Who needs friends?

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The new Avengers: Infinity War trailer came out and is already setting records, as you can read in this Forbes article.

Here is a quick breakdown of the trailer’s impact, courtesy of Fizziology:

Putting Captain America’s beard aside, I’d say the most exciting element of the trailer is NOT the big battles or bad guys.  Sure, we get Thanos and multiple fights. But the BEST part is seeing how all these heroes work with each other.  

Just take a look at the “screen cap” attached to the official trailer’s YouTube video:

It’s Bucky!  Black (Blonde?) Widow!  Cap (and his beard)! Hulk! War Machine! Falcon! Black Panther and a whole bunch of Wakandans!

The last time movie-goers saw most of these characters, they were arguing and battling each other. But all it takes to make amends is a world-conquering villain. That’s friendship for ya.

If you’ve paid attention to recent superhero movies, the theme of FRIENDS appears quite often.

 

No, not THAT theme . . . apologies . . .

We mean REAL friends.  To remove the “ear-worm” song from above, take a closer look at the following trailers of current movies.

Start with Thor: Ragnarok . . .

Thor’s “friend from work” comment at the 1:20 mark is one of the best lines in the entire film.  

friend from work

(Fun fact – there’s a neat story about the origin of that line, which came from an unlikely source. Read more here.)

 

Or check out this Justice League trailer and listen around 1:50 for Barry Allen/Flash’s awkward “I need friends” admittance to Bruce Wayne.

i need friends

 

Everyone needs friends, and that includes TEACHERS.

Unfortunately, teaching can quickly become an “isolated profession,” and you can read more about this “Lone Ranger” phenomenon in an article by The Atlantic HERE.

A growing research field focuses on teacher collaboration and how to help educators work together.  Some people consider teacher collaboration as the “missing link” in successful school reform.

Here is a summary of one study about “High-quality collaboration” and its benefits to teachers and students.  There’s a useful section in the article called “What this means for practitioners,” and if you’re in a hurry, here’s one excerpt from the summary:

School and teacher factors influence the quality and type of collaboration. Teachers in elementary schools, more so than in secondary schools, collaborated more frequently about instruction. Higher-quality collaboration is more common among female teachers than male teachers, particularly about instructional strategies, curriculum, and assessment.

 

Another study of middle school teachers found positive results from “professional learning communities” (PLCs) consisting of same-subject, same-grade teacher teams.  However, overall effectiveness depended on a lot of factors: “leadership and organizational practices, the substantive details of PLC activity meetings, the nature of conversations in PLC activities, and the development of community among PLC teams.”

There’s a lot to unpack in that last statement about influential factors for successful collaborations. This is the challenge of teacher teamwork.

You can’t force friendship, and you can’t coerce teachers to collaborate. As these studies show, effective collaboration requires meaningful application and multiple nuances to result in teacher buy-in and worthwhile work.

As with most interpersonal relationships, the process is delicate and sometimes messy. Just consider how well superheroes get along (or not) throughout their long history.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to helping each other get along and collaborate.  Even so, here are three resources (and highlights) that could help.

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“7 Reasons Why You Need a Teacher Friend” (Tame the Classroom)

#1: You need someone to tell you “no” 

When you have a bad idea, like giving students stupid awards, a good teacher friend will tell you, “Heck, no!”  When you’re thinking about writing a parent a nice-nasty reply to a note and you let your teacher friend proof it, a good teacher friend will tell you, “Nope, edit this so you won’t get fired.”

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“Teacher Collaboration: Matching Complimentary Strengths” (Edutopia)

Virtual Collaboration: Share Work Products on a Common Drive

By sharing work products on Google Drive . . . teachers know what their colleagues outside of their collaboration group are doing. They also know how they’re doing it. This enables them to replicate and/or get ideas from each other.

Even without meeting in person, they have instant access to work products, like:

  • Unit plans
  • Lesson plans
  • Curriculum maps

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“Making the Most Out of Teacher Collaboration” (Edutopia)

Personal Steps to Effective Collaboration

If I had it to do again, this is what I would do to get the most out of my formal and informal collaborations with other teachers:

  • Build relationships
  • Observe the best
  • Ask questions
  • Share
  • Come prepared

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The above ideas are not as “scholarly” as the research studies shared earlier. But they can still provide useful steps.  At the least, none of these education offerings require a world-conquering villain.  Be thankful for that!

