Sam Wilson Captain America #10 and Congressman John Lewis.

Writer – Nick Spencer. Artist: Angel Unzueta.

OK – this is my first attempt at writing a review of a comic – a comics journalist, if you will.  Please forgive me if I don’t follow the traditional conventions as such – but I have been loving the political commentary going on in this comic, and just had to write about it.   I was absolutely floored by making a direct connection from history to comic book.  Maybe I’m crazy.  Maybe you don’t see it. But I want to open my Civil Rights lessons with this comic book and see if my students can make the same connections.  PLEASE – respond – let me know what you think.  Am I just blinded by my hero worship of Mr. Lewis?  Hit me up at @historycomics or historycomicsguy@gmail.com.

My own personal superhero is Congressman John Lewis – both in his role during the Civil Rights Movement and current leadership in Congress today.  I am teaching my 11th graders the graphic novel based on his life, March (this is a must read book) for the first time in the 2016-17 school-year. As such, I read the book based on his life, Walking with the Wind, and just finished it yesterday.  Since this eye-opening book was fresh in my mind, I could not help but make a direct connection to the Sam Wilson story that came out on 6/29/16.  I have never been one to tell students what a song or poem means – I always want them to make their own interpretations, but this is my view…

Page 3

The white people being interviewed comment that “Captain America is supposed to represent ALL of us… He has a radical, highly partisan an frankly ANTI-AMERICAN agenda. It’s time we took a stand against the political correctness that now permeates the Avengers.”  – this is an obvious allusion to the still ongoing heated debate over having a “black” Captain America.  It also ties into having a black Spider-Man, female Thor, Gay Iceman, etc —  but especially with the idea of Captain America.  What does Captain America represent?  What should he (she?) look like?  This is a hot topic right now as American demographics and white males (like me) will become the minority and what that might mean for this country.

Page 4 – there is now a new police force – AmeriCops (based on AmeriCorps?) – the “most powerful private law enforcement body ever assembled.”  Is this talking about the militarization of American police forces, #BlackLivesMatter, Ferguson, etc?

Page 5 – “…accusations of profiling, harassment, and excessive force coming with increasing volume from leaders in many MINORITY communities” — ok, now the parallel is unavoidable in current American events.

So far, this is all about what is going on in the USA today — what is the connection to John Lewis and the Civil Rights movement?  Here we go… beginning on page 10 — African-American heroes (leaders) have met in a Philadelphia church to grieve the death of one of their own – James Rhodes (War Machine).  I am suggestion that Rhodes stands in for Martin Luther King, Jr – to some degree.  Rhodes was accepted by the white community and society  – he was incorporated into the superhero community, his race not an issue – a go-between the two communities.

Pages 11 and 12 – we see major African-American heroes seated together — I can see some arguing the lack of diversity on these two pages.  This is ignoring so many superhero organizations consisting of all Caucasian (and male) superhero groups – I have no issue here.  I begin to wonder who is represented from the Civil Rights movement at this point – especially, who is Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Toure)? Maybe he is not here yet…  At the time of MLK’s death, there were already cracks showing within the Civil Rights movement – perhaps each superhero could represent a different section of the movement – this would be a fascinating discussion in the classroom.

Page 14 – Rhodes was described as having died in battle, after looking out for a teammate.  Loose connection – but MLK was assassinated after looking out for sanitation workers… ok – maybe a little too loose of a connection…  BUT – Luke Cage stated that this is how Rhodes would have wanted to die — I can see the connection to MLK here.

Page 16 – Sam Wilson is trying to figure out who will speak at the funeral — the other heroes are surprised as they all believe that Sam Wilson is the obvious choice.  I can see this as being John Lewis – always the reluctant hero and leader, but history pushed him to the forefront during so many events.

Page 18 – Sam is reminded that he is a Black Man AND Captain America. “Nobody ever notices history when it’s happening, but let me tell you — that is not A thing, that is THE thing.”  “A lot of kids in South Philly, they got to look up in the sky and see Jim (Rhodes) and say that could be them someday… but at least they still have you…and now you need to make sure that’s enough”  Although I see John Lewis on the same level (and more) as King, many Americans still have not been exposed to this man’s awesome legacy. Mr. Lewis has always seemed conflicted and unsure as to his role in the movement (it is large) and this helps me to make the connection between Captain American and him.  Also, this surprise of history being thrust on Sam Wilson, really speaks to Mr. Lewis’ idea of the “Spirit of History” as expressed often in Walking with the Wind.

Page 19 – scene of the church and so many people crowded outside for the funeral mass.  This is when the light bulb really went off for me.

Page 20 – the faces of the people in the church.  The image of Sam Wilson at the podium.  These are the images that were in my mind when reading Walking with the Wind. I very much see John Lewis as the stoic Sam Wilson giving the sermon.

Pages 21-22 – Rhodes is described as a soldier who was always focused on the mission – “do good, help others, make the world a safer, better place.”  “He didn’t want us focused on him — he wanted us focused on that… he did inspire us. I know he inspired me.  When it was my turn to fill some big shoes, I could call back to Rhodey’s (MLK) example and say, yeah, maybe I could do that, too… and he continues to inspire us”

Page 24 – “to never give up on the mission (of nonviolence) and to hold close to your friends, no matter what might be trying to tear you apart (differing factions within the Civil Rights movement), to show whoever comes next the way forward, to show them what being a hero really means.”

Page 25 – the burial at Arlington Cemetery – is this a connection to the burial of Bobby Kennedy? Lewis and SNCC did not go to pay homage to JFK when he was buried – but Lewis did pay homage to both men after the assassination of Bobby.

