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!  

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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.

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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.

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Proving that “Two’s a Crowd.”

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

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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.

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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.

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Non-Mutant Teachers

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My favorite superhero team has always been the X-Men.  I’ll admit, these mutant heroes first caught my eye with their nifty matching uniforms.  Plus, “X” is the absolute coolest letter in the alphabet by far.  (Uncanny Y-Men . . . just doesn’t cut it.)

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The main reason I like the X-Men, however, is because this superhero team’s origin starts at a school.  “Gifted youngsters” have gathered together not because they’re family or friends or famous heroes, but instead to learn and understand their powers and identities.  And ultimately, these students strive to “protect a world that hates and fears them.”

A new generation of students has taken up the cause of Professor X, as featured in the series Wolverine and the X-Men.  Unfortunately, headmaster Wolverine has recently died in the Marvel Comics world, leaving a void in the faculty at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning.

I bet Wolverine’s health will improve soon, but in the meantime another hero has joined the staff of mutant educators:  your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

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That’s Mr. Spider-Man to You

One potential problem, though:  Spider-Man is NOT a mutant.  In other words, he was not born with his extra-human abilities.  Peter Parker needed a radioactive spider bite to get his superpowers.  Remember this iconic scene?

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Pre-Spider Bite Peter Parker = Lame-o

Differences in genetic background and superhero lifestyle could become a source of conflict not only between Mr. Spider-Man and his students, but also with the mutant teachers and staff at the school.

Such educational discrepancies do not occur in comic books only.  They can also arise in real life.

Real World Research

Research studies have found a “racial/ethnic gap between students of color and their teachers,” something that has increased over the years (Villegas, Strom, & Lucas, 2012).  With a growing population of minority students, teachers from similar racial/ethnic backgrounds are in high demand (Bireda & Chait, 2011).

Why is it important to match teacher and student demographics?

One may assume that students react more positively to teachers who share common characteristics.  Likewise, minority teachers can serve as positive role models to minority students.  However, clear empirical evidence of these assumptions is hard to find, understandable given the complexities of schooling and learning.

Some research studies have found learning gains when teachers and students share similar ethnicity (Dee, 2004; Klein, Le, & Hamilton, 2001).  Nevertheless, these reports note an underlying factor that could have the greatest impact on student success:  the actual quality of the teacher.

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Mr. Parker

Spider-Man does have previous teaching experience.  While plainclothes Peter Parker during the day, he did a stint as science teacher for his alma mater, Midtown High School, in Queens, New York.

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Home of the Fightin’ Living Brains!

Mr. Parker’s public school teaching experience reflects real world trends.  Typically, teachers like to teach close to where they grew up as students (Reininger, 2011).  Or if not the same or nearby location, teachers may teach in a similar type of district or community.

That was me.  I grew up in a small Nebraska town of ~4,000 people.  I graduated from a public high school with a class of ~70 students.  My first teaching job was in a small Nebraska town of ~4,000 people (about 130 miles from my hometown).  Each graduating class at this public school had ~70 students.

What about you?  Where did you go to school?  Where do you teach?  

One of the biggest advantages about the teaching profession is that it can take you anywhere in the world.  Once I had a student encourage me to apply for a teaching job in Dubai.  (Maybe he had selfish motives for introducing me to this opportunity.)

But one of the biggest challenges about teaching is that it requires extraordinary effort to assimilate the context and culture of the school when you first start.  Even teachers who teach in their hometown must navigate through this transitional period.  Moreover, imagine the degree of difficulty for teachers new to a community, culture, and/or country.

It makes sense that teacher recruitment initiatives focus on fostering “pipelines” to increase quality teachers from high-need urban and rural settings (CTEP, 2014Darling-Hammond, 2011).

Mutant or Non-Mutant?

As much as I’d like, I can’t turn myself into a mutant, or even a super-powered human.  (I’ve been bitten by spiders before.  No wall-crawling abilities yet.)  Still, I can be the best teacher I can be, no matter where or whom I teach.

Regardless of our ethnic, cultural, genetic, or other demographic descriptors, we can all work to cultivate meaningful relationships, creating memorable learning experiences for our students.  Part of this work includes finding ways to connect with the kids and their community.

Don’t try to fake it, however.  Students have a special (mutant?) ability to see through disingenuous teachers, even those with good intentions.  Admit your differences, if need be, and authentically work to find common ground.  A universal purpose in all schools is to expand understanding and appreciate learning.

