Deep Cuts and Easter Eggs

Standard

So Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 came out recently, and it’s doing quite well at the box office.

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-Vol-2-wallpaper

 

An interesting focus on Vol. 2 has been all the “Easter Eggs” hidden in the film.  These  brief glimpses are easy to miss, encouraging repeated viewings ($$) and audience scrutinization.

Below is just a sampling of Easter Egg lists made about Guardians Vol. 2:

 

eastereggwuote

 

Easter Egg hunts are not just for lesser-known superheroes like the Guardians of the Galaxy.  You can find lists of hidden gems in all sorts of superhero movies, from more recent films like Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange to the very first entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Iron Man.

 

My personal favorite Easter Egg is the “circus monkey” drawn by Steve Rogers in Captain America: The First Avenger.  In the comics, Steve worked as a freelance artist from time to time. This sketching scene not only alludes to this history, but it also fits perfectly in the context of the movie.

 

An older sketch-based Easter Egg is the satirical “Bat Man” drawing given to newsman Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) in the 1989 Batman movie.  If you note the artist’s signature, it’s none other than Batman creator Bob Kane!

batman-1989-the-mark-of-kane

 

Another name for obscure pop culture references is “deep cuts,” a term from the music industry.  Deep cuts are little-known songs on an album that don’t get airtime or attention of more commercial- and radio-friendly singles.  Only die-hard fans are familiar with such songs that most of us have never heard.

In the same way, a lot of “deep cuts” in superhero movies are overlooked by casual viewers.  Often, these cameos and allusions are included simply as a wink or nod to eagle-eyed fans.  Other times, they might be hints of what will happen in an upcoming sequel or spin-off.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Educators know all about “deep cuts,” and we’re NOT talking about financial funding (at least not this time).

For quite a while now, a common phrase in curriculum is “mile wide, inch deep.” Basically the phrase refers to American students learning a lot of general topics at the surface and not enough “deeper” content in more detail.  This is NOT a new issue, and is something standards are both blamed for as well as championed for trying to fix.

mile wide inch deep

Take a closer look, if interested, at this ongoing topic over the years:

 

There’s probably not one simple answer to the problem of “quantity over quality.”  However, one question to ask is “How deep?”

How much detail and depth do students need with respect to any given topic?  Again, standards documents may help in guiding educators to focus on key concepts and skills.  But what content is most important?  How much of it?

Here is a quote from the 1996 article linked above:

Before they reach high school, American students will have covered more topics than 75% of the students in other countries; yet in many cases, they will have been taught some of the same topics several years in a row. 

So it’s not just a matter of “quantity over quality;” it’s also an issue of redundancy.

However, based on what we know about learning, repeated exposure to the same content is actually necessary for helping students develop a solid foundational understanding.  Of course, revisiting a certain concept should NOT be a simple rehashing, but involve further exploration, examination, reflection, and application.

Revisiting content should also NOT be mining for trivia.  When a lesson dives deep into a subject, often the temptation is to dig up little-known facts that have little worth in the big picture.  In other words, educators are focusing on the Easter Eggs, as opposed to the larger story and impact.

 

marvel-egg-iron-man-roxxon

Missing the point.

I’m all for trivia games and fun.  (Obscure knowledge is part of the fanboy job description.) However, trivia should not come at the expense of meaningful learning and application.  In our quest for more depth in subject learning, teachers must be careful not to spend too much time and energy on trivia.

Consider common modifiers that accompany “trivia” and its related terms:  useless trivia, absurd information, pointless knowledge, random facts, and even the modifier trivial, which Merriam-Webster defines as “of little worth or importance.”

Sounds like an Easter Egg to me, especially the kind with one measly jelly bean inside.

EasterEggsandBeanADLG

Black licorice.  Nasty.

 

Teachers, ask yourself if playing Jeopardy! is the best way to review a unit.  (Or Pictionary or Trashketball or Classroom Bingo or other review games.) How can you guide students in a more engaging and thorough examination of relevant content?  How can you expand upon this information for more application and extensions?

Or in movie terms, how can you entice the audience so they hunger for a sequel?

 

adam warlock preview

To be continued . . .

 

What about you? What’s your favorite Easter Egg or deep cut?  What is their role in the classroom?

Advertisements

D-List to A-List

Standard

I stole borrowed this blog title from a recent countdown article by Brian Conin and the folks at Comic Book Resources, named “15 D-List Superheroes Who Went A-List.”