Page 26 – The AmeriCops are seen on the streets – several African-American youths are seen to be questioning the role of the police.  They seem to believe that something needs to be done to fight back – (enough of nonviolence)

Page 28 – A new character is introduced stating that “we’re” about to make a stand (African-Americans) – and that RAGE has their backs.  Does he represent Black Militants/Nationalism…?

Again – I don’t mean to make light of such a heavy topic — but this comic really made an impression on me as I prepare to teach my students about the Civil Rights movement – both historically and today.  What do you think?

I say this all the time – not bad for “just” a comic book, huh?

I apologize for the poorly scanned images – the best I could do right now — the comic was just released on 6/29 – go and buy a copy at your local comic book store.

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Best Worst Year Ever

Devastated.  Terrified.  Lost.  Disbelief.  Alone.  Depressed. 

After being a teacher for 15 years and a department chair for 8, I finally experienced THAT year.  Above are the words that described my feelings on one particular day following an event at my “job” (I had never really considered being a teacher a job before – it was always a calling).  For the first time in more than two decades, I questioned who I was and what I was doing with my life – I began to wonder if being a teacher was truly for me – if I was any good at my “job”.  To top it off, I was teaching a new AP course (AP Economics) through which I was struggling.  On top of all the other balls I had to juggle (including writing new curriculum), I found myself getting up at 3:30 in the morning to lesson plan and to try to grasp these economic topics.  Before this class would come in every day, I would break out in a cold sweat, hoping that I could answer any questions that they had for me.  I am the father of three children and we struggle through many stressful issues of which I don’t want to get into here – but my home life can be chaotic and not always a place for me to find peace.  Thankfully, I have a strong and loving wife who is my best friend – as she is also a teacher, I do find support from her.  Following all of these issues, I decided to resign my position as department chair and found myself completely lost.  I still loved being a teacher and being with my students, I loved being a department chair, but I was shaken to my core, both as a professional and as a human being.  I will not write about the particulars of this event, just know that it was challenging, to say the least.

Luckily, a few years ago, a staff developer had thought enough about what I did as a teacher to recommend me getting out on social media – blogging, Twitter, etc.  Me on social media?  That’s what THOSE teachers do – the ones who want to show off, the Millennials (selfie anyone?), the ones who were all fluff and no substance.  I just couldn’t imagine myself putting ideas about comic books on social media for people to see – besides, no would be interested in what I had to say anyway.  Obviously, I love using comic books in my classroom, but, at this point two or three years ago, I only spoke about them in class a few times.  But then a member of my department strongly suggested, alongside this staff developer, that I share what I do as well and I respected his opinion.  I began to tweet and blog – I found many supportive teachers who were fellow nerds like myself – I even managed to bring a few over to my way of thinking.  Certainly, my Tweeps helped me to share my passion during my worst year and gave me inspiration as well. However, this was not enough to quell the devastating events of this school-year.  Thank you, AJ Juliani (an amazing educator himself – @ajjuliani) for being that staff developer that truly believes in the power of sharing as it makes everyone better.

As I continued to struggle through my AP class, writing curriculum, and finding my role, a miracle (and I do think she is a miracle) happened and this worst of years became the most wonderful experience of my professional career as a teacher.  Vicky Pasquantonio (@vicpasquantonio) came into my life as an editor at PBS Newshour who just happened to read my blog.  She contacted me and asked me to write an article to be posted on PBS’ Teachers Lounge (a wonderful resource for teachers) about how I used comic books to academically and personally connect with students.  I was absolutely taken aback – someone wanted ME to write about using comic books in MY classroom?  Vicky is one of the warmest and supportive people I have ever “met” (I would love to meet her in person one day – she has a huge bear hug coming her way) as she gave me constant feedback during the process.  I loved our conversations over Twitter and email as she began to help me find my way in education once again.  As I wrote the article, I began to look at my classroom and experiences in a new light – I did some amazing things in my classroom.  I began to find my pride again and allowed myself to see what great students I had in front of me and they gave me a lot of support as well.  My wife, an English teacher (who will most likely check this article to ensure proper usage of the Oxford comma), help me write, rewrite, and rewrite the article many nights after we put the kids to bed.  We shared many of our experiences of teaching and our conversations became more and more positive as we chose to focus on all the great things that happened in our classrooms.  Once I hit that send button to Vicky (a moment I will never forget), I was nervous and excited.  Unfortunately for me, I didn’t realize how long things could take from writing to publishing – I just assumed it would be published that very night!  It took awhile, but Vicky stayed in touch with me and offered much encouragement on the article and other things that I had been tweeting about.  Then, in a meeting at work, I received a call on my cell phone.  When I checked it later, it was Vicky with the most excited voice leaving me a message that the article had been published!  She then texted me and gave me even more information.  I think Vicky was almost as excited as I was – she truly believed in what I did in my classroom and was genuinely happy for me.  She is truly a dedicated, hard-working, and genuine person – much like I would expect from such a giving organization like PBS.  She if life-changing and wants teachers, who often do not have a voice, to have a large platform from which to share their experiences.  (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/how-i-use-comic-books-as-a-learning-tool-in-my-social-studies-classroom/)

All of a sudden, my cell phone began to light up with “likes” and retweets as people around the world began to share my article and what I was doing in my classroom.  My life changed in that moment – I felt empowered, encouraged, and respected.  I cried.  I took my family out for dinner.  I shared my article with my children and I could see the pride that they and my wife had for me.  I cried again.  I honestly went from the worst year to the best year in the space of a few hours.