Who knows how long Spider-Man will stay on staff at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning?  You can read more about the creators’ plans for Spider-Man and the X-Men herehere, and here, if you’re interested.  I hope Mr. Spider-Man makes a positive difference during his tenure, long or short.

Spidey may not be a mutant, but he does know a little about struggling to make it in the world (of both heroes and humans).  Additionally, he has firsthand experience learning the importance of “great powers” and “great responsibility.”

And like the best teachers, Spider-Man should learn from his students as much as they learn from him.

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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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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.”

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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!

What is Success?

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

Secret Origins

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ImageThis month sees the release of Secret Origins #1 by DC Comics, and you can read more about it here and see what people have to say about it here.

DC has published versions of Secret Origins before, and the purpose is to explore and explain the beginnings of superheroes and villains. Featured characters range from iconic to obscure. So if you want to know how Ambush Bug got his start, here’s your chance!

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Origins typically contain two essential ingredients: 1) How you get your powers, and 2) What is your motivation?

 

Just like superheroes, every teacher has an origin. We all come from somewhere, contrary to what my 8th Grade Earth Science teacher Mr. Musson used to say: “Teachers aren’t born; they just . . . appear.”

The same two pieces of an origin story apply to teachers, as well.

 

1) How did you get your powers?

 

Maybe you weren’t bitten by a radioactive spider or trained in the mystical martial arts of K’un-Lun, but I bet you’ve got something that makes you special.

 

Most of us licensed teachers have received professional preparation of some sort. Many earned our teaching credentials after completing a bachelor’s degree in education, often with a specific subject endorsement. Other non-traditional routes include “fifth year” programs as well as an assortment of alternative licensure options for college graduates who already have degrees in something other than education. In the latter case, individuals often complete formal teacher education coursework while at the same time teaching full-time in schools.

 

No matter what your route, the bottom line is that you studied, practiced, collaborated, reflected, and applied important concepts and skills necessary for becoming an effective educator. (The scary thing is, some people think teaching requires no formal preparation at all, and are willing to dump anyone into the classroom just to fill a need. We could talk about this important issue at another time, and I already have HERE in a newspaper editorial, if you’re curious.)

 

Outside of formal preparation, many of you also learned about teaching through other means. Maybe you have a teacher as a close family member or friend, or perhaps you’ve experienced teaching through various activities like sports, church, hobbies, and more. You got the bug, so to speak, and you wanted more.

 

That leads us to the second part of origin stories . . .

 

2) What’s your motivation?

 

Getting powers is not enough. A lot of people have skills but waste them or use them in selfish ways, just like a lot of super-powered characters.

 

Every good teacher needs not only special abilities, but also a special heart and passion for the classroom and beyond.

 

Many of us got into teaching because we love learning and want to share that joy with others. We want to make a difference in the lives of kids and their families.

 

Hopefully you didn’t go into teaching because of a so-called “summer vacation” or because you thought your workday would be 8:30 to 3:30.   If either of these were reasons you entered the profession, you probably learned that teachers put more total hours in the school year than most people do in 12-month jobs. You can learn some other important statistics about the teaching career here.

 

Unfortunately, origin stories sometimes reveal an individual’s weaknesses as well as their strengths. For example, Superman’s not a fan of green kryptonite, which came from the blown up bits of his home planet. And Iron Man sometimes likes to hit the bottle, thanks to the fast life of his alter ego Tony Stark.

 

I hope you do not falter to kryptonite or alcohol, but you should still be wary of potential flaws. I’ll use my “origin story” as an example:

 

Secret Origin . . . Revealed!

 

I’ve always liked school. I like to learn. I’ve had some great teachers in my family and in my schools, so it’s probably no surprise I pursued teaching as a profession.

 

Here’s a rare mug shot of my first year teaching way back in 1999. It’s black and white and grainy because I had to scan it from the school yearbook. It’s wrinkly and weary because it was my first year as a teacher. (To determine if I’ve aged well, compare this portrait with a more recent one on the editorial link above.)

 

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Vintage Mr. Bergman #1

The first year was tough—it always is—but I got better. Teaching is hard work, but it is worthwhile and can be a joy, even on the tough days. You stick with it and each year usually gets easier.

 

How else did I improve?

