Weird Superpowers

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As first reported by USA TodaySuperman is getting a new superpower in the DC Comics universe.

Clark Kent’s alter-ego gets a costume update, too, complete with fingerless gloves.  This makes me wonder if his new power includes playing clarinet for marching band.

superman new costume

Take a look at comic book panels revealing this new ability in action.  (No woodwind in sight . . . yet.)

superman new power panels

Art by John Romita, Jr.

DC is touting this new talent–the Super Flare–as Superman’s “first new power in decades.”  They’ve even provided a handy-dandy timeline:

superman-powers time line

Superman must be short for “Superfluous-man,” given Kal-El’s multiple Kryptonian skills.  He’s a walking flying Swiss Army Knife compared to most heroes’ singular power sets (e.g. Flash = fast; Green Lantern = ring; Batman = ruined childhood).

Both Newsarama and IGN recently came up with lists of Superman’s Weirdest Powers to celebrate the inaugural Super Flare.  There are 15 listed by IGN, and Newsarama includes 10 in their countdown.  You’ll notice some overlap as well as some rather obscure abilities in Superman’s 75-year multi-media history.

My personal favorite is “Super-Dancing,” which Clark Kent can employ without even changing outfits.

Super-Dancing

Many teachers possess this power, too.

Weird Teacher Powers

This examination of weird superpowers got me thinking about teachers’ own unique abilities.  As mentioned in a previous post, one joy of teaching is bringing personal skills and strengths to the classroom, building off of sound research and practice.

Bringing in your unique personality can also lead to sharing some special talents and abilities.  Instead of settling for America’s Got Talent or David Letterman’s Stupid Human Tricks, teachers can put these gifts to good use in schools.  So . . .

stupid human tricks

What’s your weird teacher power?  

I’m not talking about the Superman-like ability to eat a complete lunch in under five minutes.  That goes with the profession.

super eating

Fifth period starts in two minutes!

What we want to examine is using uncommon strengths for the common good:  learning.

How can you use “weird teacher powers” to inspire and educate students?

If it helps, here is how I’ve applied a few of my own particular capabilities in educational settings.

1. Left-footed.  To be honest, this one hasn’t been that useful in the classroom, except to show students that everyone is different in different ways.   Accept that fact and get along.  (I’m still waiting on Bill Belichick’s offer to punt for the New England Patriots.)

2. Music.  Not a strange talent in most cases.  It’s all how you use it, though.  I sing and play trumpet, and have done one or the other in various settings to get students’ attention, share a mnemonic memory trick, or illustrate the physics of sound.

Plenty of weird potential, too.  When I student taught, one of my mentors taped a trumpet mouthpiece into one end of a garden hose, with a funnel sticking out the other end.  He would play his “hose-a-phone” on occasion, most frequently for students’ birthdays.  Not very educational, but certainly eye- and ear-catching among the students, something all teachers need.

CroppedHose-a-Phone-846x1024

Archival footage of hose-a-phone. Not actual mentor.

3. Goof.  Like my mentor’s example, often a teacher’s weird power lies in his or her ability to lower inhibitions and go for the gusto.  We don’t have to bounce off walls, but we can exhibit enthusiasm for school and learning in captivating and contagious ways.

I know an educator with a lively method of ending the class period on a day of doldrums.  When class limps into the last minute, this man pretends to get a call from the president via wristwatch, puts on a cape and cowboy hat, then runs out of the room yelling, “Super-Cowboy . . . AWAY!!!”

I’ve never tried that myself, but I have celebrated a unit assessment by theatrically revealing the test while blaring Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (a.k.a. the opening to 2001: A Space Odyssey).  Following a few confused faces, the triumphant entrance gets more laughs and eases anyone’s test anxiety.

During my chemistry classes’ Gas Laws unit, I make a point to wear the following t-shirt under my ordinary teacher outfit (shirt and tie, slacks).

sci never sucks t shirt

A gift from my brother (also a teacher).

The instant someone mentions the word “suck” to describe pressure differentials, I rip open my outer shirt to give the class a vivid reminder that “Science Never Sucks.”  To enhance the effect, I play Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” as accompaniment.

Silly?  Of course.  Memorable?  That’s the point.

Years later, all of my former students know there’s no such thing as a “suck force.”

And as an added bonus, for one fleeting minute I get to feel like a costumed superhero.

So maybe you can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound or outrace a speeding bullet.  But every teacher has special skills and quirks, able to spark meaningful and memorable learning in our students’ lives.

That makes us the most powerful superheroes ever.

Super-Memory

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Marvel Comics’ Wolverine has been a favorite superhero for decades, and there are so many reasons why:

  1. Adamantium-laced claws (and skeleton)
  2. Healing factor
  3. Canadian
  4. Short
  5. The best at what he does
  6. Hugh Jackman

The_Wolverine_Movie_Poster_large_verge_medium_landscape  I’ve always thought Wolverine’s past has been one of his coolest features, namely, that he had no memory of his past.  Over countless issues of X-Men-related titles, comic book readers saw only snippets of these lost years sporadically through various flashbacks.

After teasing readers with glimpses (and maybe deciding they’d better beat the movie studios to the punch), Marvel finally revealed Wolverine’s true origin with the Paul Jenkins/Andy Kubert mini-series Origin (original, eh?).

We soon learned that the man known only as Logan was actually a wimpy boy named James Howlett who wore a nightshirt and cried a lot.  (A little disappointing, to say the least.)

Origin_Vol_1_2_page_-_James_Howlett_(Earth-616)

 

So what does all this have to do with teaching? 

A recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) summarized its study of individuals possessing super-memory, or “Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory” (HSAM).  Fewer than two dozen people (humans, not mutants) are known to have this ability.

How many of us teachers mistakenly assume our students possess superhuman memory?  Sure, we sigh and shake our heads when they forget a pencil or their homework.

But let’s be honest.  Sometimes we inundate our students with endless terms or steps with the lame excuse we’re “covering all the standards.”   (As a colleague of mine says, if you’re going to cover the content, you might as well cover it in dirt because it’s already dead.)

Formal education in America arose when memorized facts served one well in their future studies, intellectual pursuits, and careers.  But we currently live in an age where information is available in a wi-fi instant.

Sure, there are moments for memorization.  And those times are typically when we practice and apply information in useful and meaningful ways.  I remember “every good boy does fine” not because of cramming the treble clef into my adolescent mind, but as a result of spending hours practicing, playing, and performing.

Here’s something interesting from that PNAS study of HSAM humans:  It turns out that individuals with super-memory as just as susceptible to manipulation as the rest of us.  This includes distorting data or adding false memories that never existed.

You can read a summary here from Discovery Magazine and find the whole report here from the National Academy of Sciences.  Good luck remembering it all.

 

Sadly, not many superheroes are known for their super-memory, and a quick Google search will find you these USB-compliant gems:

superhero-usb-flash-drives

It turns out that Logan/Wolverine/James Howlett eventually did regain all of his memories at the end of the House of M mini-series event (by Brian Michael Bendis and Olivier Coipel).  Along with a whole slew of mutant/magic messiness, Wolverine with memories was now a little less cool.

wolverine_remembers

I’d love to have super-memory.  It’d help me remember the last time I wore a certain outfit so I don’t repeat it a week later.  (I’m sure my students remember particular shirt-tie-pants ensembles.)

But most of us have normal human-level memory abilities.  The kind that forgets from time to time, but remembers when the information is relevant, useful, and encourages further learning.

Something for all of us to remember . . .

super-memory