School-topia*

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houseofxpowersofx

 

Recently, Marvel’s X-Men have shot back into the spotlight both in publishing and super- heroics.

This resurgence started off with the House of X/Powers of X mini-series in Summer 2019, and continues into 2020 with numerous X-titles and storylines.

One of the key elements of this new “Dawn of X” relaunch is that Professor X has created a paradise island nation for all mutantkind.

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The idea of a mutant utopia is NOT new in X-Men comics. In fact, there have been multiple “Mutopia” worlds in alternative universes, including House of M and Battleworld. One look at these stories shows that people’s ideas of a perfect world can be VERY different.

 

One of the most famous X-Men Utopias was an island in San Francisco Bay. Actually, before it was an island, this particular utopia was an asteroid controlled by Magneto. But it’s not that strange when you consider the recent Dawn of X utopia is the living mutant island Krakoa. (Hooray for comic books!)

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Here’s the problem with utopias: They almost always end in catastrophe.

Think of any fantasy or sci-fi story featuring a utopian society. Typically, these worlds go crumbling down just in time for the thrilling climax, if they haven’t already collapsed to kick off the adventure.

 

Also, many utopias hide a dark secret that becomes their undoing. It looks like this sort of thing may happen soon for the X-Men’s Krakoan utopia, thanks to shapeshifter Mystique (and Professor X? Magneto?).

magneto_mystique

Something is fishy here.

What about schools and classrooms? Is it possible for such a place to be utopian?

I once heard a principal at a large school speak about the “Perfect Day.” He said that a perfect day is NOT when nothing wrong happens. Rather, a perfect day is when issues come up, and the school teachers and staff handle them the right way.

I like this attitude. It’s not optimistic or pessimistic, but just plain pragmatic.

We are all human, teachers and students alike. None of us are perfect. So why would a school full of kids and adults ever be perfect?

kids-in-classroom

Something is fishy here, too.

In fact, teachers must be careful whenever we think we have reached perfection. No teacher is perfect, no matter their experience or awards. We all struggle and succeed in different areas, and we can all get better at something. The same is true for every day of school.

There is a short essay by Tim Slater in The Physics Teacher warning teachers about utopian school days. It’s called “When is a good day teaching a bad thing?” and you can find it HERE.

And here’s a teaser:

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Read the entire article and consider what sort of “Hidden Contract” you may be establishing with your students and colleagues. It’s not that well-behaved, on-task students are a bad thing. Far from it. But pause and consider why and how these expectations arise.

Do your students follow directions and contribute to class because they WANT TO or because the HAVE TO? (An easy way to find out is by leaving the room, or checking with the substitute teacher after an absence.)

Naturally, there are times when students (and all of us) do things because we have to, whether we like it or not. Exercise. Healthy diet. Pay taxes. Change diapers.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we can admit there is a positive payoff from these efforts, even if they are not easy. In many cases, practicing good habits in such endeavors will also increase the ease and even enjoyment.

A “perfect” classroom is impossible (and potentially dangerous). But hopefully teachers can instill solid skills and dispositions in students. One sign of maturity is doing things we don’t feel like doing. Another is doing the right thing even when no one is watching. (I’ve also heard this is the definition of integrity.)

So we may never reach school wide utopia. But maturity and integrity make for a good start!

 

*Admittedly, a much better pun than “School-topia” is “Edutopia.” But George Lucas already has the rights to that one. Take a look at this resource for educators, starting with https://www.edutopia.org .

 

Which Wolverine are You?

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A few years back I received the following image from a colleague, who shares this handout with students and teachers:

Which tree guy are you

The question is, “Which one are you today?”

Are you the one smiling and standing on top?  Crossed-armed and alone out on a limb?  Are you helping someone climb on?  Watching someone fall?

This simple image can lead to a fruitful discussion of personal success, challenges, and concerns.  It also helps to stop and reflect from time to time, since our place and activity in this image can change.  What caused the change?  Circumstances?  Attitude?  Actions?

Try this activity with your colleagues or class the next time you have a few spare moments. It’s a good start or end to a session. Take the opportunity to intentionally self-evaluate.

