Spaceship Earth

This is one attraction you simply cannot miss. Literally. Spaceship Earth is the giant, 180 foot tall geosphere that is so iconic to Epcot. (Did you know that science fiction author Ray Bradbury helped design it?) The attraction inside it is a slow-moving ride through the evolution of communication and technology, from the dawn of civilization to our modern age.

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Dame Judi Dench narrates as you pass by scenes depicting ancient Egyptians pounding papyrus for paper, Romans spreading information by their system of roads, and monks copying religious and secular texts in the Dark Ages. We learn that communication and learning really took off with the invention of the printing press. You’ll see just how quickly humankind raced toward the 20th century with all the new technologies: telephones, film, radio, television, computers.

IMG_4752As you “return to Earth,” you get the chance to explore what technologies might await us in the future. Using a touchscreen in your ride vehicle, you can answer a few questions about your preferences in different areas, such as home, leisure, health, or work. And then, with a bit of Disney magic, you can see exactly what your future might look like!

IMG_4763Spaceship Earth is great for all ages. It’s a classic, and it does provide a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the park. It is dark inside, so that could be a consideration for younger children. However, this is one attraction that really embodies the spirit of Epcot.

FL Sunshine State Social Studies Standards:
SS.1.A.2.1, SS.1.A.2.2, SS.5.A.6.3, SS.6.W.2.5, SS.6.W.3.1, SS.6.W.3.14, SS.6.W.3.5, SS.912.W.4.3

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Pacific Electric Railway

Not all learning opportunities at Walt Disney World are quite explicit. As you wander around the parks, you’re likely to see subtle references to historic or cultural points of interest. In Hollywood Studios, there are plenty of design elements that harken back to the golden olden days of Hollywood and Southern California.

Next time you stroll down Hollywood Boulevard, check out the back of the old tip board (now a FastPass+ kiosk). You’ll find a map of the old Pacific Electric Railway system that connected much of Southern California in the 1920s. It’s fun to see the geography of the metro areas, and the advertisement on the map shows what an attraction the railway was in its heyday.

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The map also connects the other design elements of Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards, since you’ll spot rail cars, trolley lines, and Pacific Railway logos. It’s all part of the plan to really put you into that classic place and time.

 

STEM Topic: Engineering
FL Sunshine State Social Studies Standards:
SS.K.G.1.2, SS.K.G.1.4, SS.2.G.1.1, SS.3.G.1.1, SS.4.G.1.4, SS.6.G.1.2

Kate & Leo

Downtown Disney is a great place for shopping, dining, and entertainment with the whole family. But some of these experiences count as educational, too!

The Village Causeway features four kiosks with unique gifts and treats. One of these is Kate & Leo, which boasts a whole bunch of fun (and learning-oriented) books, puzzles, games, models, and toys.

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Nothing here is battery operated. Instead these items run on imagination and spark curiosity. Whatever your interest – science, engineering, art, writing – there’s something to boost your creativity. These gifts are great for kids or kids at heart.

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STEM Topic:
Science, Engineering

Kugel Ball

Have you ever walked through Tomorrowland and spotted that giant stone ball near Auntie Gravity’s and thought, “what the heck is that?” There is no label or placard, but it’s a Kugel Ball.

IMG_4170Kugel Ball fountains are engineering wonders. They consist of a large granite or marble sphere floating on a very thin plane (less than the thickness of a credit card) of water in a perfectly fitted socket. The water, pumped from below, lubricates the stone and creates a pressure such that the solid, heavy stone is easily rotated!

IMG_4171Kugel Ball fountains exist all over the world, and some sport images of maps or globes. The Kugel Ball at Walt Disney World is carved with a sky map. Next time you’re walking by, give it a roll!

 

STEM Topic: Science, Engineering
FL Sunshine State Science Standards:
SC.K.P.13.1, SC.1.P.12.1, SC.1.P.13.1, SC.2.P.13.4, SC.4.P.12.1, SC.5.P.13.1, SC.5.P.13.2

SPECIAL EDITION: Flower and Garden Festival 2015 – Part 2

Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival is a fantastic annual springtime celebration of the outdoors. There is a lot to explore for guests of all ages from gardening tips to crafts to delicious produce-inspired food and wines. Disney Vacation Education presents this year’s Flower and Garden Festival educational finds in two parts. Part 2 focuses on the Garden Displays.

A big part of the Flower and Garden Festival is the various gardens you’ll find throughout the park. Each one is unique and themed, and most provide an opportunity to learn something new.

