Know Gimmicks

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gimmick ˈɡimik/  noun

  1. a trick or device intended to attract attention, publicity, or business.
    synonyms: publicity stunt, contrivanceschemestratagemploy;

    informalshtick

 Every Marvel movie features snappy quips, and one of my favorite lines from Captain America: Civil War comes from hero Falcon, when he and Bucky first run into Spider-Man:

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Gimmicks have a long history in comic books.  Specifically, let’s look at comic book gimmick covers.  Like any good “publicity stunt,” gimmick covers draw attention to sell more comic books. Typically these specific issues celebrate milestone anniversaries, debut series, or other special events.

The good folks at Comic Book Resources (CBR) recently shared their “All-Time Greatest Comic Book Gimmick Covers,” and you can read about it right here.

In this list, you’ll learn all kinds of neat history and trivia, including what made these gimmicks special.  Behold covers with poly-bagged pop-ups, glow-in-the-dark skeletons, embossed chromium and/or foil, die-cut claw marks, bullet holes, and more.

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My favorite is the Superman “Colorform” cover, where you can create your own battle scene using the reusable plastic pieces.  (iPad got nothin’ on Coloforms.)

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Gimmicks are fun, but they can also go horribly wrong.  To wit, CBR contributors also compiled the “All-Time Worst Comic Book Gimmick Covers,” which you can read here if you dare.

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These unfortunate “shticks” include lenticular artwork, face-shaped die-cut covers, duplicate monochrome colors, Magic Eye illusions, body heat-sensitive “thermochrome,” and more bullet holes.

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Gimmick comic book covers have mostly disappeared, but new ideas (or old revivals) pop up from time to time.  The same is true for educational gimmicks.  Teachers must be vigilant in protecting their students (and themselves) from too many gimmicks, fads, and ploys.

 What are some of these educational gimmicks?  For a start, take a look at the following graphic highlighting “20 Years of Educational Fads,” put together by Te@cher Toolkit (“the most influential blog on education in the UK”).

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You can read more here about each gimmick, myth, fad, and/or hearsay, and see how much you agree.

Such new (or repackaged) educational ideas begin as noteworthy or eye-catching.  A financial boost often jumpstarts such initiatives.  But eventually the dollars dwindle away, followed by fading enthusiasm and support.  Given the effort and time spent by various stakeholders, you can imagine the subsequent feelings of resentment and distrust.

Please note that I am not poo-pooing all gimmicks.  After all, I’m the guy who forked over cash to get this hologram-highlighted wrap-around cover:

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And this foil embossed beauty:

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And even this one:

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 (Yup, that’s a special #0 issue mini-comic glued to the cover of the #1 issue regular-sized comic.)

Gimmicks can be good for a laugh.  And sometimes they are a breath of fresh air.  Used right, gimmicks can make cute mementos, quick distractions, and useful object lessons.

Nevertheless, it’s important to distinguish between a novel trick (that’s fun for a little while) and a credible research-supported practice (that stands the test of time).

What about you?  What educational gimmicks have you enjoyed, advocated, and/or suffered?

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Ms. Pronunciation

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It’s graduation season, that wonderful time of year to commemorate scholarly success.

As an added perk, I get to dress up like a superhero.  (One of my students even said I looked like a Hogwarts professor – Wingardium Leviosa!)

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Power Professors . . . Unite!

Besides Halloween, when else can someone strut their stuff in a color-coordinated, velveteen-trimmed billowy costume (i.e. regalia) without receiving strange looks?  It’s like academic Mardi Gras.

That’s Mardi Gras, pronounced “ˈmär-dē-ˌgrä.”  In New Orleans, pronounced “awr-lee-uhnz,” or “awr-leenz,” or “aw-linz,” depending on your demographics.

Pronunciations are important. How important?

With comic books being a visual medium, readers may have seen a superhero’s unique name for years but never heard it spoken out loud.  When we hear the audible title, the correct pronunciation can be surprising.

 

darkseidTake DC villain Darkseid, for instance.  First introduced in 1970, this big baddie predates  the Star Wars movies by several years.  But his name is pronounced “Dark Side.”  (For the longest time, I thought his name sounded like “dark seed,” which is more menacing in my opinion.)

 

 

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Or Namor the Sub-Mariner.  When I see his name, I still hear it as “submarine-r,” sounding like the underwater vessel with an “r” at the end.  (Like a trucker who drives a truck.)  Actually, the name of Marvel’s first mutant got its inspiration from the Coleridge poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” and the emphasis is on “mariner” like a sailor or Seattle baseball player.

