Unfortunately, Walt died before the Magic Kingdom was completed, and he never saw the theme park we know as Epcot today. In contrast to Walt's plan, our Epcot reflects not a working community, but more of a World's Fair sort of environment. So there's your first lesson...what were World's Fairs, and why don't we have them anymore? What inventions were first shown at them and when? You could do a whole unit study on that alone! But on to Epcot!
If you are not familiar with Epcot, it is divided into 2 parts. The front part of the park is Future World, and the back half is the World Showcase (click the links to be taken to an external site that explains these areas well). The whole park is educational in intent, so there is no end to possible topics for discussion. I'll just point out some highlights.
What greets you was you walk into Epcot is it's icon. Affectionately called the "big golf ball", it is the building that houses Spaceship Earth. This structure is a geodesic sphere, so there's a math lesson for you! Click here to learn more about the structure. (Trivia: The individual triangles of the sphere are not flush to the surface, and under them from the top to just past middle is a gutter system that catches the rainwater that hits Spaceship Earth and collects it into an underground reservoir.)
The ride itself traces the history of communication. While I don't agree with its "billions of years" timeline, it does a good job of showing the evolution of how people communicate with each other- from drawing on cave walls to chariot relayed messages on Roman roads to newspaper, telegraph, telephone, and finally computer.
It also offers a view of our "spaceship earth" that only the astronauts get making you truly feel like you are in space.
The ride is sponsored by Siemens and at the end are several interactive displays. My kids favorite is one where they have to move energy from the place it is produced to the place it is consumed to power a city.
If you go from Spaceship Earth to the LEFT, by entering Innoventions East, you will find one of my kids' most favorite attractions- Sum of all Thrills.
The math lessons here are too numerous to list. Basically, you choose elements for your own virtual roller coaster, and then you get to ride it. But, as you choose the elements, you have to test them to see if inertia and force can overcome friction each step of the way. You compensate by making hills higher or lower...it's amazing. And then you RIDE it. And then they give you a card so you can access their website at home and play some more. The website is www.mathmovesu.com and anyone can go there and design their own roller coaster- you just don't get the experience of riding it in a simulator.
Here are my middle two on their latest creation:
|This is the ride arm fully extended. It seats 2 across.|
|That's them. You watch the world whiz by on a screen while your robotic arm/simulator moves you according to the elements you programmed.|
|This is them totally upside down. Crazy, right?|
They also have this great demo of structure failure due to high winds.
And further along in Innoventions is a game where you have to cooperate like ants to move small metal balls with magnets. The kicker is, two people must work together from opposite sides of the game and verbal communication is not easy. It's much harder than it looks!
When you exit Innoventions East, you will be near several attractions. Ellen's Energy Adventure is a 45 minute slow moving ride about how the energy we have today came from dinosaur times. Unfortunately, it's very into the billions of years timeline, but even that offers plenty of opportunity for discussion with your kids.
Mission Space uses simulators and (on the intense ride side) centrifuges to really give you the sensation of blasting off into space and completing a space mission. There's plenty to talk about here, from how the ride actually works to much of the speculative technology discussed in the ride. On the intense side, you are subjected to 2.5g force, so you could discuss g forces and what they mean too.
Test Track an attraction that recreates how new vehicles are tested. The queue is full of interesting subjects to discuss, from air bags and seat belts to shatterproof glass to crumple zones and test dummies, just to name a few. The ride itself offers a good look at some of the elements cars are subjected to to make sure they are safe and road ready.
Seasonally, you may find the old Wonders of Life pavilion open. It houses some of the events for the Flower and Garden Festival, and recently, my kids and I got to take a free class on topiaries. We even got to take home terra cotta pots with sample plants in them!
(The Monorail is a wonderful lesson in and of itself. You can find out more about them here.)
