Which Wolverine are You?

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A few years back I received the following image from a colleague, who shares this handout with students and teachers:

Which tree guy are you

The question is, “Which one are you today?”

Are you the one smiling and standing on top?  Crossed-armed and alone out on a limb?  Are you helping someone climb on?  Watching someone fall?

This simple image can lead to a fruitful discussion of personal success, challenges, and concerns.  It also helps to stop and reflect from time to time, since our place and activity in this image can change.  What caused the change?  Circumstances?  Attitude?  Actions?

Try this activity with your colleagues or class the next time you have a few spare moments. It’s a good start or end to a session. Take the opportunity to intentionally self-evaluate.

Or here is a superhero alternative, featuring everyone’s favorite Canadian superhero Wolverine (art by the amazing Scottie Young):

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Are you the triumphant, classic costumed Wolverine on top?   The squished one in the middle?  The samurai-inspired noble warrior at bottom right?  The Wolvie losing his hat? The one with the claws?

 

Or  maybe you prefer the Wolverine portrayed by Hugh Jackman in nearly 20 years of film. Even though it’s the same hero and same actor, there are plenty of moods and mannerisms to choose:

 

Like superheroics, teaching is a serious business requiring grit, bravery, and “a fighting spirit.”  But it’s also essential to find moments of humor and fun.

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Op, op, op, op oppa Gangnam Style . . .

 

Most importantly, teachers (and students) should take time to pause and consider their personal attitudes and positions.  Are we behaving and thinking appropriately for the given situation?  How can we help those around us?

(And always resist the urge to go into “berserker mode.”)

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You forgot your homework again?!!?

 

 

Worlds Collide

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

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

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

“Big deal?” you think?

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

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

The Last Children of Krypton

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

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

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

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Sorry, Wolverine.  No shirt, no crossover.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No movies or television projects yet, but maybe someday.

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.

spidey and avengers panel

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.

Future and Past

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Yes, this post will discuss yet ANOTHER super-hero movie that recently blasted into theaters across the globe.  It’s the golden age for super-hero movies, so we might as well bask in it.

The latest super-flick selling popcorn and semi-satisfying critics/fans is X-Men: Days of Future Past.  Bonus points (i.e. “geek cred”) if you can name every character in the following poster:

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The basic premise of the film (and the classic comic book story it’s loosely based on) is that the future ends up being a mostly dismal place for mutants and humans alike.  Those grizzled heroes that are still alive decide their only hope lies in sending someone back in time (or at least their mind) to stop events that ultimately cause social dystopia.  Basically, they want to “reset” the world to make a better future.

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It’s a story that is equally depressing AND hopeful, even if the title makes no grammatical sense at all (and created a wad of continuity problems in the X-Men cinematic universe).

 

Even if you have no interest in time travel or mutant oppression, I do encourage you to stop and think how teachers can learn a lesson from this story.

How many of us wish we could go back in time (the start of the school year) and try again to establish a positive, productive classroom environment?

 

The truth is, the “first days of school” are critical to creating a climate that will endure throughout the academic calendar.  What you teach, practice, and reinforce (and what you let slide) will eventually shape the classroom setting.  It’s so important, in fact, that the best-selling teacher book of all time deals with this issue.

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My copy is a little more “used.”

Even though early classroom moments are so critical in establishing classroom expectations and habits, there is still hope for teachers who think they may have “lost their way” and lost their classroom to disorder and disrespect, confusion and chaos.

In fact, one of the biggest champions of this “reset” method is Harry Wong, co-author of The First Days of School.  During one of his “Effective Teacher” videos (Vol. 4), Dr. Wong describes how at the end of each day, teachers erase the classroom board in preparation for the next day’s learning.  This action should illustrate how we as teachers should view our work.

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Every new day is a new opportunity to “start over,” so to speak.  Even though it may be the middle of the school year, teachers can still erase past mistakes and memories and work to create a new classroom culture.  This “reset” will most likely require more than one day’s work, but we can still purposefully cultivate the type of environment we know is best for teaching and reaching our kids.  This endeavor also takes serious reflection, intentional planning, practice, reinforcement, and redirection–all in order to reestablish the classroom our kids (and we teachers) deserve.

On a larger scale, consider how the current “summer break” season is another a chance to reset your teaching expectations and actions.  Don’t stop at reorganizing your desk drawers and replacing tattered posters with shiny new bulletin board materials.  Revitalize your classroom procedures, routines, and attitudes to foster a refreshing learning environment.

The advantage to summer rejuvenation is that most of your students won’t know anything changed.  They’ll assume you’ve always been a model educator who demands excellence and champions the cause of learning.

At times, such work may seem just as challenging as mutant time travel.  But it’s definitely worth it.

 

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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