When I shared the article with my students, they were floored and so happy for me.  They were so excited that what we were doing together in the classroom found a large audience – they were as much a part of the journey as anyone else.  Then, students began to write comments on the article – I was absolutely stunned at their kindness and amazing words.  We talked about the article and how people can make a difference in the world by sharing their passions.  We honestly bonded as we all found that we “mattered” and could make an impact on the world around us.  Students had received texts during my class (earning them a teacher look) from their parents who were also excited about the article.  they wanted their kids to know that this article was out there about their teacher – and about them.  All this from comics.

I received support from other teachers and principals as word spread about the article – even clapping for me at a faculty meeting.  The school put my article up on their website and many community members liked and shared the article.  I was able to share this with my mom (we lost my Dad to ALS several years ago), and she was both proud and a bit surprised (for comics?).

In the weeks after Vicky published my article, I was also interviewed for Geekadelphia and made their Geek of the Week (this really made my principal laugh! – in a kind and supportive way!!!!).  (http://www.geekadelphia.com/2016/05/18/geek-of-the-week-tim-smyth-the-comics-inspired-teacher/)  Then Vicky and PBS also published an article for teacher appreciation week (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/its-teacher-appreciation-week-who-inspired-you-to-teach/) – asking why teachers became teachers.  This allowed me to share my thoughts about my Dad and his powerful impact on my life – it also allowed me to share an awesome picture that a student took of me as Superman.  Forgive me quoting my comments here, but I still find them powerful.  No one had really ever asked me before why I wanted to become a teacher.  I always knew that my father had a hand in it (he knew so much about history), but seeing it in print really solidified it for me.  Once that article was posted, I cried.  I mean I really cried.  Luckily, I was on prep in my classroom and alone.  I was able to let out so much grief that I had been holding onto after seeing what my father went through and needing to take care of my family.  I hadn’t really had the chance to grieve – he died during the first week of school – I didn’t even take a day off of school because I knew, as do all teachers, how important the first week of school is to everyone.  Seeing these words, my own words, allowed me to let out so much.  I again found so much more inspiration to teach when I realized that my Dad lived on through me in my classroom.  Below is the quote:

“My hard-working Philly cop Dad and I never were able to connect through the usual topics of sports or music. However, he always captivated me with his stories about Hannibal, the Civil War or World War II. His way of telling stories – both hysterical and somber – made me want to share these same experiences with others. I went into teaching in order to make my father proud of me but also to share who he was with future generations. Although we lost my dad to ALS, I know that I share a piece of him each and every day when I make my students laugh and when I see their faces light up during fascinating stories.”

Vicky again sent me some awesome messages and told me how heart felt and meaningful my words were to her.  The teachers who post at PBS are not just seen as some faceless person submitting an article and then moving on.  I truly feel a part of the family as I continue to have contact with Vicky through Twitter and email.

Following all of this, Dutch Godshalk, editor for Montgomery Media, came to interview me in my classroom and published an article on me in the local newspaper and online.  (http://www.montgomerynews.com/articles/2016/05/19/ambler_gazette/news/doc573dfd68b1353407316544.txt) I was laughing so hard when it came out — I made the front page in my Superman pose!  My poor wife had to go into the store to buy multiple copies (I won’t divulge how many I made her buy) and the owner asked her why she was buying so many.  when she pointed to the picture on the front page, he smiled and said – oh, you’re married to Superman!  (Did I mention how awesome my wife is?)  My kids were thrilled to see their father on the front of the newspaper and could not wait to take it to school to show their teachers.  Dutch really took a lot of time to discuss my classroom experiences and he also showed genuine interest.  Dutch and Vicky have shown me that words really can change the world when you care enough to be invested in the topic at hand.

I then decided to put in an application to present at WizardWorld’s Philadelphia comic con (my family goes every year.  Again, my wife is awesome!)  on comics in education.  The person in charge of programming took a look at my articles and gave me immediate approval.  I just presented on June 4th – my wife and kids were there in the front row to see me speak, all alone, to a room full of people.  After I presented for my hour, many of the people stayed to ask me questions, to ask if they could email me for suggestions and inspiration.  Some just came up to shake my hand and tell me what a great presentation I had given.  This was all while the Back to the Future reunion was going on, so I must have done something right!  Hearing my wife and kids telling me how proud they were of me gave me some of the best feelings of my life.  It really was the most terrifying thing I have ever done – again, I was one of those quiet teachers who thought that those who shared what they did were just being boastful.  I had no idea if anyone would even show up.  I am proud of myself (this is a new feeling for me) for doing this and know that I could not have done it without all of the support of those around me.  My students came into class and excitedly asked me how my presentation went.  I walked them through some of it, shared some pictures, and also told them that I shared specific work that they had completed – they found this to be awesome.  Some laughed at seeing me in a TMNT costume – but in a good way – it’s always good to show students your human side.

What’s next?  I was invited to present on a panel at the San Diego International Comic Con in July.  When I texted my wife during work, her only response was – go for it (did I tell you she’s awesome?).  We rearranged our summer plans, cut back on spending, and are now in the middle of planning a bucket-list adventure that had never even entered my mind before all of this happened just over two months ago.

I have also applied to present my lessons to a social studies conference in Harrisburg – this will be a whole new audience, so I am nervous.  This was because Anthony Gabriele (@mrgabriele), a curriculum supervisor, cared enough to reach out to me via email and suggest that I present at the conference.

Now I have people thanking me for giving them inspiration for classroom ideas from around the world.  I have students who tell me how much they love being in my class and the passion I bring to the lessons.  Just two years ago, I questioned using comics in the classroom – I was too A-type and by the book.  I questioned myself (I still do).  But now?  I am a better teacher and I love going to work each and everyday.  I am so thankful to the people who helped me in this crazy journey and to my students who have shown me so much love and support.