 

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Arch-Enemy

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Merriam-Webster defines “arch-enemy” as “a principal enemy.”  The Online Etymology Dictionary provides more of a historical background for the term, which arose in the 1540s.

Arch-” refers to “chief” or “first.”  “Enemy”  comes from Latin inimicus, which literally means “an unfriend.”

 

Every good superhero has an equally evil arch-enemy.  Superman has Lex Luthor. Batman and Joker.  It’s commonly held that a hero is only as good as his or her villain.  Check out this keen artwork picked up at Deviant Art!

First there’s DC:

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And then there’s Marvel:

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Spiffy visuals, eh?

There’s even a fun quiz to see how many heroes and arch-enemies you can match.

Teachers also face arch-enemies, but who (or what) are they?

Depends on whom you ask.

For some, it’s the unprofessional treatment of professional educators.

For others, it’s “bad theory” and “convenient untruths” like learning styles and multiple intelligences.

We’ve talked before about both issues (click HERE and HERE for the former; or HERE and HERE for the latter). But this time let’s turn the focus on ourselves.

 

Sometimes a teacher’s worst enemy is himself or herself.

This past year, the Marvel Comics Universe featured a “Secret Empire” story in which Captain America was a sleeper agent for the nefarious Hydra. Say it ain’t so!

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It was all due to a personified Cosmic Cube girl messing with Cap’s mind. (Just go with it.)  Things all turned out okay and Captain America is back to his super-heroics, having punched himself in the teeth with Thor’s Mjolnir hammer.  Comic books – yay!

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Steve Rogers is not the only iconic hero to face himself in battle. The film Superman III, despite all of its faults, has a nifty Superman vs. Clark Kent battle thanks to Richard Pryor’s home-brewed kryptonite.

Here’s a clip:

 

Hopefully, teachers don’t get so violent in confronting themselves. But we should be brutally honest in our self-evaluations.  Are we losing our passion? Are we giving our best? Are we informing our instructional decisions on sound research as opposed to the latest fad?

Let’s not get too down on ourselves. Everyone has a bad day. An “off week.” A challenging class of students – the kind that makes you earn your paycheck. Burnout is common, but treatable.

Regardless of setbacks or success, the best teachers are always getting better. Let’s look into the mirror to recognize strengths, pinpoint weaknesses, and grow the heroic abilities necessary to “fight the good fight” of educating kids.

 

 

 

 

Grit-ty Heroes

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“Grit” is a popular term in educational circles today, particularly with helping students succeed.

Grit is “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals,” “having stamina,” and “sticking with your future day-in day-out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years.”

I got those “gritty” quotes from the following TED Talk video with Angela Lee Duckworth, and you should watch the entire thing (about six minutes).

 

In the world of superheroes, “grit” has a much different meaning.  During the late 1980s and early 1990s, “grim and gritty” superheroes nearly saturated the comic book market.  If you’re interested, you can read a thorough analysis of this time period HERE.

“Grim and gritty” got so popular it seemed almost everyone got in on the act–Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, even Aquaman!

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Coming to theaters near you!

 

Thankfully, most of these heroes’ gritty phases were short-lived and brighter days returned.  For some heroes (or anti-heroes), however, it’s always been about grim and grit:  The Punisher, Ghost Rider, Wolverine, and about 87% of Image Comics from the 1990s.  Exhibits A-to-Xtreme below . . .

 

Given the above definition of “grit,” I would argue that the grittiest superhero is Captain America.

 

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Remember, Steve Rodgers stood up to evil and injustice while he was still a 98-pound weakling.  His heart and passion did not change after he gained powers and a costume.  At times, Steve has given up or lost the title of Captain America. But he continued his work behind the scenes and/or assuming another superhero identity.