Or here is a superhero alternative, featuring everyone’s favorite Canadian superhero Wolverine (art by the amazing Scottie Young):

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Are you the triumphant, classic costumed Wolverine on top?   The squished one in the middle?  The samurai-inspired noble warrior at bottom right?  The Wolvie losing his hat? The one with the claws?

 

Or  maybe you prefer the Wolverine portrayed by Hugh Jackman in nearly 20 years of film. Even though it’s the same hero and same actor, there are plenty of moods and mannerisms to choose:

 

Like superheroics, teaching is a serious business requiring grit, bravery, and “a fighting spirit.”  But it’s also essential to find moments of humor and fun.

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Op, op, op, op oppa Gangnam Style . . .

 

Most importantly, teachers (and students) should take time to pause and consider their personal attitudes and positions.  Are we behaving and thinking appropriately for the given situation?  How can we help those around us?

(And always resist the urge to go into “berserker mode.”)

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You forgot your homework again?!!?

 

 

Super-Souvenirs

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Last time we talked about lessons learned from conventions, whether the audience is teachers or cosplayers.

 

I nearly forgot one of the best rewards of attending conferences and meetings . . . the STUFF!

The swag . . . the loot . . . the prizes . . . the souvenirs.

This past weekend I participated in a state teacher conference, and I got a few of the usual convention freebies — posters, books, pens, highlighters, candy, a shirt, and more.  Someone I know even won a free corn snake!

corn snake

Take me home!

 

The best convention prize I ever got was a children’s book about Buzz Aldrin, signed by the astronaut himself!

buzz book

 

This very same weekend I came home and took my family to Marvel Universe Live!  (Think “Disney on Ice” with superheroes on motorcycles and high-wire acts.)

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The show was full of explosions, stuntmen (and stuntwomen), along with cheesy comic book dialogue. Best of all, it’s the only way (so far) you can see live-action Avengers fight alongside live-action X-Men and Spider-Man.

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My kids loved the show (me and the wife, too), and they also loved the souvenirs.  Just like conferences and conventions, this event had gobs of stuff to take home.  Such trinkets cost money, though.

But where else are you going to get an exclusive Marvel Universe Live! Prelude Comic Book?

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Or giant-sized Program Book (with embossed cover)?

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Or Captain America Boomerang?  (It works, too . . . in theory.)

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Or official Marvel Universe Live! cotton candy (with superhero mask)?

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My family bought all of these beauties – BONUS!

 

Another lesson learned from this weekend is that teachers give their students an array of souvenirs over the course of a school year.  And I’m not just talking about content knowledge.

Every year, I ask my pre-service teachers to imagine their students at the end of the year.  In an ideal world, what will those kids be like?  What skills will they possess?  What traits, habits, and feelings do they have?

Elementary school pupils running outside

 

I’ve written about this before in a more scholarly setting. To be brief, the new teachers end up with a short list of about ten items.  The same types of traits and skills always emerge.

Teachers want students who are . . .

  • Critical Thinkers
  • Creative
  • Problem Solvers
  • Caring and Kind
  • Hard Workers
  • Curious
  • Lifelong Learners
  • Collaborative
  • Effective Communicators

And students who possess solid content understanding, of course.

School routine

 

Souvenirs are an important part of comic book conventions, education conferences, superhero stunt shows, and even school classrooms.

Some are free.  Others are pricy.  Cost does not always correlate with value.

What are your classroom’s best souvenirs?

Consider what “souvenirs” you provide for students over the course of the year.  Make sure they are treasures that last a lifetime.

 

marvel souvenirs

Con Season

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This blog post is unique because I’m writing it from San Diego, where I’m attending a convention.

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No, not THAT convention – San Diego Comic-Con International – although the Convention Center is just across the street.

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The above photo is what the Center looks like this week.  During Comic-Con, it appears more like the photo below:

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Or this one:

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Or this one, if you’re lucky:

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Like I said, I’m not lucky enough to be in town the same time as Comic-Con.  But I am lucky enough to be at a convention with hundreds of other educators.

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This particular “con” is focused on accreditation of teacher preparation programs.

The topic may sound dryer than San Diego heat, but it’s not too bad.  Most sessions are led by educators, who know a thing or two about engaging a crowd of semi-disinterested individuals.

Here are three take-home lessons I’ll share with you (and take home from California):

empty school room

No excitement here.