My only regret is not realizing the power of sharing with others earlier in my career.  I have found so much inspiration from fellow teachers on Twitter and Facebook – and also from authors and artists.  Share your passion!  Shout it out loud!  We live in a world where teaching is not always respected and where we focus so much on testing – let the world know what you do.  It is not boatful or selfish — it is only selfish if you keep your great ideas to yourself.

Next year, I will go back to being my more quiet self – my exposure has been bordering on obnoxious.  But I will enter the next part of my career with a newfound confidence and excitement.

I am so grateful to be surrounded by such support – family, friends, neighbors, teachers, administrators, parents, and, yes, students.

Thank you, AJ.  Thank you, Vicky.  Thank you, Dutch.  Thank you, Anthony.  And to my wife and best friend – thank you with all the love in my being.

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Ms Marvel

I came across an amazing Ted Talk by G. Willow Wilson (author of Ms. Marvel) and decided that I simply had to share it with my students.  I created a powerpoint showing some panels from the first issue of Ms. Marvel and asked my students to analyze them.  I asked – are the experiences of Kamala Khan atypical as a Pakistani/Islamic Jersey 16 year old, or do you share similar experience?  Turns out – we could all relate to being the outsider, the minority, the person with the “weird” family traditions, with having strict parents, etc.  For a short presentation, it really turned into a powerful conversation with my students.

I love that Wilson’s message was to my students – that she has hope for their generation and their inclusiveness.  I have been teaching for 15 years and I share her opinion – the things we talk about in class today never would have happened when I was in high school (early 1990s).  Yet, my students don’t really bat an eye when someone is gay, Muslim, lifeskills, etc — it is so great to see.

My final question to them was – are the diversity changes in American comics simply political correctness, or a mirror of a more inclusive audience?

Here is the powerpoint that includes the images and a link to Wilson’s Ted Talk –

https://t.co/vKYwOEobHi

Here is just the Ted Talk –

Here is an awesome reading to go along with it –

https://t.co/FQwhxf40f9

 

History Superheroes

First – let me give credit where it is due  As educators, we often adapt the ideas we see from others – I want to give my utmost thanks to:

  1. Quinn Rollins, author of Play Like a Pirate and awesome Twitter friend, follow him @jedikermit.  I really would suggest buying his book as it is full of amazingly fun and engaging lessons for all classrooms – there are ideas that you can put in place right away that will change your approach to teaching.

2. I took an online course last year, Rise of Superheroes Class,  with Michael Uslan and Stan Lee! – I am not sure if it is still being offered, but I would highly recommend you check it out if you are into pop culture, comics, and history.  The teachers involved in the course created a Facebook group – feel free to join – (Comic Book Teachers – closed group).  At the conclusion of the course, we were tasked with submitting a superhero and villain with a backstory.  We all had so much fun that I decided I wanted to include it into my own social studies class. My two submissions are below and I shared them with my students as inspiration.  The first is Leonardo da Vinci and his “enemy” the pope.  As a person who is artistically challenged, I was pleased to hear about an online superhero creator that would help me – Hero Machine — I also shared this resource with my students, who could either draw their creations or use this awesome tool.

RenaissanceMan2 Pope1

 

 

Basic Idea:

Students were allowed to choose any figure who had a large and positive impact on the world around them.  The time period was not restricted – it could be someone from thousands of years ago or from the world of today.  I also left open the category – students chose politicians, artists, scientists, conquerors, etc.  The end result was to be a student created superhero/action figure and the packaging in which the superhero would be included. (Thanks again for the inspiration Quinn!  Seriously – buy the book, Play Like a Pirate)

Subject Area – I teach high school social studies – but this could be used in ANY subject area.

Age Group – ANY age group.

Timeline:

Students were given two weeks to create their superheroes.  We began the process on one of those dreaded half-days when we see students for 20 minutes – the perfect amount of time to introduce the assignment and begin the brainstorming.   I also gave students two half-hour sessions in class to work on the assignment and to bounce ideas off of each other.  I am lucky to teach in a district where all students are given laptops, so no one was left out of the technology aspect.

Resources:

*Art supplies – I put out rulers, markers, colored pencils, etc. for those who chose to draw.

*Google images search of action figure packaging

*I also completed some “field research” at Toys R Us and took pictures of many action figures – Star Wars and Superheroes — but also of Barbie and others – looking for positive role models.  I also purchased multiple examples to bring into the classroom – the students enjoyed having the hands on experience of being able to turn these boxes around in their hands and see all perspectives.  As my four classes are each named after a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, I also purchased four of these action figures to be awarded as a prize for the winning entry in each class. (Michelangelo for the Orange class, Leonardo for the Blue class, etc).  And, yes – I use the TMNTs as a hook when teaching about Renaissance art.

teenage-mutant-ninja-painters

*My Powerpoint explaining the assignment and including some of my field-research: Directions Powerpoint

In this Powerpoint, I also included the actual worksheet and design instructions as well.  Students were given paper copies of the worksheets, but they were also able to create their own, as long as they included the same topics/headings.   I was asked to give extra credit if the students chose to create 3-D packaging – since I saw this as a first-time collaborative lesson, I allowed for this and was very please with the results.  I had two favorite parts of the design instructions – allies and enemies and the warning.  These two sections really allowed the students to get creative and to think about history.  For the allies and enemies, students were asked to look throughout time and to find other historical figures for these teams.  The warning was for pure enjoyment and allowed for creativity.

*Worksheets with directions, etc.