We’ve already gotten a glimpse that Steve’s non-Captain America heroics will appear in upcoming Avengers movies:

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(He’s even got a beard – extra grit!)

 

At the time of the TED Talk video, not much was known about teaching and cultivating grit in students.  Nevertheless, you can find research summaries HERE and HERE, which also include resources and tools for student grittification*.

*Trademark 2017, Daniel J. Bergman

In the video, Duckworth refers to research of Carol Dweck on “growth mindset” as one potential factor in teaching grit.  This is a good place to start.

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For example, HERE is one of Dr. Dweck’s articles (“The Perils and Promises of Praise”) that discusses the impact of teacher praise on students’ motivation and self-concept.  All teachers should read this article, since 1) it is short, and 2) it has direct application in the classroom. In other words, it won’t take a lot of grit. But you should stop and think about how you respond to students, and what other messages are conveyed in your words.

And this is just one step. As explained near the end of the TED Talk video, teachers who want gritty students must also be gritty themselves.

Don’t let grit become one more educational fad that passes away.

 

 

Summer Break 2017

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Summer Vacation is well underway, but today (June 21) is the official first day of summer.

“Teach Like a Superhero!” is also taking a summer break, but here are a handful of highlights from the previous academic year:

Job Juggler – Batman’s butler Alfred has many jobs, and so do teachers!

D-List to A-List – Superheroes can go from D-List to the A-List, and so can your students!

Flame On! – How to avoid teacher burnout, with help from the Human Torch, Ryan Gosling, and Julia Child.

Leave a Legacy – How do teachers truly influence students . . . and generations to come?

 

Enjoy your summer!

And honor Adam West’s memory by catching some waves!

batmansurf

Deep Cuts and Easter Eggs

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So Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 came out recently, and it’s doing quite well at the box office.

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-Vol-2-wallpaper

 

An interesting focus on Vol. 2 has been all the “Easter Eggs” hidden in the film.  These  brief glimpses are easy to miss, encouraging repeated viewings ($$) and audience scrutinization.

Below is just a sampling of Easter Egg lists made about Guardians Vol. 2:

 

eastereggwuote

 

Easter Egg hunts are not just for lesser-known superheroes like the Guardians of the Galaxy.  You can find lists of hidden gems in all sorts of superhero movies, from more recent films like Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange to the very first entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Iron Man.

 

My personal favorite Easter Egg is the “circus monkey” drawn by Steve Rogers in Captain America: The First Avenger.  In the comics, Steve worked as a freelance artist from time to time. This sketching scene not only alludes to this history, but it also fits perfectly in the context of the movie.

 

An older sketch-based Easter Egg is the satirical “Bat Man” drawing given to newsman Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) in the 1989 Batman movie.  If you note the artist’s signature, it’s none other than Batman creator Bob Kane!

batman-1989-the-mark-of-kane

 

Another name for obscure pop culture references is “deep cuts,” a term from the music industry.  Deep cuts are little-known songs on an album that don’t get airtime or attention of more commercial- and radio-friendly singles.  Only die-hard fans are familiar with such songs that most of us have never heard.

In the same way, a lot of “deep cuts” in superhero movies are overlooked by casual viewers.  Often, these cameos and allusions are included simply as a wink or nod to eagle-eyed fans.  Other times, they might be hints of what will happen in an upcoming sequel or spin-off.

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Educators know all about “deep cuts,” and we’re NOT talking about financial funding (at least not this time).

For quite a while now, a common phrase in curriculum is “mile wide, inch deep.” Basically the phrase refers to American students learning a lot of general topics at the surface and not enough “deeper” content in more detail.  This is NOT a new issue, and is something standards are both blamed for as well as championed for trying to fix.

mile wide inch deep

Take a closer look, if interested, at this ongoing topic over the years:

 

There’s probably not one simple answer to the problem of “quantity over quality.”  However, one question to ask is “How deep?”

How much detail and depth do students need with respect to any given topic?  Again, standards documents may help in guiding educators to focus on key concepts and skills.  But what content is most important?  How much of it?

Here is a quote from the 1996 article linked above:

Before they reach high school, American students will have covered more topics than 75% of the students in other countries; yet in many cases, they will have been taught some of the same topics several years in a row. 