1. A convention center without fans, celebrities, and cosplayers is like a school building without students, teachers, and staff.  A brilliant building with fancy facilities is a wonderful thing to behold; but it only makes a difference when it hosts a crowd of excitable and exciting characters.

 

 

2. What convention are you attending next?   I’m not talking about a district-required in-service necessary for churning out continuing education credits.

Seek out a teacher-focused conference or convention that expands your network of colleagues, refines your thinking, and builds on your repertoire of strategies.  Better yet, sign up to SHARE a session or workshop with your professional peers.  

 

 

 

3. Someday I hope to visit San Diego again and attend Comic-Con.  Until then, here are some conferences I’ve attended (or will attend) recently.  Check one out, if you’re interested.  Or find something else that more closely matches your field of expertise.

-Kappa Delta Pi International Educational Honor Society Biennial Convocation

-National Science Teachers Association Regional Conference

International Meeting of the Association for Science Teacher Education

-Kansas Association of Science Teachers “KATS Kamp” Conference

-Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation Spring Conference

 

Where are you going?

You don’t have to attend a “con” somewhere far away or expensive.  Most of those I go to are within driving distance, and many times you can pay a discounted fee to attend only part of the convention.  In most cases you get what you pay for, though, and it’s healthy to expand your horizons beyond your home district or state.

 

Find a super group of teachers to encourage and educate you – and you can do the same for them.  They’re waiting for you!

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Word Balloons

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The latest superhero flick is Deadpool, which is making news for its “hard” R-rating for humor and violence.

If you don’t know much about Marvel’s “Merc with a Mouth,” here is a fun tutorial courtesy of artist Ty Templeton.

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The movie itself is doing great commercially and critically, even getting approval from Betty White herself.

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I’ll bypass seeing the film in theaters, waiting for a toned down, broadcast-friendly version on TV.  (But from the sound of things, a cleaned-up edited version would last about 15 minutes.)

The “sound of things” is actually the topic of this blog post.  Specifically,

What is the sound of your voice?

We’ve talked before about the importance of what teachers say in the classroom (namely questions).  But it’s also important to consider how you say it.

What’s your tone of voice when you talk in class?  How loud?  How fast?  How much variety?

In comic books, characters speak in “word balloons” (or “speech bubbles”), and it’s fascinating to notice the unique techniques creators use to convey dialogue on the page.

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Just like people, comic book heroes have unique voices, and letterers (the folks who draw word balloons) often use specific styles for particular characters.

For instance, Deadpool always speaks (and thinks) in yellow word balloons.  No one is sure what it’s supposed to sound like, aside from a mix of sarcasm and crazy.

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Take a moment and consider what your words would look like if someone drew balloons around them.

Are you snarky to the point of annoying?  (Do you need to tone it down?)

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Or maybe you’re more robotic, like the android Vision.  (Should you add more emotion?)

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DC/Vertigo’s Sandman hero Dream (a.k.a. Morpheus) talks in wavy inverted speech bubbles.  (Are you putting your students to sleep?)

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Or does your voice reflect the tenor of Ghost Rider, Marvel’s Spirit of Vengeance?  (To quote Educator Harry Wong, remember to stay “calm, real calm.”)

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Some teachers start quiet and docile, not maintaining healthy classroom boundaries.  And then when students get too far out of control, these teachers release a verbal attack like Marvel’s Inhumans hero Black Bolt.  (Deal with the small things sooner, so you don’t have to explode.)

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Eric Wong at the Sequart Organization wrote a nifty article about the different ways comic books communicate sound.   As you examine these examples, think about the sounds in your classroom.  What is helpful?  What is hurtful or distracting?

Teachers should record their classroom instruction and interactions from time to time.  You don’t have to sit down and watch an entire lesson.  Just listen to a few minutes and notice what your students actually hear.

Acknowledge the fact that nobody likes the sound of their own voice.  (Blame science.)  But who cares?  Either out loud or in your head, ask yourself,

“What can I do to sound better?”  

Here are some ideas:

1. If your voice is monotone and flat, study television news anchors to learn about adding variety in pitch. (And drink more coffee.)

2. If you have a tendency of erupting, take a deep breath and stay calm (but firm).  (And eat more chocolate.)

3. If you have a snarky streak, save it for open mic night at the comedy club.  Students respect teachers who show them respect first.