SuperheroFrontBlank SuperheroFrontFilledOut SuperheroBackDirections SuperheroBackBlank

*Books, comic books, graphic novels, and historical action figures.  I set our classroom tables up by organizing  each into subjects (ancient, modern, women’s history, black history, etc).  The students needed to spend mandatory time looking at each table before making a decision on who to research for their history superhero.  (I am so happy that we have tables in our classroom and not individual student desks in rows – we love the collaboration!)

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*Voting – we created a basic open-ended voting sheet to be filled out – specific examples needed to be used, as well as convincing language to sell me on the votes.  The students also needed to vote for a runner-up in case I needed to disqualify an entry for one reason or another.  The language particularly came into play in one class as there was a tie — I gave the win to the entry that had the most compelling arguments.

*Google Form for the school-wide vote.  After students in each class voted for a winner, we then sent out the four winning entries to the high school staff to cote for an overall winner.  Following are the winners and the runners up – Voting Form

*Superhero playlist used as students completed work: of course we used some of the usual superhero TV themes, but I also tried to include some other songs that had superhero connections.  I love blaring music, battle sounds, etc and to look at people’s quizzical looks as they walk past out loud classroom.  Here are some of the songs we were playing:

One Call Away by Charlie Puth, Turtle Power (from the 80s movie) by Partners in Kryme, Superman by Taylor Swift

Superman by Five for Fighting, Iron Man by Black Sabbath, Kryptonite by 3 Doors Down, Flash’s Theme by Queen

Superman by R.E.M., Superman by Lazlo Bane, My Hero by Foo Fighters, Heroes by Alesso, Brave by Sara Bareilles

Spiderman by the Ramones

*Displays – after everything was finished, I put many of the entries into the hallway so that others could view them –

Display2Display1

 

Ideas for next time – we had a class discussion about the successes and failures of the lesson.  Students gave me some of the following ideas:

To Change:

Give this assignment at the beginning or end of the school year, not when so much else is going on.  My students were in the middle of a research paper, so some felt that this was too much to do along with it. However, others remarked that it gave a great break from other work…

Tie the Superhero project into the research paper – perhaps create a biography research paper proving the impact of the person chosen…

Make the following ideas as part of a menu option for extra credit:

-Superhero theme song creation, Superhero movie trailer, Dress like the character, Create a toy commercial

Modify:

-Assign each class a different area of the world or a time period

-Create categories – funniest/most clever, best art, etc. so that there is not just one overall winner for each class.

Overall – every student remarked how excited they were to work on this project and how much fun it was – yet also expressed surprise at how much they learned as well!  I can’t wait to assign this lesson again next year and make it even more engaging and exciting.  My main lesson from this is to focus on the research (biography) portion first – before assigning the drawing.  Some students were so eager to create their superhero, that the research was not where I wanted it to be.  A simply fix is to make turning in the biography paper (and mastering it) as the gateway for beginning the drawing portion.

Here as some of the amazing creations:

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Frankenstein, Star Wars, and the Industrial Revolution

FrankGraphicNovel FrankSpiderman VaderFrank CloneWars

 

This isn’t exactly using comic books in the classroom, but still incorporating pop culture to get students to engage and write.

Reading begets reading and writing begets writing – in every class, not just Language Arts.

I like beginning with current events to introduce an historical topic and why it matters today.  As such, the students completed research and presented on child labor in the world today.  When my 15 year olds really get an idea of what is going on to others of their age group around the world, it begins them out of their comfort zone a bit.  Now that I had them hooked, we researched on the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution and compared the labor then and now.  As the all-important “so what” of the lesson – we began to discuss how changing technology can lead to both irrational and rational fears – I discussed the fears of putting a microwave oven into a home, etc.

The students were then given an excerpt from Frankenstein and told to complete the story – they were given complete freedom to finish it in any way – funny, scary, gory, etc.  They were also asked to draw a visual from their written scene.  The excerpt is below…

  • “I started from my sleep with horror; a cold dew covered my forehead, my teeth chattered, and every limb became convulsed; when, by the dim and yellow light of the moon, as it forced its way through the window shutters, I beheld the wretch – the miserable monster whom I had created. He held up the curtain of the bed; and his opened eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me. His jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulated sounds while a grin wrinkled his cheeks. He might have spoken, but I did not hear; one hand stretched out, seemingly to detain me.”
  • What is the name of this famous book? Take a guess…
  • Now you finish the story….

The following day, the students were instructed to pair/share their stories – something which I really did not need to instruct them to do.  The students simply could not wait to share what they had drawn and written.  The classroom was abuzz with laughter, chatter, and even squeals of mock horror and being grossed-out.  The students were then asked to either share their or their partners stories and/or drawings.  I was thoroughly impressed by the creativity of the students and I read and commented on their stories.

The students were also given a copy of a cartoon depicting 6 technological changes – there job, in groups, was to figure out what was going on in each one and then to summarize the overall message.  Again – we fear what we do not understand.  This was a great lesson in using textual evidence from a cartoon – giving specific examples to back up their opinion.  How do you know is works for the church?  How do you know that it is Columbus or Magellan, etc. (see powerpoint)

 

The next question then, was – why did I give this activity?  We discussed the background of Mary Shelly and how her story helps us to understand how people can react to the world changing around them.  Machines, factories, changing family structure, etc — of course, this also led us to discuss The Terminator movies as well.

My favorite part of the lesson was that students were able to shine with different strengths – we have some great storytellers and writers – but also some astounding artists.  While focusing on skills, content, and the common core, we still need to create lessons that engage all types of learners as well.

I then began to present the powerpoint presentation as we delved into Star Wars and cloning – students were asked to answer the following questions, then to pair/share at their tables.

