Heroic Integration

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It’s been a while since our last blog post and we have all kinds of critically important issues to talk about, starting with . . . OH YEAH!  AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON super-duper blockbuster opens THIS WEEKEND!  

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The latest greatest superhero movie can provide a useful springboard for exploring the dangers of relying too much on technology (e.g. resulting in an evil sentient robot that tries to kill all humankind). Forget a vengeful Ultron or iPad; beware of students plugged in but tuned out to meaningful learning.

We’ll table that discussion for another time, however, given recent chatter about another famous Marvel character who may possibly join Earth’s Mightiest Heroes on the big screen:  Spider-Man.

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Thanks to Photoshop, we already have a poster!

Like Captain America and company, Spider-Man is a mainstay Marvel Comics character. But up until now, everyone’s favorite web-slinger has appeared in his separate series of movies due to film rights owned by Sony Pictures.

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Confused? Don’t worry, because bigwig producers have signed important papers and the stars have aligned and now Spidey can swing along with the Avengers in the official “Marvel Cinematic Universe,” or MCU.

Fan reaction has been understandably joyous, given the potential team-up between Marvel’s flagship hero and Marvel’s flagship hero team. Heck, the good folks at IGN have already imagined what Age of Ultron would look like with Spider-Man in the mix.  Take a look at their trailer here, if you’re curious.

Enthusiasm has erupted for integrating even more heroes in the movies. Speculation abounds if Marvel’s other movie heroes – the X-Men, the Fantastic Four – could ever merge into the MCU.  Even Wolverine’s Hugh Jackman wants to join in the mix.

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Coming to a movie theater near you?

Such integration of superheroes (a.k.a. worlds colliding) may appear as a bounty of riches; but there could be a downside.

Ever heard of too much of a good thing?

A common feature of disappointing superhero movies is a glut of characters in the script. Spider-Man 3 had Sandman and Venom and the Green Goblins clogging the villain faucet. Batman & Robin was actually Batman and Robin and Batgirl and Poison Ivy and Bane and Mr. Freeze. Superman III had Richard Pryor.

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Proving that “Two’s a Crowd.”

Curriculum Integration in schools is another appealing mash-up that may have a hidden downside or two.

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Basically, integrating curriculum is what teachers do when they teach lessons combining two or more major subjects or disciplines. Examples are as obvious as teaching algebra and graphing with a science experiment, and as unique as an instructor’s imagination. I know of a middle school that features a building-wide interdisciplinary unit all about the Greek Olympics. Every class studies some aspect of the ancient athletes – math, history, language arts, visual arts, science, P.E., and more.

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Sounds neat, right? And perhaps a little daunting to pull off, given the coordination of teachers, resources, and activities. But that’s just a challenge, not the downside. The upside is collaborative educators and students energized by explicit and relevant connections among various scholarly endeavors (subjects).

The danger of curriculum integration in classrooms is similar to those in superhero movies. Cramming in too much can end up in confusion and misconceptions. Content may be watered down, spread thin, or lost in the shuffle.

Take a minute to look at this article, “A Caveat: Curriculum Integration Isn’t Always a Good Idea,” by Jere Brophy and Janet Alleman for a more robust examination of this strategy. Better yet, print it out and read it while you wait in line for your Avengers movie tickets. Or download it on your portable digital device.

Technology can be great. So can curriculum integration. Just be careful.

Super-Memory

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Marvel Comics’ Wolverine has been a favorite superhero for decades, and there are so many reasons why:

  1. Adamantium-laced claws (and skeleton)
  2. Healing factor
  3. Canadian
  4. Short
  5. The best at what he does
  6. Hugh Jackman

The_Wolverine_Movie_Poster_large_verge_medium_landscape  I’ve always thought Wolverine’s past has been one of his coolest features, namely, that he had no memory of his past.  Over countless issues of X-Men-related titles, comic book readers saw only snippets of these lost years sporadically through various flashbacks.

After teasing readers with glimpses (and maybe deciding they’d better beat the movie studios to the punch), Marvel finally revealed Wolverine’s true origin with the Paul Jenkins/Andy Kubert mini-series Origin (original, eh?).

We soon learned that the man known only as Logan was actually a wimpy boy named James Howlett who wore a nightshirt and cried a lot.  (A little disappointing, to say the least.)

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So what does all this have to do with teaching? 

A recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) summarized its study of individuals possessing super-memory, or “Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory” (HSAM).  Fewer than two dozen people (humans, not mutants) are known to have this ability.

How many of us teachers mistakenly assume our students possess superhuman memory?  Sure, we sigh and shake our heads when they forget a pencil or their homework.

But let’s be honest.  Sometimes we inundate our students with endless terms or steps with the lame excuse we’re “covering all the standards.”   (As a colleague of mine says, if you’re going to cover the content, you might as well cover it in dirt because it’s already dead.)

Formal education in America arose when memorized facts served one well in their future studies, intellectual pursuits, and careers.  But we currently live in an age where information is available in a wi-fi instant.

Sure, there are moments for memorization.  And those times are typically when we practice and apply information in useful and meaningful ways.  I remember “every good boy does fine” not because of cramming the treble clef into my adolescent mind, but as a result of spending hours practicing, playing, and performing.

Here’s something interesting from that PNAS study of HSAM humans:  It turns out that individuals with super-memory as just as susceptible to manipulation as the rest of us.  This includes distorting data or adding false memories that never existed.

You can read a summary here from Discovery Magazine and find the whole report here from the National Academy of Sciences.  Good luck remembering it all.

 

Sadly, not many superheroes are known for their super-memory, and a quick Google search will find you these USB-compliant gems:

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It turns out that Logan/Wolverine/James Howlett eventually did regain all of his memories at the end of the House of M mini-series event (by Brian Michael Bendis and Olivier Coipel).  Along with a whole slew of mutant/magic messiness, Wolverine with memories was now a little less cool.

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I’d love to have super-memory.  It’d help me remember the last time I wore a certain outfit so I don’t repeat it a week later.  (I’m sure my students remember particular shirt-tie-pants ensembles.)

But most of us have normal human-level memory abilities.  The kind that forgets from time to time, but remembers when the information is relevant, useful, and encourages further learning.

Something for all of us to remember . . .

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