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Pixar Asks for Help from… Your Teacher?

By Brittany Betts, TIE CEO
Pixar Asks for Help from… Your Teacher?

As one might expect on a Friday at 5 pm, a stream of employee-filled cars filed out of the gate of a large business office on Park Ave in Emeryville, California. More unusually, an equally long line of patient drivers queued up at security to go in.
Tonight, to the chagrin of their jealous students, 235 teachers and educators were invited to spend the evening at Pixar Animation Studios to inaugurate what is hoped to be an ongoing relationship of feedback on their new product “Pixar in a Box.”
Launched in 2015, Pixar in a Box is the company’s first venture into an educational partnership. Together with Khan Academy and sponsored by Disney, this product is a deep dive into the production pipeline of the famous animators through the lens of the tools and education it takes to get there.
“Our purpose is to be inspirational, to let children understand that the things they are learning every day in school are also what we use every day here at Pixar,” Tony DeRose explains. DeRose is a Senior Scientist at Pixar and has been the content lead at Pixar in a Box since the product’s inception.
The partnership has blended Khan Academy’s platform, curriculum, and delivery model with cutting-edge interactive tools and Pixar’s “super-cool” content. Working in a project-based manner, the program teaches math, science, coding, animation, and a soon-to-be-launched storytelling segment through video lessons and actual hands-on activities in a real-world setting.
Students are guided through their lessons by video instruction from a real Pixar team member (see an example at and get a chance to hear personal stories from each on their passion and career path (see an example at The result is a robust and unique learning experience in English, Spanish, or Portuguese for middle school and high school students with an inspirational twist.
Elyse Klaidman, former Director of Pixar University and current Director of Exhibitions and Educational Outreach, commented on the reason for the gathering. “We are holding this session tonight to make sure our tool is effective for the teachers. Khan Academy is focused on the individual learner and what we realized was that 60 percent of the time Pixar in a Box was being used was during school hours. We need to find out how we can make this a strong resource for teachers in the classroom. And what better way than to ask the teachers?”
The diverse group of educators gathered for the review were identified in collaboration with the San Francisco Film Society, whose Educational Program has developed a deep network of teachers and educators in the Bay Area. ”We reached out to thousands of teachers and invited just over 200 tonight,” said Keith Zwolfer, SFFS Youth Education Manager.
The eager educators poured in through registration and tried to resist taking quick photos with the Pixar characters scattered through the lobby and instead headed to the Steve Jobs Theater, pulled out laptops and got to work. They were walked through segments of lessons with live Q&A and followed up with discussion and feedback for the development team, with Pixar staff taking copious notes.
When asked why Pixar would go into the education space, Elyse Klaidman, answered, “I started turning my focus to educational partnerships and educational outreach and how Pixar could be more closely involved in the education-to-career pipeline, because we want to tell stories that more accurately reflect the demographics of the world, and in order to do that we need employees who do that.
“You look at the educational system and realize that knowledge or awareness and careers opportunities are not equitably spread out ... So we are trying to think about how we can have an impact on people’s understanding of what the opportunities are and what that ultimately means for a potential career. Khan academy is the first partnership but we are thinking about other partnerships and how to scale whatever we develop to the broadest scope.”
The lobby buzzed with excitement and commentary as the crowd left the building.
“The kids in my class are loving these lessons,” said a math teacher. “Connecting concepts in the classroom to the real world is great, and connecting them to Pixar makes that connection really come alive.”
“It was so special to be here and feel like you were able to watch a product grow and change based on the needs of your students, I can’t wait to use this more!” said another middle school science teacher.
“We should never downplay the role of inspiration in any subject area,” said a high school physics teacher. “The inspirational videos and real-life career stories from women and men from every walk of life create a vision; they plant a seed in the minds of our students. This is powerful.”
Pixar in a Box launches another two-lesson set next week and has announced its next series of lessons around storytelling will be published early in 2017.
Teachers from around the world are encouraged to use this product in their classrooms and provide the Pixar in a Box team with feedback.

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12/09/2016 - Cindy
This is very cool and what a great way to get students to realize that the subjects they're studying in school have direct relevance to things they love such as their favorite animated movies.

To connect academic subjects to real world projects that are done at pixar gives students ideas about careers they never knew existed and practical "work experience" early on.



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