For the uninitiated, “A-List” heroes are big name characters known across the globe:  Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Spider-Man, and so on.  In the past decade, Iron Man joined this group due to Robert Downey Jr.’s iconic portrayal in the Marvel movies.  (Before then, people considered Iron Man more of a “B-List” hero.)

 

“D-List” heroes fall much further down the rankings.  These are the obscure, silly, and often forgotten characters no one really cares about.  Only super fans know about these heroes, including where and when they appear in comic books and other media.

Movies and television, however, have done an amazing job of bumping up the status of many lesser-known characters.  Take a look at CBR’s list to find 15 heroes you probably never heard of before they appeared in film or TV.

Better yet, watch the recently released trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (coming Summer 2017!) to see FIVE of these former D-listers in action:

 

That new telepathic character adorning antennae near the end is Mantis, and I’m willing to bet she’ll become another D-list-to-A-list hero in the upcoming year.

 

The whole letter-grade system (A, B, C, D, etc.) is at the front of my mind this time of year, near the end of a semester.

This is when many teachers spend overtime scoring tests, reading final papers, perusing projects, and altogether compiling grades. This is also when numerous students suddenly become obsessed over every single grade for every single assignment.  (For some reason, too many students don’t seem to care until the last minute.)

Unfortunately, letter grades can easily get too much focus in place of more important outcomes.

letter_grades_debate-e1440012924103

 

Grading has many critics, such as Alfie Kohn, who calls grades “relics of a less-enlightened age” and cites research about their negative impact on student learning and motivation.  You can read more in the NEA Today article, “Are Letter Grades Failing Our Students?” and learn about alternative ideas used in different states and districts.

One of my favorite stories is of the Central Park East elementary school, known for its progressive “whole child” approach to education in inner city Harlem.  In one of her books (The Power of Their Ideas, I believe), former CPE principal Deborah Meier describes how they removed their A-B-C grading system in favor of “Satisfactory” and “Unsatisfactory”-type ratings.  Soon, however, they added an “Advanced”-level designation.  Then they decided to include a +/- system to further delineate student performance.

In other words, they went from A-B-C-D to A-S-U, plusses and minuses and all.

grade_marks

 

I’m not saying grades are good or bad, but they certainly have become entrenched in most educational systems.  The key is to focus on learning and growth, with grades providing one type of data to guide teacher decisions and communication.  Also, it’s important to remember the differences between “assessment” and “evaluation.”

evaluation-vs-assessment-image

 

I highly recommend reading Thomas Guskey’s article “Making the Grade: What Benefits Students?” in the ASCD’s journal Educational Leadership.  You will find a useful section at the end that provides a historical summary of grading practices and research through the years.

Most importantly, teachers can consider how to reach and teach ALL of their students, regardless of past academic performance.  With the diverse range of strengths and weaknesses in a given classroom, one’s definition of success can differ greatly.  Find ways to engage each student, equipping them for further achievement and advancement.

 

success-look-like

 

Consider how various superheroes have changed from being jokes, relics, or “one-offs” into major players or even champions of their universes (and publishers).  In many cases, this transformation did not occur just because of a Hollywood appearance.  It also takes someone (or someones) to see potential in a character and give him or her the attention they deserve.  Often, it includes a unique perspective and innovative approach.

The same goes for students in our schools.  Not everyone is a Superman.  But they could be a Star Lord.

 

Who knows?  Maybe the next Squirrel Girl is sitting in your very classroom.

squirrelgirl

 

 

Flame On

Standard

 

While Marvel Movies are chugging along with critical and commercial success, Marvel Comics have stumbled as of late.  The most glaring issue is “event fatigue,” with too many major event stories tripping over each other in attempts to be bigger and bolder than ever before!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Here is a list of recent crossover mini-series/maxi-series.  Keep in mind that each of these involve 4-12 special issues, in addition to numerous tie-in issues happening throughout regular series.

  • Siege (2010)
  • Realm of Kings (2010)
  • Second Coming (2010)
  • Age of X (2011)
  • Fear Itself (2011)
  • Schism (2011)
  • Spider-Island (2011)
  • Avengers vs. X-Men (2012)
  • Age of Ultron (2013)
  • Infinity (2013)
  • Battle of the Atom (2013)
  • Original Sin (2014)
  • AXIS (2014)
  • Spider-Verse (2014-15)
  • Secret Wars (2015-16)
  • Avengers: Standoff! (2016)
  • Civil War II (2016)
  • Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy (2016-17)
  • Death of X (2016-17)

As one comic book store owner observes, “There are quite a few Marvel loyalists that have begun branching out and trying DC titles . . . possibly from Marvel event burnout.”

burnout

Burnout” is a common issue faced by teachers, too, popping up in those loooong middle months or near the end of the semester.  Teachers may find themselves overwhelmed, frustrated, and missing a certain spark in the classroom.

