Hidden Wasps

Standard

This month saw the release of a new comic from Marvel:  The Unstoppable Wasp, which stars a new Wasp heroine who is the teenage daughter of Hank Pym (original Ant-Man) and his late first wife.

wasp-header

The original Wasp, Janet van Dyne, is known as Hank Pym’s second wife and a founding Avenger.  In fact, she’s the one who named “The Avengers,” as seen at the end of issue #1 way back in 1963:

janname

Janet is perhaps most famous for her colorful variety of costumes.  In fact, someone actually went to the trouble of cataloging all of Wasp’s outfits from the past 50+ years.  Here’s just a few:

wasp-costumes-456-secretinvasionrequiem1

Contrast the elder Wasp’s fashion sense above with younger Wasp’s mission, outlined in the comic panels below:

smart-list

wasp-girl-club

Reviewers are mostly positive toward Marvel’s new take on the Wasp and its pro-STEM  message, especially for girls.  Unstoppable Wasp #1 has been called “relentlessly positive” with “infectious enthusiasm.”  Take a look and consider for yourself:unstoppable_wasp_1_3

I must admit, a mash-up of science, pop culture, and cheesy humor occurs in my classroom on a daily basis.  So of course I’m totally in favor of a comic like this.

In a universe known for its brilliant scientists–Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, Reed Richards, Hank Pym, Henry McCoy, etc.–Marvel is wise to put more emphasis on female contributions.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And if you want more reasons for improving the gender balance in STEM-related work (science/technology/engineering/math) in the REAL world, take a look at some statistics here.

I’m not arguing that all students (male or female) should pursue STEM careers or college degrees.  But we do need students (and society) thoroughly educated in science and math, as well as ALL other disciplines.  Some folks add “Arts” to advocate for “STEAM” education.  I say throw in the Humanities, History, and Physical Education can call it “SHHTEAMPE” (Trademark 2017).

transparentsteamshopgraphic

Maybe you haven’t heard of The Unstoppable Wasp, but you might know about the movie Hidden Figures.  This recent film (based on the book) shares the story of REAL women and their challenges and contributions.

hidden-figures-banner

Sadly, I haven’t seen this film yet. But it’s already one of my wife’s all-time favorite movies, so it’s only a matter of time.  Until then, Smithsonian Magazine‘s website provides an interesting overview, “The True Story of ‘Hidden Figures,’ the Forgotten Women Who Helped Win the Space Race.”

This feature also shares author Margot Lee Shetterly’s background (and ongoing) work in uncovering details about the people involved.  I appreciate the article’s final paragraph and quote from Shetterly, because it evokes super-heroics even as it emphasizes down-to-earth human effort:

“[Shetterly] hopes her work pays tribute to these women by bringing details of their life’s work to light. ‘Not just mythology but the actual facts,’ she says. ‘Because the facts are truly spectacular.'”

The impact of the people in Hidden Figures continues today, with reports about increased interest in STEM by girls and minorities.  I don’t know if The Unstoppable Wasp will have the same effect, but teachers may want to try both artistic resources in their classrooms.

Here are some other suggestions from “experts” talking with CNN about increasing girls’ interest in STEM.  I’d say that many of these ideas are applicable to all children and all subject disciplines.

What about you?  You don’t have to teach in a STEM-related field.  What “SHHTEAMPE” strategies do you use to make learning meaningful and memorable?

 

Advertisements

What’s in a Name?

Standard

Keen-eyed readers will notice that this blog has recently changed its official name from Teaching is for Superheroes! to Teach Like a Superhero!  (The exclamation point remains!)

Not that big of a change, really, except that the new name rolls off the tongue a little more easily.  Another change is the primary web address:  http://www.teachlikeasuperheroblog.com.  This new URL is not very short, but it gets to the point.

(I tried a shorter address, but “www.tlash.com” sounds like an eyeliner product.  And a good of an excuse as any to share this meme inspired by Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

eyeliner

If all of this http://www.mumbo.jumbo stresses you out, don’t worry.  The old web address, http://www.teachingsupeherheroes.wordpress.com, still works and will lead you right back here.

This post is not just an announcement about blog name changes.

Let’s talk about names of superheroes and names of teachers.

Spider-Man_The_X-Men_1_Preview_3

I remember two things from my very first teacher back-to-school in-service meeting.  The first memory is a litany of details regarding health insurance and employee benefits.  The second memory is our assistant principal reminding us all that we are “Mr. Smith,” not “Smith” or “Mr. S.”

