Hawaii Schools Partner with Pixar

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While kids in Hawaii will have to wait until next year to see “Moana” just like everyone else, some lucky students in local public schools will get to experience Pixar animation magic right in their classrooms.

The Hawaii State Department of Education, working with the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT), is partnering with the Disney-owned animation studio to build real-world technology tools and creative processes into the school curriculum.

At the core of the new program is “Pixar in a Box,” a program launched only last month via online education service Khan Academy. But while the program is open and freely available to all, the DOE is working with Pixar to integrate it more fully into its lesson plans.

“This is not extracurricular, this is actually based on common core, so it’s in the school day,” explained Georja Skinner, head of DBEDT’s Creative Industries Division, on yesterday’s Bytemarks Cafe. “The program itself is really about learning mathematics, science, engineering and creative storytelling, but through the Pixar characters, and all the science and technology that they use to create that CGI, that amazing work that we see.”

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DBEDT Director Luis Salaveria said the opportunity was so compelling, everyone came together to make it happen.

“I’m going to say from a government perspective, shoring this thing up, which Georja brought to me probably about four five months ago, to now — to actualy going to roll out, to have teachers on board — this is government working at lightning speed,” he said. “This is how interesting and how exciting this particular initiative is for us.”

The first set of lessons in “Pixar in a Box” emphasize math, but using real-world tools and familiar Pixar characters to keep kids engaged.

Skinner, who previously headed the Hawaii Film Office, said: “They’re showing students that what you’re learning school is absolutely relevant to [their] future, whether its as an animator, an inventor, a really great entrepreneur in the tech space. These are tools that are used everyday by Pixar in their process.”

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And the state’s collaboration with Pixar and Khan Academy will help both the studio and learning platform to make the “Pixar in a Box” program even more relevant and useful to school systems nationwide.

“What’s we’re doing that’s different here in Hawaii is that we’ve partnered with Pixar to engage with our teachers and their respective classes in middle school and high school to flesh out this three-year curriculum at every stage, test it in the classroom, give feedback to Pixar and Khan Academy, work with the DOE, and then roll it out,” Skinner explained. “They will be intrinsic to the process of making it a more vibrant and realistic program in the classroom.”

Just this week, the DOE identified 37 school teachers that will be part of the first phase of the program. A lot of the details are still coming together, with a few conference calls completed and several more ahead. But Skinner said she’s excited about the chance “to educate more and more people about the value of STEM but through the creative arts.”

Now, in education circles, the call to add the arts to STEM (expanding the acronym to STEAM) can lead to heated debates. But Skinner and Salaveria said the inclusion makes sense.

“The arts in STEAM even goes deeper, it’s not just arts, it’s the full creative mindset that you have to teach,” Skinner said. “We have a really exciting partnership that I think is going to be a terrific example.”

“When we bring in this issue of the arts in STEM, one of the things that resonated with me very well was that, sure, we’re going to put out as many STEM students as we want, but so is every other developed nation in this world,” Salaveria added. “What are we going to do to differentate ourselves?”

“It is going to be the arts — it’s gonna be that creative, the content developer guy, that these STEM guys are going to look up to,” he said.

To learn more about “Pixar in a Box” (and to go through the full program, free), go to PixarInABox.com. You can also learn more about DBEDT and its Creative Industries Division on the state website.

You can listen to the Pixar portion of our interview with Skinner and Salaveria here:

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