So it’s not just a matter of “quantity over quality;” it’s also an issue of redundancy.

However, based on what we know about learning, repeated exposure to the same content is actually necessary for helping students develop a solid foundational understanding.  Of course, revisiting a certain concept should NOT be a simple rehashing, but involve further exploration, examination, reflection, and application.

Revisiting content should also NOT be mining for trivia.  When a lesson dives deep into a subject, often the temptation is to dig up little-known facts that have little worth in the big picture.  In other words, educators are focusing on the Easter Eggs, as opposed to the larger story and impact.

 

marvel-egg-iron-man-roxxon

Missing the point.

I’m all for trivia games and fun.  (Obscure knowledge is part of the fanboy job description.) However, trivia should not come at the expense of meaningful learning and application.  In our quest for more depth in subject learning, teachers must be careful not to spend too much time and energy on trivia.

Consider common modifiers that accompany “trivia” and its related terms:  useless trivia, absurd information, pointless knowledge, random facts, and even the modifier trivial, which Merriam-Webster defines as “of little worth or importance.”

Sounds like an Easter Egg to me, especially the kind with one measly jelly bean inside.

EasterEggsandBeanADLG

Black licorice.  Nasty.

 

Teachers, ask yourself if playing Jeopardy! is the best way to review a unit.  (Or Pictionary or Trashketball or Classroom Bingo or other review games.) How can you guide students in a more engaging and thorough examination of relevant content?  How can you expand upon this information for more application and extensions?

Or in movie terms, how can you entice the audience so they hunger for a sequel?

 

adam warlock preview

To be continued . . .

 

What about you? What’s your favorite Easter Egg or deep cut?  What is their role in the classroom?

Leave a Legacy

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Marvel Comics recently announced their next company-wide comic book event(s), a back-to-back blockbuster starting with “Generations” this summer and then “Legacy” this fall.

There aren’t too many details yet, but “Generations” features stories teaming up heroes with shared names or titles.  For example, the original Thor (a.k.a. “Unworthy Thor” or Odinson) fights alongside with the current Thor (a.k.a. “Mighty Thor” or Jane Foster).  Or Wolverine (Logan) with his cloned successor All-New Wolverine (X-23, Laura).

A little confusing, yes, especially for anyone who hasn’t read a Marvel comic book the last few years.  During this time, several classic characters have stepped down from their costumes (for various reasons) to be replaced by different individuals–other heroes, a supporting cast member, or brand new characters.

With “Legacy,” some readers speculate many classic characters will return to prominence, donning their masked identify once again.  We don’t know much for now, except that long-running titles are resuming their original issue numbering (e.g. back in the 100s, 200s, 500s, or more, instead of resetting to issue #1 every year or so), and other classic elements are coming back–cover box art, tiny mugshots in the corner, Marvel Value Stamps, etc.

marvel-legacy-1 mugshots

The focus seems to be the “legacy” of these identities–icons that expand beyond one single person.

Here’s a quote from Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso: “We are looking to honor the legacy of the entire universe, so we are taking the iconic legacy heroes and pairing them with the new class.”

And another quote, this time from Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada: “The Marvel Legacy initiative is a celebration of everything that makes Marvel the best in fiction, and it’s a signifier of a new era for Marvel Comics.”  (Look for Quesada’s artwork on the cover of Marvel Legacy #1.)

Marvel-Legacy-Cover-by-Joe-Quesada

 

Interestingly, DC Comics is more well-known for its roster of “legacy heroes.”  Again, these are identities that have passed from various individuals.  Sometimes the mantle goes back and forth, and sometimes the mask and costume are handed off permanently–or at least for a decade or more, an entire generation of comic book readers.

Here are some of DC’s more famous “legacy heroes” and some (not all) noteworthy characters who have held the title.

The Flash: Jay Garrick, Barry Allen, Wally West, Bart Allen

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Green Lantern: Alan Scott, Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner,

GLs

 

What makes the DC legacy heroes unique is their extensive history and long-lasting impact.  Instead of switching a character for just a short story, event, or gimmick, these replacements truly add to the legacy of the hero.  In some cases, the successor is more famous than the original character, with more accomplishments and greater impact.