His point was to start the school year establishing a professional identify and requiring our students to address us as such.  It may seem like no big deal for a student to abbreviate your name (“Mr. B.”) or leave off your honorific (“Bergman”).  Some teachers may even welcome such nicknames to foster a more relaxed classroom environment.

But we must always be careful to not get too comfortable with our students.  Stop and consider the range of impacts this lackadaisical habit could impart.

I’m sure I’ve allowed my students to call me all sorts of things and get away with it.  But it does help to maintain a level of respect among everyone – teacher to student, student to teacher, teacher to teacher, student to student, and more.

Proper names matter among superheroes, too, and not just with maintaining secret identities.  Personally, I cringe whenever I read superheroes calling each other playful nicknames.

hawkeye-your-way-small-captain-america-2-deleted-scene-meant-cap-fighting-who-jpeg-127715

They’re heroes, not BFFs!

Superhero nicknames have long been a staple in comics.  Witty banter and clever monikers keep the “funny” in funny books, after all.  And it helps convey some characters’ personalities.

Wolverine, for example, with Colossus:

wolverine colossus

And here (off-panel) with Professor Xavier:

Chuck

The best name-caller, of course, was Stan “The Man” Lee, who was so proficient he even came up with nicknames for his real-life co-workers (e.g. Jack “The King” Kirby, “Jazzy” Johnny Romita, “Merry” Gerry Conway, and many MANY more right here).

Like any good joke, though, overuse of superhero sobriquets can get tiresome.  Especially among champions who should focus their attention on more important things – like fighting bad guys and saving the world!

Avengers1-144

What’s worse, many of these affectionate nicknames can actually undermine the job of life-risking heroics.

Spider-Man-Joins-Marvel-Cinematic-Universe

“Spidey” for Spider-Man works fine for his hip quippy character;  but take a look at other heroes and their less-dignified labels:

Batman = “Bats”

Superman = “Supes”

Green Lantern = “GL”

Ugh.  Apparently, characters in the DC Universe have a thing for abridging names.  Marvel nicknames, though more colorful, can still cheapen a heroic legacy.

The Mighty Thor = “Goldilocks”

The Hulk = “Ol’ Greenskin”

Iron Man = “Shellhead”

Captain America = “Cap,” “Winghead,” “Star-Spangled Avenger”

We come back to Captain America because it’s maybe the clearest example of a noble hero who’s legendary status is downgraded by casual familiarity.  And it’s not just by fellow heroes, but even by us regular citizens.

captain-america-kooky-quartet-107425

Call me a Stick-in-the-Mud (“Bromidic Bergman”), but superheroes deserve a little more formality.  The same goes for teachers.  Although it may seem cool for kids to use teacher nicknames, be careful with letting things get too capricious or contemptuous.

So whenever you hear a student or colleague refer to you as  “Mrs. T” or “Thompson” or “Yo, Teach,” gently remind them how they can address you more properly.

Just remember, it’s not “Mr. F.” It’s Mr. Fantastic.

Wieringo_reedrichards

And it’s not “Incredible;” it’s Mr. Incredible.

mr incredible

And it’s not “Marvel;” it’s Ms. Marvel.

Ms.-Marvel

Actually, the original Ms. Marvel goes by Captain Marvel now.

But never “Cap.”

Fantastic Teaching

Standard

The latest superhero movie teaser to hit the internet is that of Fantastic Four, a.k.a: FANT4STIC: 

fantasic-four 2015 logo

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

Flex Plan

Standard

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).

upcoming-dc-films1

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.

Avengers-Infinity-War-logo

“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.

superman2

What is Success?

Standard

Image

It’s not even mid-May and we’ve already got two superhero movies out in theaters, with more to come.  While Captain America: The Winter Soldier made record-breaking April box office numbers, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 recently opened and also topped the $90 million mark for its weekend debut.  Not too shabby.

Or is it?

Such an astronomical income may look, well, amazing.  But some entertainment pundits are asking, “Is it a success?

Such a question is not so strange when comparing ticket sales among similar movies, including prequels and sequels.  Another item to consider is how much money it takes to make the movie (salaries, special effects, marketing, insurance, craft services, etc.).  Making 90 million bucks over a single weekend may not seem so spectacular when it reportedly cost triple that amount to make the film.

All this talk about multimillions may have you thinking about teacher paychecks, but that’s not the real purpose of this post.

Actually, the big question “What is success?” should be asked frequently in our schools and classrooms.