  1. Do you think scientists should be allowed to clone human 
beings? Explain.
  2. Do clones have souls? Can they go to Heaven? Explain
  3. Should two clones be allowed to have children? Explain
  4. How would “original” humans treat these cloned humans?
  5. If the technology were available, should a pregnant mother 
and/or father be allowed to alter a fetus – eye color, gender, 
height, heart defect, etc? Explain.

This conversation had the students buzzing with comments and defending their opinions as we discussed as a whole class.  we talked about how sports would be affected, how original humans (us) would be the lower class if #5 were possible, how the wealthy might be the only ones who could afford #5, and, of course, making perfect soldiers as in the Clone Wars.

We did not finish where I wanted as it was difficult to stop the students from discussing and questioning – a teachable moment that I was not going to stop.  We will finish today.

The link for my powerpoint and video clips – https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0q0hv_n2-9xa0J1RUpPUi1lNVU/view?usp=sharing

Here are some great examples of writing and drawing – my favorite is Dr. Frankenstein being take down by a militarized PETA as he mistreated the “animal”.

 

FrankStory2 FrankStory3 FrankStory1 Frank2 Frank1 Frank8 Frank6 Frank10 Frank9 Frank3 Frank4

 

 

 

 

Hip Hop as History

My high school is incorporating a new African-American history course for seniors and we began a conversation on what to include.  I could not help but put in my love of Hip Hop and comics.  What do you think?  Any additions?  Please feel free to add in the comments section.

 

Just some thoughts moving forward – as a Hip Hop fan – I wonder if there will be some music history thrown in to the course.  As a white man (spoiler alert!), I do not believe that an genre of music belongs to any one color/culture – but Hip Hop (and comic books) are true American inventions – and there is certainly a lot of history here as young black men and women strove to find a voice through music (remember when Hip Hop and rap was all political and not all about the size of car rims?  Sigh).  I remember Ishmael Bae talking, and writing (A Long Way Gone) , about his struggles as a child soldier in Africa – and he listened to the same music as I did at his age – he saw himself in Public Enemy and had hope.  Anyway – just throwing this out there – I’d be happy to help with any of this when the course is running or to do research for you if you are interested. 

I could see taking apart a song like this one from Nas – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvVfgvHucRY  — especially the second half.

Or KRS One – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=blzJETBmlt0

Or – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHdvnJ6w96I

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uKBoAjxzXkE (Acknowledge Your Own History)

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=tie+my+hands+lil+wayne – Tie my hands – references Katrina

http://www.songlyrics.com/big-k-r-i-t/praying-man-lyrics/ – praying man w/BB King

 

 

I have used two Public Enemy songs to teach annotations, textual analysis, and history – it is used alongside an awesome graphic novel about Nat Turner by Kyle Baker that gets into whether he was a hero or murderer.  My lesson plan is here – (it has links to the songs) http://historycomics.edublogs.org/2014/11/10/nat-turner-slavery-and-imperialism-through-comics-and-hip-hop/  – it is one of my all-time favorite lessons.  I want to have my kids tweet with Chuck D and Kyle Baker – working on it!

 

Then there is this awesome comic that traces the history of Hip Hop – includes plenty of white artists as well – but the language is a bit questionable for the classroom

hiphopfamilytree1_lg

 

 

I am also working on a database of comics that I have on Black History – I continue to update it – I have many of these displayed in my room for extra credit.  http://historycomics.wikispaces.com/African-American

 

If you are on Twitter, #hiphoped is an awesome hashtag to talk to other educators with similar interests.

 

ANYWAY – thanks for reading my random thoughts here – just trying to help. 

 

 

The value of buy-in

I watched an amazing Ted Talk today that inspired me to update this blog – https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story?language=en#t-813190

This woman brought together so many of my thoughts, fears, and hopes as an educator, father, concerned citizen, and social studies teacher.  I apologize in advance for my rough thoughts – I will polish this all up later – but I am taking full advantage of when my wife has been kind enough to put my three young children to bed as she saw the fire light in my eyes.  I have AP Econ work to be doing – but this has taken precedence.

My thoughts while watching this video, and my initial nerd comic thought:

Morales ObamaSpiderman

Comics are such an insight into society and should be used as artifacts – and I am excited at all of the changes that have been happening in the past few years.  I am proud to display my Spiderman comic with Obama on the cover – the fact that he is a Spiderman fan makes it all the better.  I have comics displayed all over my room and have managed to reach many “unreachable” students on the once fringe of society thought this medium – my comic book classroom is always filled to capacity to those wishing to discuss comics and the history that is shown through them.  Anyway – the first image of “I am Spiderman” connects me to a powerful moment as an educator.  I had a particular economically poor African-American male student who was full of the stereotypical tough guy, screw school attitude.  I was unable to connect with him until I put up my Miles Morales Spiderman comic.  He shyly came to me one day after class and asked if he could have a look at the comic.  Not only did I let him look at it (trying to contain my nervousness at him crinkling the corners – lol) but I began to talk to him about it.  When I went to the comic book store (admittedly every Wednesday – my poor wife) during the school year, I bought this student a new copy of the comic.  He was absolutely astonished that Spiderman could look like him – that he could be a superhero.  This was a kid who was never into comics but now was hooked.   A student who would never read (he was too cool – also that he was too ashamed to admit that we was well below reading level), but who would now stay after class to discuss the politics of the comics and its social ramifications.  He loved that I took a personal interest in him – and that, as a white male – that we were able to connect on a new shared interest (we later discussed Hip Hop and its reflections of contemporary society).  When I gave him a coveted edition of the Obama comic, he was absolutely astounded that I would do this for him.  The connection was obvious – if Spiderman could look like him, if the president could look like him – what could he do?  I count myself lucky to have had this student as a freshman – I had the opportunity to help shape him and to give him hope – we still interact in the hallway — he has been known to cause problems for some others when around his friends.  But when he sees me, it is always – Hi, Mr. Smyth – how you doing?  The head nod he gives me says everything.  The handshake and eye contact are deep and heartfelt – I have such hopes for him.  I am proud of him and check in with him often.  This speaks volumes to the Ted Talk – that we want to see ourselves reflected in classrooms, movies, books, etc.

