Word Balloons

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The latest superhero flick is Deadpool, which is making news for its “hard” R-rating for humor and violence.

If you don’t know much about Marvel’s “Merc with a Mouth,” here is a fun tutorial courtesy of artist Ty Templeton.

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The movie itself is doing great commercially and critically, even getting approval from Betty White herself.

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I’ll bypass seeing the film in theaters, waiting for a toned down, broadcast-friendly version on TV.  (But from the sound of things, a cleaned-up edited version would last about 15 minutes.)

The “sound of things” is actually the topic of this blog post.  Specifically,

What is the sound of your voice?

We’ve talked before about the importance of what teachers say in the classroom (namely questions).  But it’s also important to consider how you say it.

What’s your tone of voice when you talk in class?  How loud?  How fast?  How much variety?

In comic books, characters speak in “word balloons” (or “speech bubbles”), and it’s fascinating to notice the unique techniques creators use to convey dialogue on the page.

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Just like people, comic book heroes have unique voices, and letterers (the folks who draw word balloons) often use specific styles for particular characters.

For instance, Deadpool always speaks (and thinks) in yellow word balloons.  No one is sure what it’s supposed to sound like, aside from a mix of sarcasm and crazy.

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Take a moment and consider what your words would look like if someone drew balloons around them.

Are you snarky to the point of annoying?  (Do you need to tone it down?)

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Or maybe you’re more robotic, like the android Vision.  (Should you add more emotion?)

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DC/Vertigo’s Sandman hero Dream (a.k.a. Morpheus) talks in wavy inverted speech bubbles.  (Are you putting your students to sleep?)

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Or does your voice reflect the tenor of Ghost Rider, Marvel’s Spirit of Vengeance?  (To quote Educator Harry Wong, remember to stay “calm, real calm.”)

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Some teachers start quiet and docile, not maintaining healthy classroom boundaries.  And then when students get too far out of control, these teachers release a verbal attack like Marvel’s Inhumans hero Black Bolt.  (Deal with the small things sooner, so you don’t have to explode.)

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Eric Wong at the Sequart Organization wrote a nifty article about the different ways comic books communicate sound.   As you examine these examples, think about the sounds in your classroom.  What is helpful?  What is hurtful or distracting?

Teachers should record their classroom instruction and interactions from time to time.  You don’t have to sit down and watch an entire lesson.  Just listen to a few minutes and notice what your students actually hear.

Acknowledge the fact that nobody likes the sound of their own voice.  (Blame science.)  But who cares?  Either out loud or in your head, ask yourself,

“What can I do to sound better?”  

Here are some ideas:

1. If your voice is monotone and flat, study television news anchors to learn about adding variety in pitch. (And drink more coffee.)

2. If you have a tendency of erupting, take a deep breath and stay calm (but firm).  (And eat more chocolate.)

3. If you have a snarky streak, save it for open mic night at the comedy club.  Students respect teachers who show them respect first.

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So whatever kind of “word balloons” you use in the classroom, make sure they fit the space and focus on learning.

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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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Summer Break 2015

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It’s that time again when T4SH takes a short break during the summer months.

A break from lengthy blog posts, at least.  Look for resources, updates, and links via Facebook while you’re chilling out poolside, beachside, or inside.

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Time-traveling X-Man Bishop proves that blue jean cutoffs NEVER go out of style. Just beware that nasty tan line.

BONUS!  Here are some blog highlights from the past academic year, if you need something to review and recharge your mutant teaching energy:

Teachers for Hire – Research and statistics on teachers’ time and money.

Question(s) and Answer – Resources and strategies for asking good questions in the classroom.

Flex Plan – Movie studios plan superhero movies YEARS in advance.  How far into the future should teachers plan lessons?

Fantastic Teaching – Timeless traits of effective teachers, inspired by Marvel’s First Family.

Weird Superpowers – Superman has some weird superpowers.  What’s YOUR weird teacher power?  (Hopefully it is not fake-super-flabby-arm.)

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Take time this summer to work on your beach bod AND your classroom prowess.

Educatio!

Multiple Madness

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Sadly, this entry does not feature one of my favorite superheroes – Jamie Madrox, a.k.a. The Multiple Man. But I’m going to include a picture of him (them) anyway:

Multiple Man X

On to business!

Warning: Today’s topic contains both intense geekery and buzzword-bashing. Proceed cautiously.

Blockbuster movies are not the only highlight of summer. It’s also the season when comic book publishers launch company-wide crossovers that promise to shake up a universe or two (or 52).

Marvel Comics and DC Comics have both blasted readers with major events this year. DC recently ran through a “Convergence” that ended with every version of its universe (pre-Crisis, pre-Zero Hour, pre-Flashpoint, etc.) returning to existence. That means every crazy version of familiar heroes and villains can appear in some form or another in one of several alternate universes, or multiverses.