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So whatever kind of “word balloons” you use in the classroom, make sure they fit the space and focus on learning.

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Summer Break 2015

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It’s that time again when T4SH takes a short break during the summer months.

A break from lengthy blog posts, at least.  Look for resources, updates, and links via Facebook while you’re chilling out poolside, beachside, or inside.

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Time-traveling X-Man Bishop proves that blue jean cutoffs NEVER go out of style. Just beware that nasty tan line.

BONUS!  Here are some blog highlights from the past academic year, if you need something to review and recharge your mutant teaching energy:

Teachers for Hire – Research and statistics on teachers’ time and money.

Question(s) and Answer – Resources and strategies for asking good questions in the classroom.

Flex Plan – Movie studios plan superhero movies YEARS in advance.  How far into the future should teachers plan lessons?

Fantastic Teaching – Timeless traits of effective teachers, inspired by Marvel’s First Family.

Weird Superpowers – Superman has some weird superpowers.  What’s YOUR weird teacher power?  (Hopefully it is not fake-super-flabby-arm.)

superman at beach

Take time this summer to work on your beach bod AND your classroom prowess.

Educatio!

Multiple Madness

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Sadly, this entry does not feature one of my favorite superheroes – Jamie Madrox, a.k.a. The Multiple Man. But I’m going to include a picture of him (them) anyway:

Multiple Man X

On to business!

Warning: Today’s topic contains both intense geekery and buzzword-bashing. Proceed cautiously.

Blockbuster movies are not the only highlight of summer. It’s also the season when comic book publishers launch company-wide crossovers that promise to shake up a universe or two (or 52).

Marvel Comics and DC Comics have both blasted readers with major events this year. DC recently ran through a “Convergence” that ended with every version of its universe (pre-Crisis, pre-Zero Hour, pre-Flashpoint, etc.) returning to existence. That means every crazy version of familiar heroes and villains can appear in some form or another in one of several alternate universes, or multiverses.

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Confused? Check the hyperlinks above to read more about DC’s habit of rewriting history in their comic books (“reboots”). And you can read more here and here, then impress your friends with a mindful of multiversity.

Reboots are Made for Walking . . .

DC rebooting its universe(s) is nothing new. But Marvel Comics has always prided itself on maintaining a single continuity in its main universe (called “Earth-616,” and don’t ask why).

That’s all changed this summer, though, with Marvel’s tentpole production “Secret Wars.” If that name sounds familiar, the original “Secret Wars” (1984) was Marvel’s first mega-crossover teaming up all of its major heroes – Spider-Man, the Avengers, Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and more. Plus, it’s where Spidey got himself his snazzy black costume that . . . didn’t end well.

secret wars 8  spidey venom

In Marvel’s current 21st century crossover, every alternate universe (technically not the same as a multiverse; trust me) is starting to shmoosh into each other, with Earth as the epicenter.

What results is a hodgepodge of alternative Marvel Earths mish-mashed all on one planet. This subsequent world is called “Battleworld,” where apparently assorted Marvel heroes and variations duke it out over land rights.

BATTLEBOARD

Actually, all of the post-Secret War/Battleworld comics look to be an excuse to revisit everyone’s favorite character or event from Marvel’s storied history. This nostalgia trip won’t last for long, with a finale that will “be the end of the Marvel Universe as we know it!”

Just recently, Marvel has already given us sneak peeks at characters appearing in this “All-New, All-Different” universe.  Here’s a look:

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Who knows how long either of these nascent realities will last? In recent history, world-shattering moments seem to happen every other issue.

But, hey, it’s comic books.

My concern is not a glut of mega-crossover mini-series, but rather the stampede of super-heroes – namely different versions of the same ones. Take a gander at another Marvel “All-New, All-Different” lineup:

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I count two Spider-Men, two Spider-Women (one is “Spider-Gwen”), and two Captain Americas (one is old Steve Rogers, the other the old Falcon). Look back at the first Marvel promo and find two Wolverines (one female, the other old Logan).

Duplicating heroes is one way to increase diversity. But it can sometimes dilute the specialness of super-heroes. I’m not just talking about spreading thin unique super-powers, but also decreasing high-stakes adventures. If a certain hero is facing life-and-death odds, it’s no big deal, since a copycat can fill any vacancy. And if your world blows up, just hop over to the next universe.

