Teacher Evolution

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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  • And outdated fashion and technology, of course.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

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.

variety-of-speech-bubbles

 

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.

deadpool-yellow-boxes

 

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?)

deadpoolyellowdisplay

 

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

VisionBuckler1972 2

 

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

Sandman1

 

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.”)

ghost rider balloon

 

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.)

bolt 1

 

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.

solid word balloon

 

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

word balloons

 

Dress for Success

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Back to school time is here, which means families are filling department stores to find the best bargains. But it’s not just students. Teachers are also looking to stock up on supplies and spruce up their wardrobes.

Take a look at a typical “Back To School” advertisement or website and you’ll see gobs of superhero clothing and accessories. Superheroes are famous for how they look just as much as they are for what they do.

IronMan

The good folks at Newsarama recently listed their “10 Best Live-Acton Superhero Costumes” and “10 Worst Live-Action Superhero Costumes.”

Here are some helpful lessons teachers can learn from these lists:

#1 – Maintain Functionality

Many of the “Best” costumes work because they look like something you could actually see in real life.  Rather than adhering too closely to garish comic book colors or styles, the designers keep things grounded and user-friendly.

TheDarkKnight Teachers should consider their daily tasks and possible actions, then dress appropriately.  Fabric that breathes, stretches, and covers is a must, along with some comfortable footwear.

Comfortable shoes, yes, but NO SNEAKERS (unless you teach gym).  Strapping on a pair of Asics Gel Virage 4 shoes is the quickest way to ruin an otherwise perfect teacher outfit.

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(It’s called “business casual,” NOT “business triathlon.”)

If you need super-supportive shoes that are also subtle, take a look at this list provided by We Are Teachers (although I squirm at the sight of #10).  This focus on footwear leads us to another lesson from live-action superheroes.

#2 – Focus on Simplicity

A quick comparison of the “Best” and “Worst” film costumes reveals a glaring difference in details.  In many cases, the outfits in the “Worst” category are just TOO MUCH.

BatmanAndRobin Resisting the impulse to add another buckle here or kneepad there, the “best” outfits keep it simple.  By doing so, these film versions highlight key elements that evoke iconic imagery.  In some cases, this means ditching the costume and favoring functional garb (see #1 above) with hints of style and symbolism.

Wolverine Teachers are iconic, and their choice of clothing should reflect their critical role in society.  Instead of chasing the latest fashion (floral vs. geometric print, fat tie vs. skinny tie, boot-cut vs. skinny jeans), focus on conveying an image that is classy and timeless–just like good teaching.

In case you think it’s passé to stick with the basics, take a look at two USA Today articles about teacher attire.  One is from 2003, the other from 2012.

Despite being nearly a decade apart, both articles list some of the same “Should’s” and “Should Not’s” for teacher apparel and appearance.  Neat and clean are always “in.”  Spaghetti straps, tight tops, short bottoms, excessive piercings and tattoos should stay out of the classroom.

#3 – Lean toward Conservative

We’re talking clothing here, not politics.  (Vote your conscience.)  In discussing attire, teachers should consider how to keep the focus on learning as opposed to fashion.

Whenever you struggle with what to wear, here are several mottos you can remember:  “Dress older.” “Dress like your boss.” “Dress for the job you want.”

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“Teacher” is not the first profession that comes to mind.

These sayings will help with decisions as you stand in front of your closet.   Skewing conservative also works as you stand in front of the bathroom mirror.  Just like excessive makeup on movie superheroes, teachers with too much mascara will likely turn off their students.

#4 – Tone down the CGI

GreenLantern ‘Nuff said.

Hopefully these Hollywood examples will help teachers consider their choice of classroom attire.  For anyone wanting more ideas, check out this Education World article discussing jeans and flip-flops, or this About Education blog with useful guidelines, especially for younger teachers.

And remember:  Save the cosplay for your pets. Batman Dog

Tech-No?

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avengers line up

Turn around, Avengers – they’re right behind you!

The Avengers: Age of Ultron movie is out, and apparently it’s doing very well. I did my part by seeing the film twice (continuing education credits for my geek certification).

With box office business, there are always those “glass-half-empty” folks defining success. We’ve talked about “What is Success?” before, related to teaching and heroics. And last time we examined the issue of too much integration, whether it be heroes or school subjects.

This time, though, let’s dig deeper into one of the bigger topics in the film:

Technology gone wild!

ultron cover

Of course, the Avengers were worried more about global safety and saving human lives; but we can still tackle technology with respect to the classroom and student learning.

Since my background is primarily science education (see “geek” self-identification above), I’m going to concentrate on that specific classroom context. Focusing on a single subject, however, still results in fuzzy conclusions.

virtuallab

For example, here are a few reports on research examining virtual versus hands-on lab activities:

– Students (elementary/primary age) participating in virtual activities (3D animations, interactive) showed significantly higher scores in cognitive understanding compared to those in a traditional setting (El-Sabagh, 2011).