If you head all the way across Future World, you will pass Innoventions West which has more things to explore and learn about. You can also check out Club Cool, which isn't terribly educational, but does allow you to sample Coke products from other countries. Which actually could be educational and show your children that not everywhere has the same things we have here- sometimes for better, sometimes for worse (trust me and skip the Beverly).
Where the pavilions on the East side each feature one attraction, the West side ones have multiple offerings.
Imagination! features attractions and interactive activities about the senses and imagination.
The Land has a simulator ride, a movie called the Circle of Life that has amazing environmental facts in its preshow and which focuses on how we need to be good stewards of the earth, and the Living with the Land boat ride that teaches about hydroponics.
The Seas with Nemo and Friends is probably my favorite place at Epcot. The ride itself exits into a pavilion that features what was, at one time, the largest inland aquarium in the world. It is 5.7 million gallons of man made sea water. Inside you can find dolphins,
manatees, grouper, turtles (in this case offering a whole DIFFERENT kind of educational experience),
sharks, and all sorts of fish. The are multiple smaller tanks that house all sorts of cool sea critters, and signs give all sorts of extra information. Prepare yourself for lots of pictures!
|Just one of many examples of camouflage.|
|Touchscreen games test kids on the information they learn in the Seas.|
|A cuttlefish showing off its colors-first blue and purple|
|then a pinkish cast to its belly.|
Tired yet? We're only half way done with Epcot. You could school here every day for a year and not cover everything!
Leaving Future World behind, we'll head to the World Showcase. To cover each country separately would take forever, so let me just make some general suggestions and then point out a few specific things. The World Showcase features 11 countries: Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, the United States, Japan, Morocco, France, the United Kingdom, and Canada. All of them feature architecture, landscaping, customs, and languages representative to the country they represent. The Cast Members that work there typically are from that country. Disney sells "passports" that your child can have filled out at each country. (Here's a nice blog post about them.) Or you could just have them make their own before you go. There are also "Kidcot" stops at each country. Currently, your child gets a card stock "Duffy" attached to a stick like a paint stirrer. They can color Duffy at the first stop, and get the stick stamped.
Cast Members will often write your child's name in their native language too. Then you go to each Kidcot stop and another stamp is added. Whatever you do, definitely go into each pavilion, poke around, be sure to ride the ride or see the movie. Check out the stores. All of that gives your kids an idea about life in that country. Take their picture with different cast members or wearing hats from each country. Make it fun! (Oh, and depending on the time of the year, you will find the different countries celebrating their holidays. We were there for the Chinese New Year in the picture above.)
Now, for some learning based examples, using Norway as my example.
|This building has a sod roof complete with lovely flowers growing on it.|
|A Stave church|
|Information about Stave churches|
|The Akershus restaurant is named for the Akershus fortress in Norway which never fell in battle. Notice this building is made of stone.|
|You could have your children ask cast members what this says! This building is made of wood. The buildings have steep roofs. All these things tell you about the environment.|
|Again, you could either study Norwegian folk lore before you go OR ask a cast member about the trolls.|
Lest you are tempted to skip the American Adventure, the movie in there is a wonderful look at American History. It also is a technological marvel. It's projected from the rear (ask your kids why, and then let them watch the movie to figure it out), and the screen curves away from the projector, yet the movie is not distorted. It's amazing really. If you are lucky, you'll catch the Voices of Liberty singing before the movie. They are truly wonderful. In fact, all the entertainment in the countries is worth checking out.
Finally, no trip to Epcot is complete with fireworks since that's the one park that offers them consistently. You can have great chemistry discussions about how different elements burn different colors, and that is what colors the fireworks. There's also all sorts of technology involved in coordinating a display to music, and there are lasers used in the show as well.
I hope you enjoyed this look at Theme Park Schooling at Epcot. Please join me on Wednesday for a look at schooling at Disney's Hollywood Studios. And don't forget that over 65 of my fellow Crew Mates are also blogging about 5 Days of...well, all sorts of stuff. Click on the banner below to check out their posts too.