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Confused? Check the hyperlinks above to read more about DC’s habit of rewriting history in their comic books (“reboots”). And you can read more here and here, then impress your friends with a mindful of multiversity.

Reboots are Made for Walking . . .

DC rebooting its universe(s) is nothing new. But Marvel Comics has always prided itself on maintaining a single continuity in its main universe (called “Earth-616,” and don’t ask why).

That’s all changed this summer, though, with Marvel’s tentpole production “Secret Wars.” If that name sounds familiar, the original “Secret Wars” (1984) was Marvel’s first mega-crossover teaming up all of its major heroes – Spider-Man, the Avengers, Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and more. Plus, it’s where Spidey got himself his snazzy black costume that . . . didn’t end well.

secret wars 8  spidey venom

In Marvel’s current 21st century crossover, every alternate universe (technically not the same as a multiverse; trust me) is starting to shmoosh into each other, with Earth as the epicenter.

What results is a hodgepodge of alternative Marvel Earths mish-mashed all on one planet. This subsequent world is called “Battleworld,” where apparently assorted Marvel heroes and variations duke it out over land rights.

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Actually, all of the post-Secret War/Battleworld comics look to be an excuse to revisit everyone’s favorite character or event from Marvel’s storied history. This nostalgia trip won’t last for long, with a finale that will “be the end of the Marvel Universe as we know it!”

Just recently, Marvel has already given us sneak peeks at characters appearing in this “All-New, All-Different” universe.  Here’s a look:

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Who knows how long either of these nascent realities will last? In recent history, world-shattering moments seem to happen every other issue.

But, hey, it’s comic books.

My concern is not a glut of mega-crossover mini-series, but rather the stampede of super-heroes – namely different versions of the same ones. Take a gander at another Marvel “All-New, All-Different” lineup:

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I count two Spider-Men, two Spider-Women (one is “Spider-Gwen”), and two Captain Americas (one is old Steve Rogers, the other the old Falcon). Look back at the first Marvel promo and find two Wolverines (one female, the other old Logan).

Duplicating heroes is one way to increase diversity. But it can sometimes dilute the specialness of super-heroes. I’m not just talking about spreading thin unique super-powers, but also decreasing high-stakes adventures. If a certain hero is facing life-and-death odds, it’s no big deal, since a copycat can fill any vacancy. And if your world blows up, just hop over to the next universe.

Right, DC?

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Okay.  Rant over.

All-New, All-Different Rant.

Let’s talk about teaching and blow up some more multiplicity problems. “Multiple Intelligences,” to be precise.

Multiple intelligences is perhaps the most touted idea in education today. But in case you haven’t heard of it, here’s a recap:

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Back in 1983 (one year before Marvel’s first “Secret Wars”), Harvard professor Howard Gardner argued that a general intelligence (“IQ”) measure is insufficient, and proposed seven different “intelligences” one could possess.

MI pie smart

Most people have strengths and weaknesses around this pie, and are more comfortable in some categories (or combos) than in others.

Of course everyone has different strengths. They’re called talents. Skills. Natural abilities. Preferences. Interests. Comfort zones.

But Gardner labeled these categories “intelligences” and this notion took off like honey nut hotcakes. In fact, Gardner has admitted that his ideas wouldn’t have gotten so popular had he just called them “multiple talents.”

So what’s the problem?

Many educators – many with the best of intentions – latch onto “multiple intelligences” thinking they have to cater to everyone’s needs. Taken to the extreme, each topic to be learned requires eight different lessons or activities. That way you cover all the bases.

Another term that overlaps with multiple intelligences is “learning styles.” Educators frequently pigeonhole different students according to a specific strength or preference – visual, auditory, kinesthetic. Worse, students may self-label or assume the identity they’ve been assigned, with the notion that they are stuck in one role with no opportunity to grow or change.

To his credit, Howard Gardner has explained how his ideas of multiple intelligences are NOT the same as learning styles. This is helpful, as comprehensive learning relies on much more than just “style.” Moreover, research has found little evidence that matching teaching to a specific learning preference produces higher understanding. Unfortunately, such clarification is lost among the bulk of educational professionals and publications.

Mixed up reliance on “MI” and “learning styles” enables teachers, parents, and students who want excuses for an underwhelming performance. If Billy flunks his spelling test, that’s okay. Maybe he’s just a “kinesthetic” learner. Maybe he can form letters with his arms and legs. Or if Suzie struggles in math, just have her sing out her calculations. She does so well in choir, after all. She must be “music smart.”

Here’s another problem:  Some of these “intelligences” are more practical in everyday life than others. No matter how much you plead, no one will sing the ballot to you the next election day.  You have to read to vote. The next time you get pulled over for texting while driving, try explaining to the officer that you have interpersonal intelligence. See how far that gets you.