Right, DC?

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Okay.  Rant over.

All-New, All-Different Rant.

Let’s talk about teaching and blow up some more multiplicity problems. “Multiple Intelligences,” to be precise.

Multiple intelligences is perhaps the most touted idea in education today. But in case you haven’t heard of it, here’s a recap:

frames of mind

Back in 1983 (one year before Marvel’s first “Secret Wars”), Harvard professor Howard Gardner argued that a general intelligence (“IQ”) measure is insufficient, and proposed seven different “intelligences” one could possess.

MI pie smart

Most people have strengths and weaknesses around this pie, and are more comfortable in some categories (or combos) than in others.

Of course everyone has different strengths. They’re called talents. Skills. Natural abilities. Preferences. Interests. Comfort zones.

But Gardner labeled these categories “intelligences” and this notion took off like honey nut hotcakes. In fact, Gardner has admitted that his ideas wouldn’t have gotten so popular had he just called them “multiple talents.”

So what’s the problem?

Many educators – many with the best of intentions – latch onto “multiple intelligences” thinking they have to cater to everyone’s needs. Taken to the extreme, each topic to be learned requires eight different lessons or activities. That way you cover all the bases.

Another term that overlaps with multiple intelligences is “learning styles.” Educators frequently pigeonhole different students according to a specific strength or preference – visual, auditory, kinesthetic. Worse, students may self-label or assume the identity they’ve been assigned, with the notion that they are stuck in one role with no opportunity to grow or change.

To his credit, Howard Gardner has explained how his ideas of multiple intelligences are NOT the same as learning styles. This is helpful, as comprehensive learning relies on much more than just “style.” Moreover, research has found little evidence that matching teaching to a specific learning preference produces higher understanding. Unfortunately, such clarification is lost among the bulk of educational professionals and publications.

Mixed up reliance on “MI” and “learning styles” enables teachers, parents, and students who want excuses for an underwhelming performance. If Billy flunks his spelling test, that’s okay. Maybe he’s just a “kinesthetic” learner. Maybe he can form letters with his arms and legs. Or if Suzie struggles in math, just have her sing out her calculations. She does so well in choir, after all. She must be “music smart.”

Here’s another problem:  Some of these “intelligences” are more practical in everyday life than others. No matter how much you plead, no one will sing the ballot to you the next election day.  You have to read to vote. The next time you get pulled over for texting while driving, try explaining to the officer that you have interpersonal intelligence. See how far that gets you.

I’m not saying we should dismiss any student who doesn’t excel at a particular subject or skill. Celebrate their strengths. Find ways for them to use and share that talent. But don’t compromise content learning. And help people shore up their weaknesses.

By the way, for those who counted the Multiple Intelligences in that pie graphic up there (all you logical-mathematical studs), there are actually EIGHT intelligences. Gardner added “naturalistic intelligence” a few years later. And then there’s also “existential intelligence.” It’s all getting a little ridiculous, to the point where The Onion featured a parody article revealing the trials of students with “nasal intelligence.”

nasal learner

A nasal learner struggles with an odorless textbook.

So what should teachers do?

Dr. Gardner suggests three actions: 1. Individualize your teaching; 2. Plurarlize your teaching; and 3. Drop the term “styles.”  (Easy for him to say.)

If you want more concrete ideas, here are some quotes from reviews of the research:

From The Chronicle: “Teachers should worry about matching their instruction to the content they are teaching. Some concepts are best taught through hands-on work, some are best taught through lectures, and some are best taught through group discussions” (Glenn, 2009).

From the NSTA: “Using appropriate representations that carefully consider how to best convey the content is important. In addition, we need to scaffold between concrete and more abstract representations, being sensitive to the abilities of our students to handle abstractions. Finally, when students struggle to understand, we need to look at both the nature of the content as well as the prior experiences of our students” (Olson, 2006). 

This is a good start to wise planning and teaching. Click on the hyperlinked articles above for more in-depth reading and reflection.

Multiple intelligences – like multiple superheroes – can have some merit in the right context. But both can explode out of control and become gimmicky. Be wary of too much reliance and redundancy, resulting in loss of impact.

multiple supermen