Teacher burnout is frequently linked to stress, which can arise from many factors, summarized by Kyriacou (2001):

  • Teaching pupils who lack motivation;
  • Maintaining discipline;
  • Time pressures and workload;
  • Coping with change;
  • Being evaluated by others;
  • Dealings with colleagues;
  • Self-esteem and status;
  • Administration and management;
  • Role conflict and ambiguity;
  • Poor working conditions.

Stressors are specific to each individual teacher in his or her unique context.  Likewise, successful ways to deal with stress and potential burnout differ from teacher to teacher.  Even so, here are some strategies Kyriacou suggests:

  • Try to keep problems in perspective;
  • Avoid confrontations;
  • Try to relax after work;
  • Take action to deal with problems;
  • Keeping feelings under control;
  • Devote more time to particular tasks;
  • Discuss problems and express feelings to others;
  • Have a healthy home life;
  • Plan ahead and prioritize;
  • Recognize ones own limitations.

You can find plenty more burnout tips and tools everywhere–from research literature to cyberspace to your closest loving relative. Here are a few resources I’ve uncovered, with some of my favorite highlights (and comments):

4 Warning Signs of Teacher Burnout – “Teacher Burnout is a dark place, and only complaints can live there.”  (Sort of like the Negative Zone–tread lightly.)

3209433-negativezone

 

Reboot: 5 Resources for Teacher Inspiration – Read, share and create Ryan Gosling memes.  (A few of my favorites below.)

 

Stop, Drop, and Roll With It: Teacher Burnout Prevention – “Finding a hobby that allows you to get away from education-related stuff is important.”  (This author even suggests playing video games – BONUS!)

videogame-chalkboard

 

And for all of you new teachers . . .

10 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in Your First Year Teaching – “7. Don’t Neglect Your Body: Sleep. Rest. Eat well. Exercise.”  and  “9. Catalogue Every Single Success in the Classroom: Write them down. Make lists of what’s going well.” (One of my mentors calls these “attaboys” or “attagirls,” and you should keep these in a box somewhere.  Or turkey.)

julia_turkey_tx800

Finally, here’s an inspirational quote I came across recently from master chef Julia Child, which reveals the right attitude:

“Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.”

Teachers, hopefully you are already passionate about teaching and learning.  And “keep that fire burning,” so to speak, by fueling your educator’s engine.

As my mother used to say, “In order to burn out you must first be on fire.”

And so as the Human Torch says, “Flame On!”

human-torch-kirby-flameon

 

Kyriacou, C. (2001). Teacher stress: Directions for future research. Educational Review, 53, 28- 35.

Teacher Evolution

Standard

Don’t get riled up by this blog post’s title.

We’re not talking about Charles Darwin and biological evolution.  Although if you’re into that stuff, you can find all kinds of humorous imagery like this:

TrEvolMug

And if you like teacher accessories, you can snag this image on a mug, t-shirt, apron, mouse pad, and more HERE.

The type of evolution this post deals with is that of teachers (inspired by superheroes, of course).

 

YouTube user (and movie fan) Burger Fiction has put together some nifty videos highlighting every film and television appearance of various superheroes.

The most recent hero featured in these videos is Marvel’s Captain America, which you can watch here:

 

You can find similar “Evolution of . . .” clip collections celebrating heroes Iron Man, Superman, and Batman.  Each video includes vintage footage and obscure appearances alongside iconic sequences (live action and animation alike).

What I find most significant in these highlight reels, though, is the ongoing development and expansion of each character over time.  Like these heroes, effective teachers undergo change and growth through the years.

This is where the term “evolution” truly applies, going back to the word’s original meaning in the mid-1600s.  Thanks to the Online Etymology Dictionary, we know that evolution’s English origins arose from Latin “evolvere,” meaning “to unfold, open out, or expand.”

This same evolution process occurs for both teachers and superheroes.  And the parallels don’t end there.

cap am images

Like Captain America above, many teachers would rather forget some of the earliest footage of their work.  Everyone looks back at their initial efforts and cringes at what they see:

  • Sluggish transitions.
  • Awkward pacing.
  • Stilted dialogue.
  • Clumsy execution.
  • Poor methods.
  • Novice mistakes.
  • Cheesy humor.
  • And outdated fashion and technology, of course.

 

But observe what happens when the years go by.  As time advances, so do your abilities and confidence.  In fact, the most recent footage is downright awesome and exhilarating.

