Thursday, March 15, 2012

Faster than a speeding train

I jumped into my superhero and hero unit with second grade hoping inspiration would come my way. talking about heros and superheros with the kids is hard work!! I was hoping to problematize the manner in which superheros solve their problems (with uber-cool superpowers and a lusty amount of violence), but let's admit it ... the problems superheros tackle in popular media are generally circumstances in which violence may be justified ... at least in some circles. Discussion on the necessity of violence at all is a whole different blog post, I think.

Don't get me wrong; I find the amount of violence in the media problematic, but I was hoping to help kids really look critically at what makes someone a hero. It doesn't help the conversation when some children still can't distinguish between reality and media (what do you mean Superman's not real?).

The challenge has been to help kids see the similarities and differences between heros and superheros. Ask them who their hero is and many children will list a family member. Of course, our public safety and military are always represented well in these lists, too. My most-oft listed similarity is that real or media-created, heros help people. OK, good. We're getting somewhere. When asked about differences, I usually get, "superheros fly and real heros don't" ... or "heros are real and superheros aren't." Again, I guess we're getting somewhere. Clearly, I recognize that as my first time teaching this unit, I have not included the kinds of quality activities or resources that are helping the kids get into the thinking I hoped we would.

But I finally had an activity go pretty well. At least the start of it, and I imagine that as I figure out exactly what I am doing in this unit, things will go better. :-)

I asked students to name problems that a hero might help with. First answers were in typical kid style: kidnapping, somebody about to shoot somebody else ... violent acts with often violent solutions. No good. This time, I tried pulling out some of those typical acts of service depicted in every scout manual in the nation ... walking an old lady across the street, getting a cat out of a tree. Yes, shameful, I know. But I needed the kids to think of small stuff. Now the great ideas came! Helping clean a house, tie your shoes, learn to ride a bike ... much better. And, considering that many named family members who were considered heros for helping them do some of these exact feats, it worked well to underscore the lesson.

After we listed things people might need help with (because heros help others), we started pictures on Kerpoof. We used the following writing prompt to guide our illustration: A hero would ... A superhero would ...

In our work, I let our students choose the phrase superhero or media hero. To me, they are one in the same, although some comic book aficionado is certain to correct me what indeed, every media hero does not qualify as a superhero. To little kids, they might as well be the same and for me, fake is fake. Some heros might be more believable than others ... certainly Jethro Gibbs is slightly more believable than Captain Hammer, but fake is fake.

Ah, I digress. Anyways, I created the following prompt to demonstrate the activity: A hero would look both ways and then help the girl cross the street, A superhero would use her freeze vision to stop the cars and then let the girl cross the street. I used a scene in the Make a Picture tool in Kerpoof with a road and lopsided buildings. Very Seussical. And yes, I found a boy holding his hand out ... perfect for stopping someone from doing something unsafe. I dug up a picture of a girl with a lollipop and a superhero shooting a blue ray out of her hand, OK, on second thought, it would have been better if it was her eyes, but hey, it's pretty close! I layered an iceberg over a car which actually gave the effect of a frozen car! I'd say it was a pretty sweet ordeal. A little cheesy, shameless dialogue to the hero and superhero, and voila! A great example.

The students really got it. I look forward to finding a way (I hope) to share some of my students' wonderful work here. We're still finishing up our pictures, but I hope that the hyperbole that this activity s prone to: 1. ignites some interest and voice in my students' writing and 2. distinguishes the exaggerated manner in which superheros tackle problems. Hopefully, by comparison, we can have a good laugh and come to the realization that people don't need superpowers to be heros.

My students need to hear this message. They need to hear that one need not be able to fly, run faster than a speeding train, or for heaven's sake, one need not even be a professional ball player (name your variety) to be a hero. To make a real impact in someone's life means the courage and strength to do what is right. Period.