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In Future World, look for gardens big and small that have a focus on learning about plants, animals, and the environment. The Gardener’s Palette garden not only shows which plants work together for sunny and shady spots, but also teaches a bit about the color wheel. Prehistoric Plants shows examples of plants that have been around since dinosaurs walked the earth. The Cactus Road Rally uses interactive flip cards to explain how different desert plants survive. And the Trial Garden shows and explains how certain plants are tested for their ability to grow in Florida and at Epcot.

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The Nature Rocks and Backyard Habitat displays show how kids can really get involved in and inspired by nature, encouraging them to get outside and explore. There is also a Health and Healing Garden that has some interesting examples of plants that have been and are still used in medicines and herbal treatments.

This year there are two awesome wildlife displays – the new Purple Martins display and the popular Butterfly Garden. As the beautiful purple martins fly around you, you can learn more about their habits and their habitat, how they help your garden, and how you can play host to them in your own yard. The Butterflies on the Go Garden is a fun spot to take in the beauty of butterflies and to learn more about different species, their life cycle, and migration. This is also a favorite spot for photographers.

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Throughout World Showcase you’ll find even more themed gardens. Some favorites that have an educational twist are the Pepper Fire Garden in Mexico that shows different varieties of hot peppers, and the Pollinator’s Paradise garden in United Kingdom that tells how bees and other pollinators do their important work. The new Shakespeare Garden in United Kingdom is also fun for older students who might be reading Shakespeare. You can read some famous flora-related quotes and match up the real flowers to the quotes.

As you can tell, there’s a lot to take in and Epcot’s Garden Displays have something for everyone. They’re beautiful, relaxing, impressive, and educational. Be sure to spend some time wandering through and reading up on all that nature has to offer!

SPECIAL EDITION: Flower and Garden Festival 2015 – Part 1

Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival is a fantastic annual springtime celebration of the outdoors. There is a lot to explore for guests of all ages from gardening tips to crafts to delicious produce-inspired food and wines. Disney Vacation Education presents this year’s Flower and Garden Festival educational finds in two parts. Part 1 focuses on the Festival Center.

The Festival Center is housed in the former Wonders of Life Pavilion, tucked between Universe of Energy and Mission Space. Here you’ll find guest lectures and presentations by renowned figures in the gardening and landscaping world, as well as Disney Horticulturalists and representatives from University of Florida to help answer your gardening questions.

IMG_4085The Greenhouse Stage presents speakers who offer tips and usually a take-home craft or planting. These sessions fill up quickly, so be sure to check the Times Guide and get in line early. At the Fresh Epcot Stage you can find presentations that range from gardening to outdoor entertaining. The Spotlight Stage is where you can listen to and ask questions of representatives from UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. These talks are usually geared toward Florida specific living and conditions. No matter which presentation you attend, you’re sure to come away learning something new.

As you make your way through the Festival Center, you’ll also find tables set up for various local organizations, such as the Audubon Society, Bonsai Club, and Simple Living Institute. We watched a fascinating demonstration of Ikibana, the Japanese art of flower arranging. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. The experts are there to answer them, and many have helpful handouts you can take home.

IMG_4082A film about the making of the Flower and Garden Festival and an exhibit about Disney Horticulture round out the offerings. Be sure to spend some time in the exhibit. It shows the evolution of horticulture at Walt Disney World, how they make those iconic topiaries, and some pretty neat facts about the diversity of plant life throughout Walt Disney World. You can also read about all the different jobs that Disney Horticulturalists do to make the parks and resorts look the way they do.

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It’s easy to spend a few hours in the Festival Center. Presentations at each stage occur twice a day and the experts are there until 5:00pm. Each weekend offers something new and is usually themed, so check back throughout the Festival to learn new stuff!

Trail at Art of Animation

Disney’s Art of Animation resort is the newest addition to the value resorts and is a great place for families to call home during their vacation stay. But you don’t have to book a room to take in the fun atmosphere there. Wander the grounds to see the terrific themed areas and to find a cool learning opportunity.

Head straight to the back of the resort, past the Big Blue Pool and playground area, to Hourglass Lake. There you’ll find a 1.38-mile trail around the lake (sponsored by New Balance) that’s suitable for walking or jogging. It’s great for getting in some exercise or taking in the sunset, but this trail also provides some fun facts to learn on your way.

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Signposts along the trail share info and trivia about the four Disney films that are represented at the resort. These facts range from how characters got their names to the type of equipment that was used to animate the films. And it doesn’t matter which direction you choose to head on the trail; there are different facts going in both directions.

IMG_3973The trail is great for film buffs. Be aware that there are smoking areas situated at a couple of spots along the trail. It also connects to the trail at Pop Century, making a full loop around Hourglass Lake.

 

STEM Topic:
Technology