 

Report Card Time

Recent results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)–also known as “the nation’s report card“–show that American students haven’t really increased their success rate in the past five years.  We’ve talked previously about how it’s important for teachers to closely review assessment data and speak out when and where they can (shameless plug).  But it’s also important to examine results and consider what is success.

The NAEP report finds that for U.S. high school seniors, less than 40% are proficient (or higher) in reading, and only one fourth (26%) are proficient or better in math.  Results also indicate that gaps in achievement among races/minorities are as wide as ever.

Ouch.  That doesn’t sound like success to me.

So many factors contribute to assessment results, more than we have time or space (or attention span) to discuss here.  But it is important to stop and determine our definition of success in schools.

 

Image

First off, it’s essential we not equate 100% with success.  Major League Baseball players are potential All-Stars if they get a hit one out of every three times at bats.  Babe Ruth’s career batting average was .342.  On the current list of active MLB players, the batting average leader is some guy named Joe Mauer, sitting at .322 (my apologies, Minnesota Twins fans).

I remember band directors telling us that we had to hit 100% of our musical notes during every performance, comparing our task with those slacker multimillionaires in ball caps.  Full disclosure: I never played every note perfectly during every concert.  Didn’t stop the audience from clapping.  And it didn’t stop me from playing.

Winning Percentages

Even Spider-Man himself didn’t win every comic book battle.  (It’d be boring if he did, wouldn’t it?)  According to Marvel’s own statistics, the webbed hero was victorious less than 60% of the time, just below villain Nightmare (59.4%) and above Iron Man (57.8%).  Check out the interactive and informative (and awesome) “Battle Breakdown” of Marvel Comics characters, courtesy of Wired magazine and author/designer Tim Leong.

(You should also check out Tim Leong’s website and Tumblr, along with his award-winning book Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe, for some super-nifty graphical analyses of superhero stats.  Here’s a sample, this one a breakdown of primary colors among hero costumes:

ff_supergraphics_goodevil_2f primary colors  )

 

Interestingly, anti-hero The Punisher (as in “The Ohio State University”) has the highest winning percentage (86.9%, and only 2 ties) above all the other Marvel heroes.  This roster includes Captain America, Mr. Fantastic, the Hulk, Thor, Wolverine, and Daredevil.

Image

Winning Tip #1: Bring a bazooka to a gun fight.

Still, I think I’d rather be rescued by many other heroes before seeking The Punisher’s help.  It’s “Punisher” with a capital P, after all.  In his quest for vigilante justice, Frank Castle puts a permanent end to bad guys (i.e. dead), as opposed to more noble champions who abide to a higher moral code.  As teachers, we know that a little bit of mercy can go a long way.

Maybe winning isn’t everything.  Maybe success depends on context.

In baseball, 33% hitting is great.  In music, you aim for 100% (unless it’s jazz).  In civil engineering, I hope it’s also close to 100%.  I don’t want a bridge built by someone who earned an 80% in geometry.

So what is success in education?

According to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, the goal was for EVERY child to perform at grade level in reading and math by the year 2014.

Have we reached that level yet?  We only have half a year to go!

In one of my graduate classes, our instructor (a high school principal whose last name was Mann, so he was literally “Principal Mann!”) once told us the following with respect to student achievement:  “You can feed a donkey the best oats, give it the best trainer and exercise regimen, and hire the best jockey.  But when you race that animal in the Kentucky Derby, it’s still a donkey.”

Not every kid will be a straight-A student.  If they were, what’s so special about straight-As?  Success is different for each individual.

I remember sitting in one of my undergraduate science classes (astrophysics), and another professor had just posted grade results outside in the hall.  A mob of students clumped in front of the list, eager to learn the results.  Among the mumble and grumble, one jovial dude thunder clapped his hands and cheered, “D-plus!!!”

 

Success is relative, maybe.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t push each other (and ourselves) to get better.

Hopefully, you aren’t aiming for the plus side of below average.  Hopefully, you aren’t hoping for 80%.  I want all of my students to perform at a 100% level.  I know that probably won’t happen.  But it doesn’t mean I won’t try for it.

Another mentor of mine–Dr. Clough (rhymes with rough ‘n’ tough!)–used to say, “Aim for perfection, and you will reach excellence.”  

Is that optimism?  Or realism?  Optirealism?

Let’s put aside our pessimism that some kids will just “never get it” and focus instead on what they can do.  The results may amaze you.

I’m optimistic that another Amazing Spider-Man sequel will show up in the coming years.  I’m optirealistic that it’ll be good.