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What if Meow Wolf and Netflix had a baby?

A partnership between Meow Wolf, Netflix (example) and school teachers to create an interactive mystery that will delight and educate.

Photo of Tracy Brandenburg
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Written by

I am a.....

  • Anthropologist and design thinking educator

Tell us about your idea

Meow Wolf, once a group of fringe DIY artists in Santa Fe, is now a cultural phenomenon.  Built in a bowling alley, this collective of artists created the House of Eternal Return, a full-size Victorian home that is an interactive artistic experience with a twist.  There's a mystery.  You learn upon entering that someone or maybe an entire family has gone missing.  Are they in the house? Another dimension?  Room after room, each with its own artistic theme contributes to or further confuses the visitor when it comes to this mysterious story.  Live characters interact with visitors, answering questions, for example. Children and adults alike are fascinated with the House of Eternal Return. Meow Wolf is now expanding to 3 other cities.  

Meow Wolf has tapped into the zeitgeist and we want to create an education with the same spark that speaks to what fascinates us and motivates us to want to learn more.  

Our concept considers what we've learned in our empathy interviews with a teacher in rural Ohio; a working mother and her 7 year old in the Bronx; and an administrator at an affluent school in Westchester, NY.  In the Westchester school, 40% of the students are failing.  In the school in rural Ohio, students lack devices, are given an assignment on Monday and are not asked to turn in anything.  Teachers try to chase down parents and children and find that parents are preoccupied with work or unemployment. In the words of this Ohio teacher, "Parents are focused on survival."  

Given what we learned about the lack of access to technology we devised a learning method that does not require a computer or iPad, but instead looks at what we think people might be more likely to have: TVs or cell phones.  Issues to iron out: access to WiFi and streaming channels and even a phone, though we consider a solution such as an "Obamaphone" or free government smartphone.  

The concept is that Meow Wolf artists will work with teachers to either develop a new story or to bring the mystery of the House of Eternal Return to a streaming platform where students can visit rooms in the house, look for clues and come across "characters" or teachers who give lessons that will lead the student to learn the next clue.  The actual House of Eternal Return" is full of ephemera to study: from a scientist's diary to newspapers reporting of mysterious weather occurrences to military reports.  Learners have much to read and discover, including such things as the scientific experiments going on in the house or how to derive the code to the safe.  

Just as one chooses an episode or season on Netflix, students can choose the appropriate "season" for their grade (KG, etc.).  The complexity of the stories and the lessons taught will be tailored to the age and learning outcomes. 

As for returning to school, we asked "Do we need to return to school?"  This was a springboard for our other concept of makerspace communities where children are in co-working spaces with artists, startups, etc.  You can find this in the submission about the In Real Life Cafe.  

Community, connection and relationships are so important in school.  To address these, students can work in teams to solve the clues in the Meow Wolf game/class.  "Characters" (teachers) can be called to answer questions or simply listen to someone's findings or ideas.  

We believe that by using streaming TV we tap into what is currently the most popular version of storytelling, as well as to the devices families are more likely to have.  Additionally, apps, such as the Meow Wolf "Anomaly Tracker app" can be held up to the screen to view even more information, enter new dimensions or find clues.  

Our idea is to excite, delight and create an incentive for learning that becomes as magical as visiting Meow Wolf where learning drives motivation and leads to more fun.  

The idea of bringing more collaborative content creation and immersive and experiential learning for children can be applied for early elementary students. In fact, it will be perfect because they have such imaginative minds.

Our mother from the Bronx prototyped the immersive learning part of the idea with her 7 year old to see how she would respond to immersive learning (young learner goes through adventure, finds portals, finds missions). The first adventure was imagined to be created by artists and teachers. The student learns about math, science, history and the art of storytelling by following a robot character through the adventure (she co-created this game).   Treasures are hidden everywhere.... "Treasures are knowledge"

What part(s) of the pre-COVID school system do you wish to leave in the past? Why?

The lack of coherence between the disciplines. That disciplines are still in silos shows nothing much has changed in education. This has always created a false sense of how the world actually operates.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to share this idea.

I'm an anthropologist by birth more than training.  I obsessively look for patterns and signs that will help me better understand the human condition.  As a lifelong academic with a passion for teaching, I'm anxious to find a better way to teach, as well as create connection.  

I'm even more driven by the stories I heard from Ohioans and New Yorkers about the current state of education.  The lack of motivation and failing grades point to a system that simply isn't working.   

What region are you located in?

  • North America

Where are you located?

I'm one of 100 homes on a tiny lake in Upstate, NY


Join the conversation:

Photo of Rachel Siegel

Love this, Tracy Brandenburg , Donna Teuber , Lee-Jung Kim and Daniel Paccione ! Really excited about the possibilities of connecting popular streaming platforms to meaningful educational experiences as well as the fact that your design comes from a true, human-centered place! Powerful insights gathered from your empathy work.

I'm Rachel, one of the Community Coaches. Curious - what types of learning experiences might a KG or early elementary student have through this platform? Also, how do you see your idea being used in our educational system once schools reopen? Best of luck!

Photo of Lee-Jung Kim

The idea of bringing more collaborative content creation and immersive and experiential learning for children can be applied for early elementary students. In fact, it will be perfect because they have such imaginative minds.
I prototyped immersive learning part of the idea with my 7 year old... to see how she would respond to immersive learning... ( young learner goes through adventure.... and find portals... find missions)
The first adventure was imagined to be created by artists and teachers....
The student learns about math, science, history, art of storytelling... by following a robot character through the adventure- treasures are hidden everywhere.... "Treasures are knowledge"

Photo of Sarah Nethan

Hi Lee-Jung Kim 
What brilliant idea! I can already see your fall into place, thanks to the video you shared with your daughter (loved to see her so excited, especially her "robot" voice).

With the Ideas submission phase ending in about 5 hours, I would love for you to update your submission with any additional information from the comments (eg. reflections, video and key takeaways from the prototyping session with your daughter, more examples of how you envision the engagement with K-12 students, etc). This will ensure that all of your insights are well captured for our evaluators. You can edit your post by hitting the Edit Contribution button at the top of your post.

Thank you and good luck!