Teachers, do you see the connection to our profession?

Contemplate the following statement (and pretty photo, courtesy of Brainy Quote) by American historian and writer Henry Adams:

henry adams teacher eternity

 

Some of my current research deals with the question, “What makes an influential teacher?”

In one study (#10004), I asked nearly a hundred future science educators to share information about their most influential teacher.  Here are the SEVEN most common traits found in their responses describing an influential teacher (along with examples from answers given):

1) Passion  

  • “[He] brought his love of science and teaching with him every day.”
  • “She was unfailing in her positivity.”

2) Rapport 

  • “She cared about us and how much we learned.”
  • “He personally acknowledged each student.”

3) Pedagogy 

  • “She knew how to break down the material so it was easy to understand.”
  • “[K]new when students have problems and what to say to each student, if it is different words to different students.”

4) Time 

  • “[T]ook the time out to explain stuff.”
  • “He gave lots of time to students after class. As much as they needed to get it.”

5) High Expectations 

  • “She pushed me to be a leader in school.”
  • “The way she never gave up on you and made you believe in yourself more than you could imagine. She always had high standards for us.”

6) Fun 

  • “She always made teaching look fun.”
  • “[He] showed me that chemistry is fun.”

7) Helpful 

  • “She was always very helpful and kind.”
  • “His door was always open to his students and he was willing to help any student with whatever problems they had.”

 

These responses came from future science teachers, so the sample size is limited, of course.  But ask yourself which of these traits align with YOUR most influential teacher. What other characteristics did he or she display?

More than one of these seven traits appeared in 80% of participants’ “influential teacher” descriptions.  That means that these characteristics are not isolated, but rather intertwined with one another, even synergistic.

Also consider that almost two thirds (63.8%) of the influential teachers described by these future science teachers did NOT teach science.  There is more to influential teaching than the subject you teach. Or in other words, to quote Muppets creator Jim Henson . . .

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Take a moment to remember the most influential teachers you’ve had, and what made them so influential?  Then ask yourself what sort of influence you want to have on YOUR students.  How can you make a lasting, positive difference in the lives of your students, starting right now?

In many ways, every teacher is a “legacy hero.”  The privilege is not receiving personal fame for our profession, but in inspiring and impacting the generations to come.

 

 

Which Wolverine are You?

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A few years back I received the following image from a colleague, who shares this handout with students and teachers:

Which tree guy are you

The question is, “Which one are you today?”

Are you the one smiling and standing on top?  Crossed-armed and alone out on a limb?  Are you helping someone climb on?  Watching someone fall?

This simple image can lead to a fruitful discussion of personal success, challenges, and concerns.  It also helps to stop and reflect from time to time, since our place and activity in this image can change.  What caused the change?  Circumstances?  Attitude?  Actions?

Try this activity with your colleagues or class the next time you have a few spare moments. It’s a good start or end to a session. Take the opportunity to intentionally self-evaluate.

Or here is a superhero alternative, featuring everyone’s favorite Canadian superhero Wolverine (art by the amazing Scottie Young):

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Are you the triumphant, classic costumed Wolverine on top?   The squished one in the middle?  The samurai-inspired noble warrior at bottom right?  The Wolvie losing his hat? The one with the claws?

 

Or  maybe you prefer the Wolverine portrayed by Hugh Jackman in nearly 20 years of film. Even though it’s the same hero and same actor, there are plenty of moods and mannerisms to choose:

 

Like superheroics, teaching is a serious business requiring grit, bravery, and “a fighting spirit.”  But it’s also essential to find moments of humor and fun.

hugh wolverine-psy-gangnam-style-hugh-jackman

Op, op, op, op oppa Gangnam Style . . .

 

Most importantly, teachers (and students) should take time to pause and consider their personal attitudes and positions.  Are we behaving and thinking appropriately for the given situation?  How can we help those around us?

(And always resist the urge to go into “berserker mode.”)

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You forgot your homework again?!!?