 

Here is an article about commonly mispronounced superhero names.  And we haven’t even talked about folks like Ra’s al Ghul, Ka-Zar, and half the Green Lantern Corps.

 

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Next year’s classroom portraits

 

Let’s not forget about all kinds of odd-sounding objects, too, like the Crimson Gem of Cytorrak, the Eye of Agamotto, or Thor’s mystical hammer Mjolnir.

 

Mispronunciations are not a problem exclusive to fictional characters.  All kinds of comic book creators have hard-to-pronounce names (Quesada, Nicieza, Madureira, DiDio, Lee).

In fact, during the ’90s Marvel produced an official pronunciation guide for many of their writers and artists:

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Most of this tongue-twisting is light-hearted.  But think of more serious repercussions in education.

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Witness the blushes and giggles (or worse, the cringes and frowns) at a graduation ceremony.  What should be the triumphant celebration of a student’s academic career becomes an uncomfortable, clumsy moment.

 

Consider the same unfortunate effects in the classroom.  How many students shudder at the sound of a teacher messing up their name during roll call?  This occurrence is not limited to back-to-school season, either.  Some botched names continue unnecessarily for months.

Here’s an interesting article by Ed Week about students and educators raising awareness and appreciation for diverse and difficult names.  Titled “Mispronouncing Students’ Names: A Slight That Can Cut Deep,” it tackles a lot of issues you may not even consider when reviewing your classroom roster.

What’s the worst way someone has mispronounced your name?  How do you handle it as a teacher?

Hopefully not like this:

 

Here’s one strategy I learned to use in my teaching:

During the first days of school, I have my students complete a handout sharing different bits of information.  One line on the form asks students to write their names as they are phonetically pronounced, as well as what the student would like to be called.

This may seem like overkill, but it comes in handy and reduces one more hurdle in promoting positive student-teacher relationships.

For instance, is Cara pronounced “Care-uh” or “Car-ah?”  Since I read her information sheet, I already know. I’ve also had students that go by middle names, initials, or something different than what’s written in their official records.

I’ll be ready when I have Mr. Mxyzptlk in class.  Will you?

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Con Season

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This blog post is unique because I’m writing it from San Diego, where I’m attending a convention.

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No, not THAT convention – San Diego Comic-Con International – although the Convention Center is just across the street.

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The above photo is what the Center looks like this week.  During Comic-Con, it appears more like the photo below:

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Or this one:

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Or this one, if you’re lucky:

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Like I said, I’m not lucky enough to be in town the same time as Comic-Con.  But I am lucky enough to be at a convention with hundreds of other educators.

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This particular “con” is focused on accreditation of teacher preparation programs.

The topic may sound dryer than San Diego heat, but it’s not too bad.  Most sessions are led by educators, who know a thing or two about engaging a crowd of semi-disinterested individuals.

Here are three take-home lessons I’ll share with you (and take home from California):

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No excitement here.

1. A convention center without fans, celebrities, and cosplayers is like a school building without students, teachers, and staff.  A brilliant building with fancy facilities is a wonderful thing to behold; but it only makes a difference when it hosts a crowd of excitable and exciting characters.

 

 

2. What convention are you attending next?   I’m not talking about a district-required in-service necessary for churning out continuing education credits.

Seek out a teacher-focused conference or convention that expands your network of colleagues, refines your thinking, and builds on your repertoire of strategies.  Better yet, sign up to SHARE a session or workshop with your professional peers.  

 

 

 

3. Someday I hope to visit San Diego again and attend Comic-Con.  Until then, here are some conferences I’ve attended (or will attend) recently.  Check one out, if you’re interested.  Or find something else that more closely matches your field of expertise.

-Kappa Delta Pi International Educational Honor Society Biennial Convocation

-National Science Teachers Association Regional Conference

International Meeting of the Association for Science Teacher Education

-Kansas Association of Science Teachers “KATS Kamp” Conference

-Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation Spring Conference

 

Where are you going?

You don’t have to attend a “con” somewhere far away or expensive.  Most of those I go to are within driving distance, and many times you can pay a discounted fee to attend only part of the convention.  In most cases you get what you pay for, though, and it’s healthy to expand your horizons beyond your home district or state.

 

Find a super group of teachers to encourage and educate you – and you can do the same for them.  They’re waiting for you!

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Secret Hideouts

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In our previous post, we talked about getting along with your fellow teachers.

On some occasions, the best method to maintain positive relationships is giving yourself some space.  “Lying low” is one way to think of it.  In order to lie low, you need a secret hideout.

Recently, images of hero hideouts have appeared in previews of upcoming movies.