OK – now to my thoughts as I watch the Ted Talk – I promise that I will polish this up later.

ishmael-beah-feat-700x350

Ishmael Bae – this is an absolute must-read that I read aloud to my students every year.  I heard him speak at Villanova University and I was also lucky enough to talk to him following his speech.  I cannot imagine what this man went thought – but his story certainly personalizes history for my students who too often doze in the traditional textbook middle of the road rhetoric.  I connected with him as we wrote and spokje about listening to American hip-hop while growing up in the horrors that he experienced – that someone who looked like him could have so much power.  We both reminisced on the origins of hip-hop as a political movement based on change – this movement has now largely become more of who has the bigger rims and who can treat women the worst.  I often use Public Enemy and Chuck D as examples of the movements of the 80s and connect Ferguson and slavery — how much has changed and how much further do we need to travel as a society to make Jefferson’s words true – “All men are created equal…”  We listen to several Public Enemy songs in class and while reading parts of Kyle Baker’s phenomenal graphic novel on Nat Turner (see lesson here – http://historycomics.edublogs.org/2014/11/10/nat-turner-slavery-and-imperialism-through-comics-and-hip-hop/)

When I taught 10th grade Global History (I am hopefully going back to this next year) – I used to have my students write pen pal letters to students in Africa.  I always laughed when the letters came in for the first time – my wealthy students were often taken aback at the pictures that were sent to them – kids their age dressed in jeans and t-shirts.  Admittedly, my students were often expecting a picture of a kid with a spear and grass skirt.  This led us into great conversations on how Africa is NOT a country and that the people on the continent are as advanced, if not more so, than we are here.

I like African (and Gaelic) tribal drum music MUCH more than Mariah Carey – especially after she dumped Nick Cannon

Africa is not a country – all blacks are not African – my Jamaican students has taken exception at being called African-Americans.  They are not from Africa and identify with being call black.  This then leads us into a discussion on how there are black people who live in the caucus mountains – thus making them Caucasian!  I have also had white students (Afrikaans) from South-Africa – they could be considered African-American!  We have these discussions to make the class a save environment and to help the students to not get caught up in labels.

Gold Digger – THOSE people – only using current events – not history.   When teaching about the Haitian War of Independence, I use the 2010 earthquake and response as a vehicle to discuss contemporary American views of the world.  Americans are great at offering aid to those who need it – but we are often short-sighted in terms of why “those people” are this way – we need to understand the history of why certain areas in the world are in their situation – often through American or European Imperialism.  Central Africans are no less smart or civilized than we are here in the United States. We need to get past this “one story”
GoldDigger

Black = less than – always been slavery – difference in African slavery in modern era is that it was because they were black – less than – social Darwinism – science run amok.

Holocaust – learned engineers.   This is why I teach.  Chills down my spine everytime.

young-voices-in-holocaust-2-638

What is it to be black/African? I was a whigger. Is rap only a black thing? Country music a white thing?

Sojourner truth video – simply must watch – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vr_vKsk_h8

Schema – folder – muslims = terrorist.  As educators, we know that people are set up to organize and categorize – schema.  This is what leads to stereotypes.  This doesn’t make us racist- just something of which to be made aware.

History was often told in the eye of the powerful – those without written languages often left out – leopold book is the best example.  A must read of how Western Civ was built on the backs of others in the name of progress and science.

king-leopolds-ghost

Whitewashing of history in Africa and the light skinned pharoahs

Age of Absolutism through Don Quixote, graphic novels, art, movies, and music

Topic – Spanish Golden Age as an intro to the Age of Absolute Monarchs.  This is an excellent lesson to use for cross-curricular efforts with art and language arts teachers as well.

If the powerpoint or videos do not download for you – please email me at historycomicsguy@gmail.com and I would be happy to help.

Class: Two classes of 9th grade academic and two of 9th grade honors Western Civilization courses – approximately 95 students.  Courses run for 58 minutes each session.

Resources:

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. Translated by P. A. Motteux. Wordsworth Classics.  1993. ISBN 9781853260360. Book also available online – Project Gutenberg is an awesome resource – many texts are also audio texts.

The Complete Don Quixote. Adapted and Illustrated by Rob Davis. Self Made Hero. 2013. ISBN 9781906838652. (This is a graphic novel adaptation using more contemporary language.)

World History: Pattern of Interaction.  McDougal Littell. 2009.  ISBN 9780547034751. (class textbook)

Don Quixote by Coldplay.  Lyrics and video widely available.

Elizabeth Movies:

Teacher powerpointAbsolutism Powerpoint

Setup –

1. Students will have read a textbook selection and answered some basic questions about absolutism and Philip II.  Class will begin with a do now to discuss and to create a definition of this term in small groups.  (We use a Frayer model to guide the thinking and defining.)

