Flash Forward

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How far do you plan ahead?

Later this month – February 28, 2109, to be exact – a book is coming out that includes a chapter by Yours Truly. (Shameless plug alert!)

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In the previous post, I shared an overview of this book chapter featuring teaching approaches of the Flash (Wally West) and Max Mercury, and the impact on their student Impulse. For now, though, let’s turn out attention to time travel.

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Bart Allen (Impulse) is a 30th century teen transported to late 20th century America. The featured Flash and Impulse comic book stories in my book chapter were published in the mid 1990s. But this isn’t the kind of time travel I want to discuss.

Let’s look at the timeline of academic publication, using my Flash book chapter:

  • April 2017 – I submitted proposal for book chapter.
  • July 2017 – Proposal accepted.
  • November 2017 – Chapter manuscript submitted.
  • February 2019 – Book published.

Altogether, the process from proposal to publication is nearly TWO YEARS. And this isn’t even counting the original call for submissions, formulating my idea, doing the research (reading, looking up, reading, collecting data, reading, analyzing data, etc.), as well as the actual WRITING of the 25+ page first draft.

Two years from proposal to publication is actually about typical for most printed books. (That’s why it’s tricky for a writer to chase trends; by the time anything gets published there’s a new fad taking the world by storm.)

But to be honest, I had to stop and look up some of the above dates in my records. If you had asked me before, I probably would’ve thought the time period was much quicker. Time flies when you’re having fun (i.e. doing scholarly research with comic books).

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Teachers also experience interesting time travel in their classroom work. And like publishing, the educational process can stretch along with many delays. A recent article on Edutopia talks about the long-term impact of teaching. Here is how it summarizes the featured research:

Teachers who help students improve noncognitive skills such as self-regulation raise their grades and likelihood of graduating from high school more than teachers who help them improve their standardized test scores do.

Later, the article addresses the predicament: Standardized tests don’t typically measure long-term teacher impact on things like self-regulation and other “noncognitive skills.”

Countless times, teachers reiterate that if something is important, you have to test it. Using reverse logic, we often assume that only the important things are on tests.

We can’t overlook those things that may be more difficult to assess or standardize. In the face of regular evaluation reports, teachers must keep the far future in view.

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I would argue that these two outcomes – short-term test scores, long-term impact – are not mutually exclusive. Teachers can promote both at the same time, intertwined together.

Take publishing, for our ongoing analogy.

While this Flash book chapter has been moving toward publication, I’ve been busy working on other projects. Journal articles and conference presentations have faster turnaround times, and I’ve done both in the past few years.

Likewise, I have a new chapter in progress for the next “Ages of . . .” book. This one is about Marvel’s Black Panther.

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My chapter deals with T’Challa’s demonstration of 21st Century Skills in defending Wakanda from the alien Skrulls’ Secret Invasion. If that sentence doesn’t excite you, maybe these comic book panels will . . .

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So far, here is the timeline of my chapter:

  • May 2018 – Submitted chapter proposal.
  • August 2018 – Proposal accepted.
  • January 2019 – Submitted chapter manuscript.
  • ??? – Publication???

Right now, I’m awaiting feedback and requests for revisions from the editor. After that should be official news of acceptance and publication. But I’m not holding my breath. It’ll happen eventually.

In the meantime, there are always more opportunities to learn, write, research, and share. And enjoy the future possibilities!

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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.

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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! 

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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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