I’m not saying we should dismiss any student who doesn’t excel at a particular subject or skill. Celebrate their strengths. Find ways for them to use and share that talent. But don’t compromise content learning. And help people shore up their weaknesses.

By the way, for those who counted the Multiple Intelligences in that pie graphic up there (all you logical-mathematical studs), there are actually EIGHT intelligences. Gardner added “naturalistic intelligence” a few years later. And then there’s also “existential intelligence.” It’s all getting a little ridiculous, to the point where The Onion featured a parody article revealing the trials of students with “nasal intelligence.”

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A nasal learner struggles with an odorless textbook.

So what should teachers do?

Dr. Gardner suggests three actions: 1. Individualize your teaching; 2. Plurarlize your teaching; and 3. Drop the term “styles.”  (Easy for him to say.)

If you want more concrete ideas, here are some quotes from reviews of the research:

From The Chronicle: “Teachers should worry about matching their instruction to the content they are teaching. Some concepts are best taught through hands-on work, some are best taught through lectures, and some are best taught through group discussions” (Glenn, 2009).

From the NSTA: “Using appropriate representations that carefully consider how to best convey the content is important. In addition, we need to scaffold between concrete and more abstract representations, being sensitive to the abilities of our students to handle abstractions. Finally, when students struggle to understand, we need to look at both the nature of the content as well as the prior experiences of our students” (Olson, 2006). 

This is a good start to wise planning and teaching. Click on the hyperlinked articles above for more in-depth reading and reflection.

Multiple intelligences – like multiple superheroes – can have some merit in the right context. But both can explode out of control and become gimmicky. Be wary of too much reliance and redundancy, resulting in loss of impact.

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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.

Fantastic Teaching

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The latest superhero movie teaser to hit the internet is that of Fantastic Four, a.k.a: FANT4STIC: 

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If a Fantastic Four movie sounds familiar, that’s because there have already been two big budget FF films since 2005.

For an interesting comparison, take a look at the 2005 Fantastic Four movie‘s trailer (starring a pre-Captain America Chris Evans and a post-Commish Michael Chiklis):

Now watch the teaser of the 2015 version:

Quite the difference in tone, don’t you think?

But to me, that’s what makes iconic superheroes so special.  Building off a core of archetypal characters and themes, different creators can tell stories through a variety of styles.  (And it’s always fun to see fresh new takes on superpowers.)

Like parallel universes in comic books, a parallel application exists in the world of teaching.  In order to reach students and inspire meaningful learning, an effective teacher applies his or her individual personality and talents to a framework of fundamental research and established methods.

So let’s talk about some essential elements of effective fantastic teaching, using Marvel’s first family for inspiration (and images courtesy of artist Bruce Timm).

Mr. Fantastic (Reed Richards)

mr fantastic Egocentric name aside, Mr. Fantastic is known for his amazing intellect as much as his elastic superpowers.  Two things we can take from the Fantastic Four’s leader:

1. Teachers must be smart.  For those of us with normal IQ’s, we must do our best to study and develop rich understanding.  This growing knowledge base should be limited to our particular subject(s), but all the arts and sciences, and–perhaps more importantly–research on how people learn and applicable teaching strategies.

2. Teachers must be flexible.  You don’t have to wear a uniform made of unstable molecules (though it’d be cool to try), but you must be ready to bend, twist, and stretch if you want to stay sane.

Human Torch (Johnny Storm)

torch timm In addition to flexibility, fantastic teachers have a healthy sense of humor, much like the FF’s resident jokester.  And figuratively speaking, teachers should be able to instantly “flame on” and fire up a jaded class into a group of enthusiastic learners.

Invisible Woman (Susan Storm-Richards)

invis woman Here’s where we get more profound.  Teachers are often most effective when they stay out of the spotlight.  Instead, they put the primary focus on learning and encourage students to take responsibility and leadership in the process.

A common motto used among educators is to relinquish the classroom role of “sage on the stage” and be a “guide on the side.”  Sometimes, that guide is so good the students hardly notice his or her presence.

invisible woman force field In many ways, Sue Storm has the most powerful abilities among her teammates.  Not only can she turn invisible, she also can produce invisible force fields for both offensive and defensive purposes.  Teachers must also do their best to protect their students and colleagues from all kinds of dangerous attacks – unseen or otherwise.

The Thing (Ben Grimm)

thing bruce timm small In addition to protecting students, fantastic teachers also need to protect themselves.  Like the ever lovable, blue-eyed Thing, teachers must exhibit some thick skin.  We have to withstand a daily barrage of gripes and wisecracks that rival Dr. Doom’s black magic blasts.

dr doom blast

Fool! Doom never does homework!