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First, we have news from Entertainment Weekly about the new Batcave appearing in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS:DoJ).  Jacob Hall at SlashFilm.com describes this hideout as “swanky” and “full of flashy technology and design choices that a proper billionaire would make.”  He also provides a nifty comparison with Batcaves from the 1989 Batman film (Tim Burton, Michael Keaton) and 2005’s Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, Christian Bale).

Next, Marvel provided concept art of the Sanctum Sanctorum, appearing in the movie Doctor Strange.  Though not as well-known as the Dark Knight’s Batcave, Doctor Strange’s hideout includes just as many gizmos and trinkets–albeit on the magical side.

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Whether you’re a teacher or a superhero (or both), a good secret hideout serves two main purposes.

First, it’s a place to keep all your stuff.  Teachers are known as perpetual pack-rats.  Those fortunate enough to have their own classroom can keep a regular supply of tools and resources within immediate reach.

Of course, be sure you keep items organized and secure, especially when it comes to valuable and hazardous materials.  When I taught chemistry, I always kept my chemical closet locked, opening it only when I had to retrieve something.  Students were NEVER allowed to enter, or even stand in the doorway.

Call me a little overprotective or OCD, but I never had a student lose a finger (or thumb).

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Unfortunately, the teacher maxim to “beg, borrow, and steal” often results in bulging file cabinets and saturated bookshelves.   For most teachers, the classroom is not their second home, but their second storage unit.

If you don’t want to rent a third storage unit, take time to thin out your collection.  What materials and equipment do you truly use?  Gather all non-essentials and dust-collectors and give them to new teachers hungry to fill their room and repertoire.

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That chapter test is in here somewhere . . .

Don’t delay your purging until Spring Break or Winter Break or Summer Break.  (Honestly, those breaks fill up with other essential tasks.)

Take a few minutes every week or so to stroll past a shelf or peek into a closet.  If you see something you haven’t used in over a year, pluck it out.  Find a better use in someone else’s hands — another teacher, student, Goodwill-collector, garbage-collector, etc.  (Maybe check with your boss first.)

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If Batman ever decides to donate his dinosaur, I’ll take it!

 

In addition to improving safety and equipping others, cleaning out clutter results in a more tranquil classroom.  This is a bonus for students and the teacher. Less junk means fewer distractions during learning time, planning time, and quiet time.

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Ahhh . . . Paradise!

 

Primary purpose #2 for secret hideouts is providing a space to relax and unwind.  Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum is described as his place to “escape from this reality.” Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

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Maybe you can’t escape reality, but every teacher needs daily moments to himself or herself.  These slivers of quiet time don’t have to be lengthy.  Plan periods typically fill up with trips to the copier, chasing down students and staff, catching up on emails, and more.  You may have a few minutes, but don’t plan on it (especially if you’re relatively new).

I mentioned lying low from time-to-time (again, especially if you’re new), and one of the best ways I found to do this was eating lunch in my empty classroom — door locked, lights off, maybe some soothing music playing in the background.

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Ahhh . . .  Peace and quiet!

 

I didn’t always do this.  In fact, at my first school I typically spent my lunch hour (i.e. 20  minutes) shoveling food down my gullet in the teachers’ lounge.  The lounge was closer to the cafeteria — when you’re a bachelor, cafeteria food is tasty, easy, and cheap — so I found a spot among my colleagues and ate while they gabbed.

I was so busy eating, I didn’t have time to talk.  All that quiet listening gave me tremendous insight about students, staff, school history, and more.

But every once in a while, a dismal mood would hover over the staff lounge.  That’s when I hoofed it back to my classroom for silent dining.  For fifteen minutes, I had entered my personal Fortress of Solitude.

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Not all teachers have a classroom to call home, however.  In such cases, it’s vital to understand that a secret hideout doesn’t have to be a permanent area.  Maybe you can find a closet or hallway nook for a temporary respite.  (Schools are full of interesting little spaces.)

Superhero hideouts come in all shapes and sizes, spaces and places.  Take a look at Newsarama‘s list of the Greatest Superhero Hideouts and Headquarters.  You’ll see everything from skyscrapers to satellites, mansions to alleyways.

 

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Perhaps it’s more accurate to think of a secret hideout as a state of mind.

When I began teaching, I lived two blocks from school and walked everyday to work.  My students repeatedly questioned why I didn’t take my car.  I usually answered that driving isn’t all that new and cool after you turn 20.

Honestly though, the brief, brisk morning walk energized me.  And the journey back and forth was always time well spent, giving me precious moments to preview and review my day.  So I guess my first secret hideout was a two-block stretch of sidewalk.

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Some days it felt as cold as the Fortress of Solitude.