– Overall, no significant differences in learning gains have been found between virtual and traditional hands-on labs in college (Hawkins & Phelps, 2013).

– Although college students report liking virtual-type labs (easy and quick to do), they feel they would learn more by doing real world labs as well (Keeney-Kennicutt & Winkelmann, 2013).

It’s worth noting that–in these studies, at least–younger students responded more favorably to technology-based activities than older students. One could claim this is because today’s younger students are more exposed to technology than older students.  (It’s the old digital native/digital immigrant demarcation, although hasn’t everyone gone native by now?)

native immigrant computer

You could also argue that older students are more reflective about their educational experiences and recognize what’s needed for robust comprehension.

Age differences aside, I’d argue that there needs to be a balance between old-school nitty-gritty hands-on lab activities and fancy-schmancy whiz-bang virtual activities.

– Since both virtual and hands-on labs have their advantages and disadvantages, blending the two throughout a course may have the most benefits for learning and motivation (Abdulwahed & Nagy, 2009).

– A recent study at Carnegie Mellon University focused on young students (ages 6-8) and found that participants using a “mixed-reality set-up” of both real and virtual components learned five times better than those using virtual-only features (Yannier, Koedinger, & Hudson, 2015).

So maybe student age doesn’t have anything to do with it. Have we solved the technology problem? I’m afraid it’s a never-ending issue, a never-ending battle all teachers face.

As teachers, we must be ever-vigilant about technology use in our classrooms, and I’m just not talking about keeping an eye on our students’ computer and tablet screens. We must also be sure our technology use actually enhances learning, as opposed to hindering authentic understanding. In other words, technology must remain our friend, not our enemy.

ultron comic hug

A little TOO friendly, Ultron.

Let’s use an analogy from Avengers: Age of Ultron (slight spoiler alerts follow, yo).

Some humans (i.e. some teachers) see a new technology as the answer to all of our big problems, akin to Tony Stark’s vision for a global protector. More often than not, what actually comes into existence is a shaky, slightly grotesque prototype.

ultron 1

A few missteps should be expected. Problems occur, however, when misguided plans typhoon into blind initiatives touting innovative, revolutionary, and other game-changer buzzwords.

Over time, the technology transforms into sleek, next-generation models. Updates happen so fast that we must keep up for fear of being branded “obsolete.”  (Not that far from “oblivion.”)

ultron blasting

You’ve seen the trailer, right? Watch this one again, looking for a classroom metaphor. (Hint: All the evil robots are iPads.)

I’m no technophobe. This is a blog article. With pictures and video. I’m typing this sentence using my MacBook Pro. (It hasn’t eaten me yet.) I love indoor plumbing. Big fan of electricity, too. Wi-fi? =hugs=

But as much as these advances make life more pleasant, we must be careful to ensure technology is the tool, not us.

For a more thorough examination of this topic, take a little time to review Olson and Clough’s 2001 article entitled “Technology’s Tendency to Undermine Serious Study: A Cautionary Note.”

If you have a lot of time, check out a book Olson and Clough helped put together called “The Nature of Technology: Implications for Learning and Teaching.” It has all kinds of chapters dealing with issues of technology use in the classroom. As a bonus, here is the book’s cover, which by itself should give you pause and something to think about:

NOT book cover

Technology by itself is not the problem. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, the good guys (and gals) used all kinds of technology–Quinjets, holograms, and even Hawkeye with his bow and arrows. Throughout history, the classroom has been a hub of technology, be it chalkboards or SMART Boards, pencils or tablet styluses.

The ultimate “bad guy” in Avengers was not technology, but misguided Artificial Intelligence (A.I.). Likewise, teachers must battle the dangers of artificial intelligence, instead fighting the good fight for authentic learning and meaningful application.

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!  

ageofultron

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.

Superman3

Proving that “Two’s a Crowd.”

Curriculum Integration in schools is another appealing mash-up that may have a hidden downside or two.

Curriculum Integration image

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.

Olympic_Rings

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

Charge Up, Mon Chere

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Newgambit bachalo

Add X-Man Gambit to the list of superheroes getting a new movie, starring hunky actor Channing Tatum. Here is Screen Rant’s review of the news and a brief bio of Remy LeBeau.

Gambit was a Marvel ‘90s superstar known for his Cajun accent and scheming ways as much as his mutant ability to charge objects with energy. (The trendy trench coat and headgear also helped enhance his popularity.)

Character issues aside, Gambit can inspire teachers with his superpowers. Instead of charging up playing cards, teachers should strive to charge up their lessons.   (Minus the headgear and explosions.)

Take a look at your most recent lessons. What question, prompt, activity, application, media, or more could you add to energize students?

gambit charge card

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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It’s SHOWTIME!

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The fall television season is upon us, and it’s full of several shows (some old, some new) featuring superheroes.

