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

Tech-No?

Standard
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.

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