Am I talking about superheroes or teachers here?  It doesn’t matter.

Be brave and dig up old footage of your teaching.  Take a quick look and notice how your teaching has unfolded, opened up, and expanded.

Watch a more recent video of your teaching and be encouraged by your growth.  And if you find you still exhibit cringe-worthy tendencies, challenge yourself to fix those bad habits.

If you need inspiration or ideas on “teacher evolution,” here are a couple of useful articles: one dealing with National Board Certification, and another focusing on a teacher’s journey of “personal transformation” that includes burnout, pink slips, and awards.

Evolve your teaching.  You don’t need a multi-million dollar Hollywood budget, either.  Just the guts to get better.

superhero evolution

Super-Souvenirs

Standard

Last time we talked about lessons learned from conventions, whether the audience is teachers or cosplayers.

 

I nearly forgot one of the best rewards of attending conferences and meetings . . . the STUFF!

The swag . . . the loot . . . the prizes . . . the souvenirs.

This past weekend I participated in a state teacher conference, and I got a few of the usual convention freebies — posters, books, pens, highlighters, candy, a shirt, and more.  Someone I know even won a free corn snake!

corn snake

Take me home!

 

The best convention prize I ever got was a children’s book about Buzz Aldrin, signed by the astronaut himself!

buzz book

 

This very same weekend I came home and took my family to Marvel Universe Live!  (Think “Disney on Ice” with superheroes on motorcycles and high-wire acts.)

MUL_05_web bikes.png

 

The show was full of explosions, stuntmen (and stuntwomen), along with cheesy comic book dialogue. Best of all, it’s the only way (so far) you can see live-action Avengers fight alongside live-action X-Men and Spider-Man.

mc-review-marvel-universe-live-at-ppl-center-has-flaws-but-is-big-and-fun-20151016.jpg

 

My kids loved the show (me and the wife, too), and they also loved the souvenirs.  Just like conferences and conventions, this event had gobs of stuff to take home.  Such trinkets cost money, though.

But where else are you going to get an exclusive Marvel Universe Live! Prelude Comic Book?

prelude comic

 

Or giant-sized Program Book (with embossed cover)?

mu_live_program book

 

Or Captain America Boomerang?  (It works, too . . . in theory.)

boomerang

 

Or official Marvel Universe Live! cotton candy (with superhero mask)?

cotton candy.jpg

My family bought all of these beauties – BONUS!

 

Another lesson learned from this weekend is that teachers give their students an array of souvenirs over the course of a school year.  And I’m not just talking about content knowledge.

Every year, I ask my pre-service teachers to imagine their students at the end of the year.  In an ideal world, what will those kids be like?  What skills will they possess?  What traits, habits, and feelings do they have?

Elementary school pupils running outside

 

I’ve written about this before in a more scholarly setting. To be brief, the new teachers end up with a short list of about ten items.  The same types of traits and skills always emerge.

Teachers want students who are . . .

  • Critical Thinkers
  • Creative
  • Problem Solvers
  • Caring and Kind
  • Hard Workers
  • Curious
  • Lifelong Learners
  • Collaborative
  • Effective Communicators

And students who possess solid content understanding, of course.

School routine

 

Souvenirs are an important part of comic book conventions, education conferences, superhero stunt shows, and even school classrooms.

Some are free.  Others are pricy.  Cost does not always correlate with value.

What are your classroom’s best souvenirs?

Consider what “souvenirs” you provide for students over the course of the year.  Make sure they are treasures that last a lifetime.

 

marvel souvenirs

Con Season

Standard

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

sdcc

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

sandiegoconventionctr

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

san-diego-the-first-ever-comic-con-got-seriously-weird

Or this one:

sdcc-cosplayers-25697

Or this one, if you’re lucky:

Avengers_Age_of_Ultron_SDCC_2014_panel

 

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.

caep-con-2016-logo-w-theme

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):

empty school room

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!

legion at table

 

Super-Rich

Standard

i am batman

When it comes to superheroes, a lot of people claim they relate the most to BATMAN.

It’s not the tragic orphan story or fascination with flying mammals that builds the bond.  Rather, it’s the fact that Bruce Wayne is a “normal guy” like the rest of us.  He’s no alien, mutant, or mystical being with special powers.  Instead, Batman saves the day using sly sleuthing skills, martial arts, and handy homemade gadgets.