2. I will then introduce to Spanish Golden Age and don Quixote.

3. Students will then read through pp. 10-14 of the graphic novel version of the text.  Their mission is to use both textual and pictorial evidence to begin creating a character sketch of Quixote.  Students will pair/share and then we will have a class discussion on what was seen and read.  I make sure that the students fully understand the innuendos present in the drawings and how they add to the prose.  (The empty wine glasses strewn about, the “crazy” eyes of Quixote, the look from Dulcinea, etc).

Quixote2Quixote1Quixote3

 

Students will inevitably describe Quixote  as a delusional fool.

4. Students then read the following portion of the text and react with a character sketch using adjectives and textual evidence.

At this point they came in sight of thirty forty windmills that there are on plain, and as soon as Don Quixote saw them he said to his squire, “Fortune is arranging matters for us better than we could have shaped our desires ourselves, for look there, friend Sancho Panza, where thirty or more monstrous giants present themselves, all of whom I mean to engage in battle and slay, and with whose spoils we shall begin to make our fortunes; for this is righteous warfare, and it is God’s good service to sweep so evil a breed from off the face of the earth.”

“What giants?” said Sancho Panza.

“Those thou seest there,” answered his master, “with the long arms, and some have them nearly two leagues long.”

“Look, your worship,” said Sancho; “what we see there are not giants but windmills, and what seem to be their arms are the sails that turned by the wind make the millstone go.”

“It is easy to see,” replied Don Quixote, “that thou art not used to this business of adventures; those are giants; and if thou art afraid, away with thee out of this and betake thyself to prayer while I engage them in fierce and unequal combat.”

So saying, he gave the spur to his steed Rocinante, heedless of the cries his squire Sancho sent after him, warning him that most certainly they were windmills and not giants he was going to attack. He, however, was so positive they were giants that he neither heard the cries of Sancho, nor perceived, near as he was, what they were, but made at them shouting, “Fly not, cowards and vile beings, for a single knight attacks you.”

A slight breeze at this moment sprang up, and the great sails began to move, seeing which Don Quixote exclaimed, “Though ye flourish more arms than the giant Briareus, ye have to reckon with me.”

So saying, and commending himself with all his heart to his lady Dulcinea, imploring her to support him in such a peril, with lance in rest and covered by his buckler, he charged at Rocinante’s fullest gallop and fell upon the first mill that stood in front of him; but as he drove his lance-point into the sail the wind whirled it round with such force that it shivered the lance to pieces, sweeping with it horse and rider, who went rolling over on the plain, in a sorry condition. Sancho hastened to his assistance as fast as his ass could go, and when he came up found him unable to move, with such a shock had Rocinante fallen with him.”

The students are expected to annotate – ask questions, make connections, underline important passages, etc.  The class then begins to share words that describe Quixote.  These words always paint Quixote as some sort of delusional fool.

5. The students then watch a short youtube video clip of this scene.  Again – they are asked to describe Quixote.

6. We then go through the remainder of the powerpoint and I do my best to give my interpretation of Quixote as a hero – that we could use someone like him in the world today.  Sometimes I convince the students, sometimes I do not – but it is all about providing textual evidence and analysis.

7. The students will read and annotate the Coldplay lyrics of Don Qiuxote BEFORE listening to the song.  We discus how music itself can change meaning and mood – we focus on the text first.  I then model my annotations – but I make it clear that everyone’s opinions matter -as long as the can be back up by text.  Nothing ruins a song or poem more for me than when a teacher tells me what it must mean.

 

 

Slaughterhouse 5, WWII, and Comics

Purpose:

In the attempt to support the teaching of Slaughterhouse 5 in the Language Arts classroom – this will help in giving the students a historical framework through which to understand the events in the book.

Resources:

Slaughterhouse 5 – Kurt Vonnegut

Barefoot Gen – Volume 1 – Keiji Nakazawa ISBN 978-0-86719-602-3 (introduction by Art Spiegelman)

GenBookGenBook1

Barefoot Gen – anime movie DVD

GenMovie

Amazing Spiderman #36

All Quiet on the Western Front – 1930 DVD.

Teacher Powerpoint – https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0q0hv_n2-9xeE91Y2hpVFk2alk/view?usp=sharing

Timeframe – one block period – approx. 80 minutes.

 

WWI: Poetry and Comic Books

Assignment –

Students will be creating an original WWI poem and visual.  This is a great cross-curricular activity between the humanities classes and is easily adaptable.  As my Language Arts partner was teaching similes in her course, I made it a part of the rubric to be included in the poem.  The poem must consist of a minimum amount of lines and stanzas – onomatopoeias, while encouraged, do not count as a line unto themselves.  I also require a minimum of three direct references to WWI – this is not a poem about any war, but about the Great War.  As the social studies teacher, I also help my students engage in annotating poems to further reinforce the humanities aspect.

As for the visual – students must draw their own creations to illustrate the events in the poem.

Students will then pair/share in small groups and I will then ask for volunteers to share with the entire class.  I will then put up the work around the classroom and in the hallways.

Resources:

Poetry Directions

WWI Poems to annotate

All Quiet on the Western Front

Pro-War Poem

WWI comics and graphic novels

In particular, my class will be using Joe Sacco’s The Great War. SaccoBook Trust me – buy this book!  Do a Google Image search – you will not be disappointed!

The book folds out to a HUGE “poster” running across the back of the entire room.  The drawing is annotated and I place summaries of what is going on in each panel and the students walk along for inspiration.

SaccoWall SaccoCloseup

Supplies – multiple comics, a WWI Bulletproof Bible (Slaughterhouse Five connection), posters around the room, construction paper, drawing implements

SaccoPosters SaccoSupplies

Teacher Powerpoint – given to the students over the course of a few days as they also complete research – https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B0q0hv_n2-9xanlsbWpYQmZmYjQ