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.

 

 

 

 

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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!

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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.

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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:

 

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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!

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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?

 

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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.

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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.)

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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,

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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:

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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.

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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?!!?

 

 

Worlds Collide

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The next BIG superhero movie coming to theaters is The LEGO Batman Movie!

In a promotional stunt, LEGO Batman appeared alongside LEGO superheroes from DC Comics’s CW television shows, which you can check out below:

What makes this video clip special is it is the first time DC superheroes from the CW TV channel (Green Arrow, Flash, Supergirl, The Atom) have merged with a DC superhero from the movies (Batman).

“Big deal?” you think?

Actually there’s been a lot of chatter among fans, critics, and industry reporters about the pros, cons, and possibilities of merging film and TV-based superheroes.  These are characters that come from the same comic book universe, but are featured in separate media outlets–theatrical, broadcast television, or streaming.

DC, for example, has Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman dedicated to film, along with other heavy hitters from the Justice League (Green Lantern, Aquaman, Flash).  This gets problematic, however, since The Flash also stars in his own television show on the CW (as do Green Arrow and Supergirl, who has also met a TV version of Superman).

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Confused?  You’re not the only one, and some people argue these two “universes” should stay separate (see here and here).  Others think there could be a way to have a crossover of sorts between TV and Film (read more here).

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More intermingling makes sense for Marvel superheroes, since theoretically, many of these characters actually DO live in a single universe shared between the movies (Avengers, etc.) and television shows (Agents of SHIELD, Agent Carter, Daredevil, Luke Cage, etc.).

Some people claim Marvel could and should have film and TV shows cross over.  Others point out that such an event would still be a monumental and unwanted task.  And that’s not even dealing with different Marvel heroes contracted out to different movie studios (e.g. X-Men/Fantastic Four with 20th Century Fox, although Wolverine actor Hugh Jackman said he’s happy to meet the Avengers sometime).

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Sorry, Wolverine.  No shirt, no crossover.

While not requiring millions of dollars, the habit of teachers collaborating can also seem like a difficult ordeal.  But it’s worth it, with research finding higher student achievement in schools with higher levels of teacher collaboration.

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We’ve talked before about teachers getting along with other teachers and here’s another resource with useful teacher collaboration ideas, including virtual tools, co-planning, scheduling, and more.

And let’s take a closer look at teachers from different universes (i.e. different grade levels).

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The Teacher Channel’s blog “Tchers’ Voice” shares commentary on learning from teachers of different grades.  The blog post is called “Pathway to Collaboration,” and it’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Challenge yourself to find new ways to team up and learn with colleagues in your building, district, and beyond.

Sadly, there’s not much else out there about cross-grade teacher collaboration, although someone did do a doctoral dissertation on this topic.  (If you need a little light reading, you can find the entire 418-page document here.)

I’ll conclude with examples of insight gained and projects accomplished when my world collided with those of other teachers.

  • A fourth grade teacher who showed me all kinds of management techniques and student jobs that I could also apply in my high school classroom.
  • A middle school science teacher who collaborated with me to successfully submit a grant for highway safety physics curriculum.
  • A business teacher who modeled practical classroom procedures for high school seniors, giving flexibility and freedom to young adults weeks away from graduating.
  • And several more colleagues, mentors, current and former students co-presenting and co-publishing academic work.

No movies or television projects yet, but maybe someday.