 

I learned the intricacies of my subject matter (science) to know how concepts were connected, what analogies illustrated tough ideas, and what activities gave the best opportunities to clearly master content. I also learned about my students: what motivates them, what strengths and weaknesses they possess, and how to strike a healthy balance between firm and easy when it comes to classroom management—something that can never be overestimated.

 

But here’s where my “secret origin” reveals some of my weaknesses.

 

I like school. Many students don’t. For the most part, I was a “goody-two-shoes” throughout school. Some of my students actually thrive on creating classroom chaos. So I have to overcome my nice guy tendencies and be ready and willing to draw the line when it comes to discipline. It’s not easy, but it has to be done.

 

Here’s another strength that can become a flaw:

 

I enjoy science. Some students fear it.   When I was a kid, I found satisfaction in filling out worksheets and completing exams. I was weird. A lot of students greet homework with hostility and suffer test anxiety.

 

So as a teacher, I have to reduce resistance in my students before I can open the doors to learning. And it starts with me. I can’t assume my students are just as eager to come to class and learn about electron configuration. I have to find out what motivates them and how I can connect concepts to their lives and interests. In a way, I have to learn the secret origins of every student.

 

I hope this post has helped you reflect on your past and consider how it can impact your future. Do you have special training? Hidden talents? A passion that can only be served by teaching? How did it all begin?

 

In other words . . .

 

What is YOUR origin story?

 

Please post a comment and share why and how you became a teacher. Your story doesn’t have to involve radioactivity.

But it’d be cool if it did.

 

Teaser Teachers

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One of my Super Bowl highlights is the glut of new movie trailers during the commercials.  Never mind that the 20 seconds or so may or may not actually wind up in the actual film.

Nowadays, most of these trailers go straight to the internet before the Super Bowl.  And now we don’t just have trailers, but also teasers, which are basically trailers for the trailers.

Here are a couple of teasers and/or trailers that caught my eye this year.  (Don’t blink.)

Cool, huh?  Even a few seconds can get the adrenaline pumping.

So how about us teachers?  How can we take some Hollywood magic and use it to “tease” our students?

A common practice is the use of bell work (or bell ringer), which helps with classroom management and should engage students in thinking.  Many teachers use bell work to review something from a past lesson or preview something  for the immediate next lesson.

Bell work helps create a useful routine in which students start the class (not the bell or the teacher) and the teacher can use these few minutes for taking attendance, addressing specific students’ needs, or other important tasks.

There are several resources out there for using “puzzlers” or trivia for bell work.  These are good in a pinch, and some can even foster meaningful discussions about students’ personal views and experiences.  Here is a variety of bell ringers from Kentucky (home state of mutant siblings Sam Guthrie a.k.a. Cannonball and Paige Guthrie a.k.a. Husk).

cannonball_and_husk_color_by_graconius-d5p11rs

Thanks, Kentucky and Graconius.  We owe ya both.

This is a start, and such resources are good for some days.  But let’s go beyond student/time management and really get students excited (or at least interested).

What sort of question or prompt can you pose on a given day that will not only get the students to work, but get them to think more deeply about the content you want them to learn?  How can you “tease” them?

Here are a few paired examples.  One bland, one better.  Reflect on these ideas to create or modify your own bell work prompts for upcoming classes.

BLAND: Please open your book to page 16.

BETTER: Please open your book to page 16.  Examine the two photos and write down as many similarities you can find.

BLAND: Please get out yesterday’s homework.

BETTER: Please review your homework with a neighbor and discuss any discrepancies in your answers.  Who is correct?  How do you know?

BLAND: Please copy the vocabulary words on the board.

BETTER: Pick out your favorite vocabulary word and draw a picture related to that term.  Share your sketch with a partner and see if they can guess the word.

See?  Not that hard to take a basic task and make it better (i.e. increase the students’ interest).

In addition to bell work at the start of class, teachers should tease their students at the end of class.

End-of-class activities often focus on a “wrap-up” or recap in which the class reviews what they learned that day.  If you do such activities, be sure to have the students tell YOU what they’ve learned, instead of you just telling them what they should have learned.

Strategies such as the Exit Slip or Ticket-out-the-Door provide other opportunities for students to share what they have (or have not) learned.  Teachers can prompt students to apply the content to a new situation.

Don’t make it a simple task.  Tease the students with a challenge or question that gets them wondering and thinking between the end of class and the next time they return to you.  It’s okay to leave students in suspense sometimes!

So here’s a challenge:

What’s your best “end of day” or “start of day” strategy?  Post a comment and share below!