To use another metaphor, teachers should be judicious in deciding when “It’s clobberin’ time!”

clobberin time

Even fantastic teachers have students who occasionally act out worse than Mole Man’s Moloids.  We can’t simply exile these misguided minions into the Negative Zone.  But we can’t allow class clowns to ruin everyone else’s opportunity to learn, either.

moloids crowd

Your teacher’s worst nightmare.

It takes wisdom (sometimes a Reed Richards-level of intellect) to know how to squash misbehavior without squashing the student (emotionally, that is).  It also requires a mix of courage and compassion.  Even the best teachers aren’t perfect in determining when and how to manage, discipline, and/or overlook student actions and attitudes.

Nobody’s perfect.  But we can strive to be fantastic.  Use insight from the “World’s Greatest Comic Magazine” to help you get there.

No cosmic radiation required.

fantastic-four cosmic

Flex Plan

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Where will you be in five years?

If you like superheroes, a good bet is you’ll be sitting in a theater watching the latest Marvel or DC movie.  And chances are you’ll have seen multiple superhero movies between now and then.

A recent Warner Bros. shareholder meeting featured the announcement of several tentpole movie projects into the year 2020.  This list includes TEN films starring DC Comics superheroes (and antiheroes).

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Not to be outdone, Marvel Studios held a special shindig where they announced NINE movies set in their “Marvel Cinematic Universe,” involving the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther, Dr. Strange, and more.

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“Infinity” sounds about right.

If you add in movies based on other Marvel Comics heroes (X-Men, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, etc.), that makes OVER 40 FILMS currently planned for Marvel or DC comic book characters.

And that’s not even counting additional comic book and superhero projects.  So we’re headed either into the Double Platinum Age of Comic Book Movies or Major Market Saturation.

Of course, many of these projects may get derailed or delayed along the way.  (Don’t hold your breath for “Unannounced Female Character Spider-Man Movie” in 2017.)

Plans change, and no one knows that better than teachers.

Adventures with Scope & Sequence

Those of us in the field of education know about something called “Scope and Sequence.”  Not only does “Scope and Sequence” sound like a terrific crime-fighting duo, S&S is a general phrase given to long-term planning in the school year.

Here is an example Scope and Sequence from an elementary art teacher, courtesy of the smARTteacher website.

Art ScopeSequence BIG

I think of scope as the overall main ideas and concepts students should learn in a class, and sequence is the general order in which they could learn, connect, and practice these main ideas.

Notice the language used here:  “overall”  “general”  “could.”

It’s important to remember that long-term planning should be flexible, like the Ever-Elastic Mr. Fantastic! 

mr fan in action

Sometimes adjusting to curriculum guides can feel like deflecting bullets.

All kinds of variables arise during a school year that require adjustment and revisions:  prior knowledge, curriculum mandates, assessment schedules, special events, weather cancellations, and–MOST IMPORTANTLY–student learning.

Districts often have a Pacing Guide that indicates the key content, units, and even activities teachers should use in their specific courses.  Here are some pacing guides for science teachers in Mobile County Public Schools (AL), if you’re curious.

The key word here is “guide.”  Classroom teachers know their students best, and therefore the best methods and schedules for helping students learn.

To coin a scientific-sounding mantra:  Student learning should be the constant, with time as the dependent variable.

If students require more time to master a topic, give them more time.  Don’t plow through a chapter just because you think you need to stay “on track” to finish a certain textbook.  (Who said you had to finish the textbook in the first place?)  Conversely, don’t slog through something the kids already know or don’t need to know.

A Super Biology Teacher

I met a science teacher who was just one of six teachers who taught Biology 1 in his school building.   The basic requirement was all Biology 1 teachers had to get through Chapter 10 by the end of December.  The reason was students could switch teachers at the semester break, so everyone needed to be at “the same spot” beginning in January.

Sounds logical, but not every teacher (or student) will work at the same rate or want to focus on the same content.  Some concepts and skills are more important than others.  So what do you do if you don’t agree with a prescribed schedule?

I love what this science teacher did.  He made sure he was done with Chapter 10 by the end of December, but he shuffled chapters to create the most meaningful sequence for his students.  Moreover, this teacher spent more time on some chapters and less time on others that weren’t as necessary for learning fundamental biology concepts.

Sound out of order?  That’s nothing new to readers of comic books, where odd numbering systems abound (see multiple #1 issues, #0 issues, #-1 issues, backwards releases, flipped issues, etc.).  Heck, there’s even a blog totally committed to the convoluted topic of Comic Book Numbering.

The bottom line in comic books is finding strategies and gimmicks to sell the most issues.  The bottom line for teaching is arranging lessons and units to encourage the most learning.

So whether you’re talking about billion-dollar film franchises or the infinite potential of today’s students, do take time to plan ahead.  But always keep your plans open to change.

And always leave the door open for a dynamite sequel.

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