for their 50 anniversary. He attended a day-long workshop, followed by a fun day at the theme park. His wife’s Disney World tickets were also included, as well as some swag.

At the beginning of the workshop, Thornley and others met with Disney’s Imagineers, the creative group who is part of the theme park’s engineering team. They had an assignment for the teachers: design a theme park. 

Once in a small group, Thornley’s team worked on a preliminary design. 

“Our theme park had parts representing different areas of the world. So, we had an ocean land, a mountain land, a forest land and that sort of idea was kind of a concept we went with,” he said. “We only had 15 or 20 minutes to brainstorm with 12 people, so we didn't pin down a lot of details. Our idea was the ocean land would have water rides and the mountain land would be more adventurous rides like roller coasters.”

Then, with the Imagineers, they toured Disney World.

“They took us around the park and showed us different elements of the park so we could explore in more depth. They pointed out all the things that they hadn't given us that needs to be included in an actual park, like restrooms. A lot of us have already thought of restaurants, but they also pointed out backstage areas for their employees, like cafeteria, restrooms, changing rooms, lockers, the places where they put all the dumpsters, the places where they get deliveries and all of that sort of thing. They said that Disney World is about 60% dedicated to the people who are paying to come to the park and 40% is for behind the scenes. They pointed out how parts of the park are different from one another, such as how the sidewalks were different, how the music was different, how the design was different. Kind of getting that artistic element that helps them be distinct and how an art teacher would use this lesson, they could ask their students to design the artwork for the rides or a certain theme for a particular area. They showed how to maximize space with your engineering or architecture students and how the different parts are advertised with marketing students,” he said.

Then, like with English papers Thornley assigns, it came time to revise.

“We improved our theme parks with the basic overlaying idea that students can learn more if they have an application to set their knowledge to. The idea behind it was you can give students a problem that exists in the real world within your content area — have them try to solve it, give them more information, then have them try to solve it again,” he said. “I think that's helpful to students and to really integrate well into the creative process. I see a lot of students who get hung up on the first draft and don't even know how to start. So, it's always a conversation of ‘just get something down on the paper and then we'll work with it, and we'll make it better.’ I'm really interested in this framework of education when the student tries something, and the teacher sees where they're at rather than just giving all of the instruction at the beginning. I think that process is helpful to students. So, I want to experiment with that instructional delivery method in my own classroom.”

Early in the afternoon, the teachers heard from several Disney representatives, including vice presidents and artistic directors as well as directors from ESPN and ABC. 

“All of the talks focused on leadership and innovation to inspiring creativity and what a creative process looks like,” Thornley said.

Following the panel discussions, the teachers worked with a Broadway artistic director learning a scene from the production, “Frozen.”

“As he was teaching us the scene, he was explaining the teaching process, how to teach us, as students, new material in an engaging way through movement and repetition in the classroom and through practicing and feedback,” he said.

The day wasn’t all classroom application. Thornley and others were grand marshals in a parade that marched down Disney World’s Main Street. They ate breakfast in the castle, had front-row seats to the night-time show, “Harmonious,” and rode the thrill coaster “Cosmic Rewind” at EPCOT’s Guardians of the Galaxy on opening day with the Imagineers.

As a result of the Disney World opportunity, Thornley and other teachers have shared “really cool things that we’re doing” through a Google Doc, “so [we] have access to this big pool of information on ideas from other teachers throughout the country” so they can replicate or collaborate with one another.

“It was a fantastic trip and a great opportunity at Disney’s Imagination Campus,” he said. “Just an amazing experience.” λ