Disney turns its focus to curriculum

Disney's curriculum on U.S. presidents features a whiteboard application.
Disney's curriculum on U.S. presidents features an interactive whiteboard application.

Readers with young children no doubt are familiar with Disney as a multimedia launching pad for the careers of teen superstars such as Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez, while others might associate the company with its slew of animated features over the years. Now, Disney is hoping that educators will think of it as a provider of educational technology as well.

About 60 years ago, Walt Disney created Disney Educational Productions (DEP) and brought educational films into schools for the first time. After losing focus a bit, DEP now has recommitted to bringing educational multimedia into classrooms—and its latest set of videos combines Disney’s brand of educational movies with the interactivity of electronic whiteboards.

“The American Presidents” is a series of DVDs with an interactive whiteboard feature that lets students play games that use video clips, photographs, and quotes to test students’ understanding of the subject material.

“In today’s classroom, teachers are learning that they have students with 20 or 30 different learning styles that multimedia can address. Interactive whiteboards are so flexible and are the tool that teachers most adopt,” said Lisa Clements, general manager of DEP.

To create “The American Presidents,” Disney produced biographies on all 44 presidents, based on national curriculum standards and complete with overviews of their eras for historical context. The DVDs also contain thematic segments featuring interviews with political commentators ranging from former Democratic presidential candidate Gen. Wesley Clarke to comedian and writer Mo Rocca.

“We need to use multimedia [for teaching], because it’s the only way to distract kids from tweeting and texting and chat roulette and whatever comes next,” Rocca said.

The interactive, multimedia aspect of the content is something that Talbot County, Md., social studies specialist Kathy Dill said attracted her to the DVDs.

“Teachers really like the way it’s set up. The music is appealing to students. The concepts are historical but take on an almost cartoon type of way that’s engaging,” she said. “Students get more from it.”

Dill said the DVDs are used in all eighth grade classes in the county’s two middle schools, and the students in the classes she has observed are getting much out of them.

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