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.

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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).

sci never sucks t shirt

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.