Know Gimmicks

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gimmick ˈɡimik/  noun

  1. a trick or device intended to attract attention, publicity, or business.
    synonyms: publicity stunt, contrivanceschemestratagemploy;

    informalshtick

 Every Marvel movie features snappy quips, and one of my favorite lines from Captain America: Civil War comes from hero Falcon, when he and Bucky first run into Spider-Man:

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Gimmicks have a long history in comic books.  Specifically, let’s look at comic book gimmick covers.  Like any good “publicity stunt,” gimmick covers draw attention to sell more comic books. Typically these specific issues celebrate milestone anniversaries, debut series, or other special events.

The good folks at Comic Book Resources (CBR) recently shared their “All-Time Greatest Comic Book Gimmick Covers,” and you can read about it right here.

In this list, you’ll learn all kinds of neat history and trivia, including what made these gimmicks special.  Behold covers with poly-bagged pop-ups, glow-in-the-dark skeletons, embossed chromium and/or foil, die-cut claw marks, bullet holes, and more.

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My favorite is the Superman “Colorform” cover, where you can create your own battle scene using the reusable plastic pieces.  (iPad got nothin’ on Coloforms.)

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Gimmicks are fun, but they can also go horribly wrong.  To wit, CBR contributors also compiled the “All-Time Worst Comic Book Gimmick Covers,” which you can read here if you dare.

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These unfortunate “shticks” include lenticular artwork, face-shaped die-cut covers, duplicate monochrome colors, Magic Eye illusions, body heat-sensitive “thermochrome,” and more bullet holes.

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Gimmick comic book covers have mostly disappeared, but new ideas (or old revivals) pop up from time to time.  The same is true for educational gimmicks.  Teachers must be vigilant in protecting their students (and themselves) from too many gimmicks, fads, and ploys.

 What are some of these educational gimmicks?  For a start, take a look at the following graphic highlighting “20 Years of Educational Fads,” put together by Te@cher Toolkit (“the most influential blog on education in the UK”).

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You can read more here about each gimmick, myth, fad, and/or hearsay, and see how much you agree.

Such new (or repackaged) educational ideas begin as noteworthy or eye-catching.  A financial boost often jumpstarts such initiatives.  But eventually the dollars dwindle away, followed by fading enthusiasm and support.  Given the effort and time spent by various stakeholders, you can imagine the subsequent feelings of resentment and distrust.

Please note that I am not poo-pooing all gimmicks.  After all, I’m the guy who forked over cash to get this hologram-highlighted wrap-around cover:

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And this foil embossed beauty:

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And even this one:

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 (Yup, that’s a special #0 issue mini-comic glued to the cover of the #1 issue regular-sized comic.)

Gimmicks can be good for a laugh.  And sometimes they are a breath of fresh air.  Used right, gimmicks can make cute mementos, quick distractions, and useful object lessons.

Nevertheless, it’s important to distinguish between a novel trick (that’s fun for a little while) and a credible research-supported practice (that stands the test of time).

What about you?  What educational gimmicks have you enjoyed, advocated, and/or suffered?

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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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