Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Listen to the Marshmallow: Lessons in Education from Big Hero Six

There’s something about Pixar films that always get to me. A Pixar film has such a delicate mix of humor, emotion, great characterization, and a clear message that comes through in the end. In Up, we discovered that life is a collection of adventures, and we must always find one to embrace. Marlin and Dori from Finding Nemo helped us realize that one cannot spend life afraid to live.

Last night, I had the chance to go see Big Hero 6, another great installment of the budding Disney/Pixar partnership. As I watched the film (which is a must-see, in my opinion), I could not help but think of how many themes in the animated flick applied to education today. The top three, in my mind, are shared below:

1. Don’t settle for easy; go for the route with the highest ceiling

In the film, a professor at a local Technology Institute gives the teenage protagonist, Hiro, some sage advice: what you’re doing right now is very easy for you and you’re satisfied, so maybe our university would not be a good fit. We only want to push you, to challenge you to reach your fullest potential.

Shouldn’t we expect the same out of ourselves and our students? One of the quotes I try to hammer away at students is “be better than Powerpoint”. I am all for giving students choice in their activities, but sometimes they fall on the tools and projects they find to be “easy”. Sometimes we, as teachers, must push students to try projects and activities they might not actively pursue themselves. I am reminded of a few colleagues like Tim Weldzius, who is having his students create greenscreen video newscasts using WeVideo, or Jen Vanremortel, who had her students create parody songs and videos using GarageBand and iMovie.

2. Look at a situation from another angle - turn it upside-down

We often approach the same lessons the same way, year after year. Why? Because it “works”. In Big Hero 6, the team of heroes the main character assembles get stymied by the antagonist because they look at a situation as black-and-white. They do only what they know they can do, not thinking outside the box. With our approach to lessons , we are often taking the “safe” path, afraid to turn it upside-down.

With this lesson, I am reminded of my colleague, CC O’Malley, who felt like skits and worksheets were not offering her ESL students every opportunity to have genuine chances to practice English speaking and decided to embark on creating a virtual world where her students can interact in any imagined situation. We are in the process of working towards this world, as the picture below shows:

3. Put others’ needs before your own

Baymax, the iconic, marshmallow-esque character you probably recognize from the Big Hero 6 trailers and commercials, gives perhaps the most important lesson of all. In the film, his only robotic directive is to make sure the health and well-being of those around him are addressed. Through his compulsive urges to cure all of those around him (even Hiro’s incurable “puberty” symptoms), he instills this lesson in Hiro, which pays off later in the film (I will say no more, as to not ruin the end).

I know teachers are saying, “Wait, of course I put others before myself!” That fact I do not question. But how often do we push this message? How often do we pelt students with the concept of selflessness? Is it something we tell them, or something we SHOW them? Give them opportunities to do selfless acts. Give them the chance to SEE a selfless act. Most of all, give them the choice in what they do, and watch with bated breath as they start CHOOSING to head up selfless acts.

The other two lessons are great, yes, but teaching the act of selflessness is our greatest job. Pixar understands this well - hopefully we do too.

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree. I now want to watch Big Hero 6, even though I am not the biggest fan of Pixar movies. I especially like the "be better than Powerpoint" quote, because I have actually used that philosophy. With the exception of mandatory formats, I use a different format every time.

    So, overall, great post. I can agree that selflessness is not taught in the classroom...but should it be? I guess, personally, my reflection is that it is not something that should be taught - that it is something that should be naturally learned and maintained as one of those things that you just "know". I don't know. Just my thought.

    By the way - have you ever suggested learning in the classroom through code? In math, you could learn how to solve an equation by seeing it in code and deciphering it as a real-world problem. So not only learning through game-based learning, but code-based learning. Just an idea.

    Have a great day!