I don’t know about you, but my detective prowess and hand-to-hand combat skills are so-so, at best.  My weakest link to Batman, however, is in my lack of gadgetry.  (I don’t even have a smartphone.  Guess I’m more like Captain Caveman.)

capt caveman

Bat-Rich

Recently, “comic historian” Thaddeus Howze did some detective work of his own and estimated the cost of Batman’s crime-fighting technology.  It’s a nifty little article with a breakdown of every gadget used by the Caped Crusader, including his cape made of memory cloth polymer.

cost of being batman

What’s the final bill?  Totaling up every batarang, bat-vehicle, bat-cave amenity, and bat-salary (Alfred don’t work cheap), Howze estimated the cost of being Batman at around $682,450,750.

So for anyone making over half a billion dollars, your dream of donning the Dark Knight’s identity is within grasp. The rest of us “regular folks” will have to live vicariously through our Batman toys or video games.  Or both.

LBatmanTVG

Teacher-Rich

Teachers need gizmos, too, which we give fancy names like “instructional technology,” “curriculum materials,” “educational manipulatives,” and the like.  Unlike Bruce Wayne, we don’t spend from billion-dollar bank accounts.  One year a biology teacher told me her entire department’s annual budget was $600.  (That buys you about twenty frog dissection kits, which by their very definition are perishable goods.)

For a lot of teachers, we purchase classroom supplies using our own money.  A 2015 Horace Mann Educator Survey found that 57% of teachers spend at least $200 of their own money on classroom materials every year (14% spend $600 or more).

Furthermore, 80% of responding teachers said they have abandoned projects because of a lack of funds.  (“Abandoned” is a strong word, like Batman would give up on nights he ran out of smoke bombs.)  I suspect many teachers found cheaper, alternative projects.  Of course, there are many ways to seek additional financial support at local levels (fundraisers, community drives, etc.) as well as through worldwide services like DonorsChoose.org.

DonorsChoose_org_logo

Money, while helpful, is far from the most important element in cultivating successful classrooms and making a lasting impact.  To elaborate on this point, let’s look at an example from the world of sports.  (See?  I’m not completely nerdy.  Or maybe just a sports nerd, too.)

Sports-Rich

sports-label-2003

The front sports page of a recent USA Today newspaper highlighted two stories side-by-side, convenient for comparisons.

The first was an editorial about football player Kam Chancellor finally agreeing to resume playing for his Seattle Seahawks team.  The Pro Bowl safety had been holding out–missing the first two games of the season–with hopes of getting a better contract.  Interestingly, Chancellor still had three years left on his current four-year contract, worth about $7 million a year.

The second sports story was much more prominent, accompanied by multiple color photos, nearly a full page of text, and a second full page photograph tribute.  The subject receiving this recognition?  The late Yogi Berra.  Headlines and highlights included phrases like “one-of-a-kind,” “true national treasure,” “American icon,” and “the sweetest man you ever met.”

yogi_berrap14

Fun fact:  The highest annual salary Yogi Berra ever received for playing baseball was $65,000 in 1957.  Compare that pay with Kam Chancellor’s, and then consider whose name we’ll remember in a hundred years.

I’m not making any claims about the value of an individual’s contribution to sport or society.  And I admit there are significant differences–different sports, different teams, different centuries.  Nevertheless, I did some calculations myself (inspired by comic historian Thaddeus Howze) and here’s what I found:

The average American median household income in 1957 was $5,000, compared to $52,250 in 2015.  Considering the salaries given above, Yogi Berra made about 13 times more than the average household in 1957; Kam Chancellor earns about 134 times more than today’s average household.

HungerGamesHeader

At this rate, we’ll be living in a Hunger Games world by the end of the century.  Tempting as it is, let’s not dwell on the excessive amounts of money given to today’s professional athletes.

Let’s focus instead on building toward a better future by investing in children:  their learning, their growing, and their getting along with others–famous or nameless, poor or rich, every man and every woman.  This is the work that’s truly worthwhile.  Heroic, even.

Super-Rich

Spider-Man and Superman

Instead Batman or Iron Man or other affluent heroes, teachers can probably relate better to middle-class champions like Spider-Man or Superman.

Peter Parker started out as a teenager just scraping by, trying to earn a few bucks by taking photos of himself in costume.

spidey photos

                Peter Parker–Inventor of the Selfie!

Superman may be a super-strong flying alien, but his day job is an office gig with bustling desk areas, broken copier machines, and bland coffee.  Not far from a teacher’s workplace, eh?

1146356-daily_planet_staff

And like Clark Kent, teachers can rely on a mostly steady paycheck.  But that’s not what makes us rich.  Remember the favorite phrase quoted by many educators:

“Teaching–We’re not in it for the income; we’re in it for the outcome.”