In fact, there are so many comic book-based shows on TV that you could make the argument it’s the “Golden Age of Television Superheroes.”

comic-tv-line-up-2014

I’m waiting to see how these shows turn out and how the Netflix/Marvel deal transpires.  On the surface, though, things look promising.  Here’s a useful list summarizing all of the current, new, and future superhero and/or comic book-themed shows, courtesy of the fine folks at Newsarama.

Also from Newsarama, here are their 10 BEST and 10 WORST Comic Book Live-Action TV Series of All Time.  (Animated series is a whole different category, but it’s safe to bet on anything related to Bruce Timm and Paul Dini.)

For now, I’d say the Golden Age of TV Superheroes was the mid-1970s to mid-1980s, which gave us gems like The Incredible Hulk, Wonder Woman, The Greatest American Hero, and Spider-Man on The Electric Company (with narration by Mr. March of the Penguins himself, Morgan Freeman).  

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As a bonus, this era also included The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, and preceded the wave of cool-vehicle-based shows like Knight RiderAirwolf, Street Hawk, and Magnum, P.I., which featured the one-two combo of a Ferrari 308GTS and Tom Selleck’s mustache!

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‘Stache trumps the car every time . . .

Getting off topic here, so let’s talk about television and teaching.

How do you use TV and videos in the classroom?

Shameless plug:  I’ve done a little writing in the past about using movies and video clips to enhance science lessons.  You can read a little bit about that here and here.

No matter what you teach, below are a few tips about sharing video clips with your students:

1. Decide WHY you need the video.

What does the video do that you can’t do in another way, including hands-on experiences, interactive presentations, collaborative discussions, outdoor investigations, role-play scenarios, and more?  Sure, using a video clip is easy because you can pop in the disc or click on the computer.  But what materials and activities will create the most meaningful and memorable learning?  If it’s a video, then go for it!

2. Make it an active, not passive process.

Related to #1 above, students should not just act as passive audience members during the viewing.  Give them something to do while they watch.  Observe and categorize specific attributes, list examples and/or questions, answer questions or prompts on a handout.

With the handout approach, be careful that you don’t make it a scavenger hunt for trivia.  If you do, students will pay attention to those tidbits only and not benefit from the overall experience.  If you want them to complete a handout, be sure you emphasize just a few key concepts so students don’t get bogged down looking to fill in a mundane list of blanks.

Very rarely will a video by itself teach the students anything worthwhile.  As a teacher, you need to be there to guide students’ thinking and foster discussion.  This includes before and after the video, as well as during.  (You’ve got that pause button for a reason!)  Remember the ideal rating of “TG:  Teacher Guidance Suggested.”

3. Decide WHEN you should show the video.

Videos are more than “rewards” students can enjoy at the end of a unit or after a test.  What’s the value if you wait until then to show it?  Instead, reflect on your unit sequence and consider when a particular video best serves the students’ learning.  You could use it as an eye-catching opening, part of an introductory pretest or puzzler, a formative review or extension, a prompt for homework or application, or even part of a summative assessment.

4. Keep it short and sweet.

Very rarely should something as dull as a “movie day” occur in your classroom.  A common rule of thumb in education is no activity or task should last longer than 20 minutes during class.  By breaking things up, teachers can help students stay focused and motivated to learn.  The same goes for video clips.  Stick to showing the key scene or segment that matters, which may only be a couple of minutes at a time.

Furthermore, when using a clip from a popular movie or television show, I never show the ending.  Sometimes I don’t even show the end of the scene, leaving the students with a cliffhanger and spawning a chorus of disappointed groans from the class.  But consider how much this motivates them to think further after class is finished.  What parent wouldn’t be thrilled if their son or daughter asked them to check Netflix or take a trip to Family Video so they can finish a movie they first saw in school?

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Bus jump from “Speed.”  Will Keanu and Sandra make it?  Let’s do PHYSICS!

Another reason for using a specific clip is to edit out any superfluous or inappropriate content.  Speaking of which . . .

5. Get parental and principal approval.

When using any entertainment-based media, or even educational materials that may be controversial, plan ahead and check with your supervisors (principal, department chair, etc.) to see if they have any concerns or advice.  At times, they may recommend sending a note or email to students’ parents/guardians so everyone is clear on the content and purpose of the media.  And for any sensitive topics, it provides the opportunity to opt out if anyone objects.  It also is helpful to have a back-up activity or alternative task for those who may not watch the video, whether by choice or by circumstance.

6. Keep it legal.

All kinds of stories exist about the proper use of media by teachers and threatening lawsuits from corporations.  If you’re not sure what is okay or not okay about using media, check with your school’s media specialist (a.k.a. librarian), who usually knows the latest.

Also, here is a terrific resource for teachers regarding copyright and “fair use” guidelines, provided by TechLearning.  I’ve saved this PDF onto my computer and printed copies to keep in my teaching binders as a quick reference.

For me, the most important guideline is found in the “Fine Print” about videos: “use should be instructional, not for entertainment or reward.”

So will anything from the current crop of Superhero TV shows be worthy of classroom use?  Tune in to find out!

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.