Four ways to create a Disney-quality magical experience in your classroom


Teaching | Monday, August 25, 2014

Four ways to create a Disney-quality magical experience in your classroom

Four ways to create a Disney-quality magical experience in your classroom
Four ways to create a Disney-quality magical experience in your classroom

Disney Parks pull out all of the stops to make visitors’ experiences magical and unforgettable. These ideas can help you create “a whole new world” in your classroom. (Sketch by Matt Miller)

There’s a reason Disney Parks have the slogan “Where Dreams Come True.”

There’s magic everywhere, from the entrances to the parks to the little details that children uncover to the big experiences everyone looks forward to.

The reason that pixie-dust feel permeates everything points right back to the founder, Walt Disney. He was an innovator. He wanted his guests to feel like they were in a whole different world when they stepped in the gates.

He wanted them to have that magical experience.

And look at how popular it has become – people flock to Disney Parks from all over the world and willingly pay the exorbitant prices for tickets, food and merchandise.

I’m one of them. My three children, my wife and I stayed at Disney World in Florida this summer, and I got to see my kids’ wide-eyed amazement with every turn.

Everywhere we went, I learned lessons that I can incorporate into my classes to create a magical experience. Here are some of them:

1. Set the scene. When you walk into a Disney attraction, you can see Walt Disney’s views on stepping into a different world. Disney Hollywood Studios ride “Twilight Zone Tower of Terror” is set in a posh hotel that’s been abandoned. The swanky furniture and suitcases are covered in dust and cobwebs, creating the atmosphere necessary to feel part of the ride.

Pick a lesson you teach and think of ways you could really set the scene to deliver the magical experience. It could include costumes, props, a YouTube video or a Google Maps street tour.

2. Don’t forget the little details. One of the things that keeps catching my eye at Disney World is the paved walkways. How many theme parks across the world leave them bland and don’t use them to add the experience? At Animal Kingdom, there were animal footprints and leaf prints pressed into the pavement.

What special details could you incorporate into what you do in the classroom? I’m envisioning hiding a QR code on an assignment that directs students to a fun video that touches – briefly or barely – to the topic but is mostly just fun. The best part – once you start adding these details, your students will be watching for them.

3. Customer service is top priority. My wife and I keep noticing that the vast majority of Disney staff (they call them “cast members”) are surprisingly helpful and cordial. Bus drivers greet you warmly before they take you to the parks. Ride attendants dress in costume and play the part. Security guards leave their duties to help lost guests. Why? Because it’s the happiest place on earth! (OK, that’s technically Disneyland, but it applies here, too!)

They’re happy to be there, but they know how important it is that YOU’RE happy to be there. Your students are your guests, your customers. When they feel appreciated, they’ll break through walls for you. (OK, maybe not, but they are much more likely to work for you!)

4. Use technology to create a little magic. One of the coolest apps around – Aurasma – was in use at Disney World, and it created such a cool experience for my kids. In the special area for the movie “Frozen” – a favorite in my family – my kids had photos taken with Olaf the snowman and the trolls. The catch was that they were added to the photo through Aurasma’s augmented reality. Against a backdrop, I started the Aurasma app and Olaf walked into the picture virtually and posted with my family. The kids couldn’t get enough of looking at it!

Aurasma is a very powerful augmented reality tool – and very accessible at the classroom level. My go-to source for examples of using Aurasma in the classroom is this blog post by teacher blogger Erin Klein. Some neat ideas include adding videos over students’ photos on the wall for a magical “Meet the Teacher” night for families and using augmented reality to bring sight words to life.

Start your magical classroom experience one step at a time! Have you found some inspiration? Take an idea that popped into your mind during this blog post – or one of the ones listed here – and start to tinker. Just try one – your students don’t have to walk into “a whole new world” (see what I did there?) on the first day of school. But if you incorporate new little pieces over time, you’ll be surprised at what you create – and your students will too.

How can you create a magical experience in your classroom to increase student engagement? What are some ideas that come to mind?

(This post was originally posted on the Five-Star Technology Solutions blog in July.)

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  • Marti Pike says:

    I love #3! I am committed to helping my students be happy because, as is states on p.13 of Shawn Achor’s Happiness Advantage, when you are happier, you are smarter!


    Love this. Thank you it is an awesome message.

  • […] Four ways to create a Disney-quality magical experience in your classroom | Ditch That Textbook […]

  • Ken Keene says:

    Lighting (colored and/or twinkling), “angel hair” waving from the ceiling, crepe paper strung across the room, background music to set the mood. Any or all of these simple decorative techniques can pique the interest of even the most negative student.

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