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.

 

 

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.

 

 

Building Blocks

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If you’re near Sydney, Australia, and enjoy LEGOs and superheroes (who doesn’t?), then check out The Art of the Brick: DC Comics exhibit at the Powerhouse Museum.

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Here is a Powerhouse blurb with more details:

Created by legendary LEGO® artist Nathan Sawaya, this contemporary art exhibition uses hundreds of thousands of bricks to create large-scale sculptures of the most enduring Super Heroes and Super-Villains: from Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, to The Joker and Harley Quinn. It will be the world’s largest collection of DC Comics-inspired LEGO artwork, ever!

If that doesn’t excite you, here are some nifty samples of this “contemporary art,” useful examples for art teachers to show their students:

 

Here is more information from Newsarama, and here is a cool-tastic video clip with even more sculptures:

All of this heroic brick building reminded me about an activity I use in one of my teacher education courses.  It’s called “Classroom Jenga,” and I got it from a graduate school colleague (VandeHaar, 2006).

The basic premise is that a classroom is just like Jenga, “the classic block-stacking, stack-crashing game” where you take turns pulling out wooden blocks from a tower until the entire structure comes tumbling down.

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For the classroom illustration, each block is an ingredient needed for a successful lesson.  In the version I use, example blocks are labeled with different classroom components:  “cooperative groups,” effective questioning,” “eye contact,” “appropriate materials,” “student management,” “time management,” “enthusiasm,” “a good night’s sleep,” and such.

As blocks are removed, the classroom lesson tower can remain standing for a while.  But every missing block makes the lesson a little weaker.  Finally, the tower (lesson) becomes so unstable that it falls with an item’s removal.

The analogy is that when teaching, you can have a few “holes” and missing parts.  Maybe you aren’t asking enough thought-provoking questions.  If the topic or activity is engaging enough, the students can probably still find meaning from the experience.

But if you aren’t asking good questions, and you have off-putting non-verbal behaviors, AND you aren’t managing the students to keep them on-task . . . that’s when your lesson falls apart with disastrous consequences.

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That last block was “a good night’s sleep.”

Of course a simple Jenga game doesn’t exactly match the actual complexities of a classroom.  But it does make you stop and think about all of the components needed for successful lessons.  If a lesson isn’t working, maybe it’s because you have too many holes.

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The challenge is discovering which holes exist in our classrooms.  It could be a simple fix like adding more illustrations or examples for a specific concept.

Or it could be a gaping cavity present throughout one’s teaching.  Something like pleasant facial expressions to convey kindness and warmth.  Or a metaphorical backbone to address misbehavior immediately and respectfully.

Whatever the case, work to fill your classroom holes and keep all the pieces connected.  With careful construction, your lessons can truly become beautiful works of art.

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Reference:

VandeHaar, A. (2006). Let’s Jenga! Presentation at the Annual Meeting of

the North Central Association of Science Teacher Education. Eau Claire,

WI: October 5-7.

Weird Superpowers

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As first reported by USA TodaySuperman is getting a new superpower in the DC Comics universe.

Clark Kent’s alter-ego gets a costume update, too, complete with fingerless gloves.  This makes me wonder if his new power includes playing clarinet for marching band.

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Take a look at comic book panels revealing this new ability in action.  (No woodwind in sight . . . yet.)

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Art by John Romita, Jr.

DC is touting this new talent–the Super Flare–as Superman’s “first new power in decades.”  They’ve even provided a handy-dandy timeline:

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Superman must be short for “Superfluous-man,” given Kal-El’s multiple Kryptonian skills.  He’s a walking flying Swiss Army Knife compared to most heroes’ singular power sets (e.g. Flash = fast; Green Lantern = ring; Batman = ruined childhood).

Both Newsarama and IGN recently came up with lists of Superman’s Weirdest Powers to celebrate the inaugural Super Flare.  There are 15 listed by IGN, and Newsarama includes 10 in their countdown.  You’ll notice some overlap as well as some rather obscure abilities in Superman’s 75-year multi-media history.

My personal favorite is “Super-Dancing,” which Clark Kent can employ without even changing outfits.

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Many teachers possess this power, too.

Weird Teacher Powers

This examination of weird superpowers got me thinking about teachers’ own unique abilities.  As mentioned in a previous post, one joy of teaching is bringing personal skills and strengths to the classroom, building off of sound research and practice.

Bringing in your unique personality can also lead to sharing some special talents and abilities.  Instead of settling for America’s Got Talent or David Letterman’s Stupid Human Tricks, teachers can put these gifts to good use in schools.  So . . .

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What’s your weird teacher power?  

I’m not talking about the Superman-like ability to eat a complete lunch in under five minutes.  That goes with the profession.

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Fifth period starts in two minutes!

What we want to examine is using uncommon strengths for the common good:  learning.

How can you use “weird teacher powers” to inspire and educate students?

If it helps, here is how I’ve applied a few of my own particular capabilities in educational settings.

1. Left-footed.  To be honest, this one hasn’t been that useful in the classroom, except to show students that everyone is different in different ways.   Accept that fact and get along.  (I’m still waiting on Bill Belichick’s offer to punt for the New England Patriots.)

2. Music.  Not a strange talent in most cases.  It’s all how you use it, though.  I sing and play trumpet, and have done one or the other in various settings to get students’ attention, share a mnemonic memory trick, or illustrate the physics of sound.

Plenty of weird potential, too.  When I student taught, one of my mentors taped a trumpet mouthpiece into one end of a garden hose, with a funnel sticking out the other end.  He would play his “hose-a-phone” on occasion, most frequently for students’ birthdays.  Not very educational, but certainly eye- and ear-catching among the students, something all teachers need.

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Archival footage of hose-a-phone. Not actual mentor.

3. Goof.  Like my mentor’s example, often a teacher’s weird power lies in his or her ability to lower inhibitions and go for the gusto.  We don’t have to bounce off walls, but we can exhibit enthusiasm for school and learning in captivating and contagious ways.

I know an educator with a lively method of ending the class period on a day of doldrums.  When class limps into the last minute, this man pretends to get a call from the president via wristwatch, puts on a cape and cowboy hat, then runs out of the room yelling, “Super-Cowboy . . . AWAY!!!”

I’ve never tried that myself, but I have celebrated a unit assessment by theatrically revealing the test while blaring Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (a.k.a. the opening to 2001: A Space Odyssey).  Following a few confused faces, the triumphant entrance gets more laughs and eases anyone’s test anxiety.

During my chemistry classes’ Gas Laws unit, I make a point to wear the following t-shirt under my ordinary teacher outfit (shirt and tie, slacks).

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A gift from my brother (also a teacher).

The instant someone mentions the word “suck” to describe pressure differentials, I rip open my outer shirt to give the class a vivid reminder that “Science Never Sucks.”  To enhance the effect, I play Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” as accompaniment.

Silly?  Of course.  Memorable?  That’s the point.

Years later, all of my former students know there’s no such thing as a “suck force.”

And as an added bonus, for one fleeting minute I get to feel like a costumed superhero.

So maybe you can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound or outrace a speeding bullet.  But every teacher has special skills and quirks, able to spark meaningful and memorable learning in our students’ lives.

That makes us the most powerful superheroes ever.

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.

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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! 

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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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