 

I know another teacher who drives to school, but always parks in the spot farthest from the building entrance.  His colleagues joke that he picks this spot to avoid any car dings and scratches — whether unintentional or intentional.

The real reason, he says, is so he can spend the lengthy walk thinking about an individual, and how he can make a positive difference in that person’s life that day.  He told me if there’s ever a morning he can’t come up with someone’s name, he’ll quit teaching.  That was a few years ago, but the last I heard, he’s still teaching.

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So whatever you have for a secret hideout (and wherever it is), consider how you maintain that special space to keep it user-friendly.  And use that space to reflect, retool, and recharge in your efforts to be a better teacher.  

No Danger Room required.

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What’s in a Name?

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Keen-eyed readers will notice that this blog has recently changed its official name from Teaching is for Superheroes! to Teach Like a Superhero!  (The exclamation point remains!)

Not that big of a change, really, except that the new name rolls off the tongue a little more easily.  Another change is the primary web address:  http://www.teachlikeasuperheroblog.com.  This new URL is not very short, but it gets to the point.

(I tried a shorter address, but “www.tlash.com” sounds like an eyeliner product.  And a good of an excuse as any to share this meme inspired by Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

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If all of this http://www.mumbo.jumbo stresses you out, don’t worry.  The old web address, http://www.teachingsupeherheroes.wordpress.com, still works and will lead you right back here.

This post is not just an announcement about blog name changes.

Let’s talk about names of superheroes and names of teachers.

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I remember two things from my very first teacher back-to-school in-service meeting.  The first memory is a litany of details regarding health insurance and employee benefits.  The second memory is our assistant principal reminding us all that we are “Mr. Smith,” not “Smith” or “Mr. S.”

His point was to start the school year establishing a professional identify and requiring our students to address us as such.  It may seem like no big deal for a student to abbreviate your name (“Mr. B.”) or leave off your honorific (“Bergman”).  Some teachers may even welcome such nicknames to foster a more relaxed classroom environment.

But we must always be careful to not get too comfortable with our students.  Stop and consider the range of impacts this lackadaisical habit could impart.

I’m sure I’ve allowed my students to call me all sorts of things and get away with it.  But it does help to maintain a level of respect among everyone – teacher to student, student to teacher, teacher to teacher, student to student, and more.

Proper names matter among superheroes, too, and not just with maintaining secret identities.  Personally, I cringe whenever I read superheroes calling each other playful nicknames.

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They’re heroes, not BFFs!

Superhero nicknames have long been a staple in comics.  Witty banter and clever monikers keep the “funny” in funny books, after all.  And it helps convey some characters’ personalities.

Wolverine, for example, with Colossus:

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And here (off-panel) with Professor Xavier:

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The best name-caller, of course, was Stan “The Man” Lee, who was so proficient he even came up with nicknames for his real-life co-workers (e.g. Jack “The King” Kirby, “Jazzy” Johnny Romita, “Merry” Gerry Conway, and many MANY more right here).

Like any good joke, though, overuse of superhero sobriquets can get tiresome.  Especially among champions who should focus their attention on more important things – like fighting bad guys and saving the world!

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What’s worse, many of these affectionate nicknames can actually undermine the job of life-risking heroics.

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“Spidey” for Spider-Man works fine for his hip quippy character;  but take a look at other heroes and their less-dignified labels:

Batman = “Bats”

Superman = “Supes”

Green Lantern = “GL”

Ugh.  Apparently, characters in the DC Universe have a thing for abridging names.  Marvel nicknames, though more colorful, can still cheapen a heroic legacy.

The Mighty Thor = “Goldilocks”

The Hulk = “Ol’ Greenskin”

Iron Man = “Shellhead”

Captain America = “Cap,” “Winghead,” “Star-Spangled Avenger”

We come back to Captain America because it’s maybe the clearest example of a noble hero who’s legendary status is downgraded by casual familiarity.  And it’s not just by fellow heroes, but even by us regular citizens.

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Call me a Stick-in-the-Mud (“Bromidic Bergman”), but superheroes deserve a little more formality.  The same goes for teachers.  Although it may seem cool for kids to use teacher nicknames, be careful with letting things get too capricious or contemptuous.

So whenever you hear a student or colleague refer to you as  “Mrs. T” or “Thompson” or “Yo, Teach,” gently remind them how they can address you more properly.

Just remember, it’s not “Mr. F.” It’s Mr. Fantastic.

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And it’s not “Incredible;” it’s Mr. Incredible.

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And it’s not “Marvel;” it’s Ms. Marvel.

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Actually, the original Ms. Marvel goes by Captain Marvel now.

But never “Cap.”

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.