Educators Should Watch Marvel Movies

Infinity Stones, Loki (not to be confused with Low-Key), #WakandaForever – if these terms go over your head you’re not alone.

This Friday a feat rarely matched in popular culture will come to pass: a film that brings EIGHTEEN films together over a span of 10 years. Have you been a part of it? If you’re an educator, you should be.

No, really. If you’re teaching stuff to students, you need to watch the Marvel Movies.

Wakanda FOrever
Click Here for Teaching Black Panther in the Classroom Resources

Trust me, I’m not an action movie fan. I thought the worst part of Batman vs. Superman was the Batmobile car chase, and I liked the parts with Congress (although they did politics better in Captain America: Civil War). But the Marvel Movie Universe is being widely consumed in our culture, is generally significant and in our media, and really does have literary merit that should be discussed – outside of (and within) the fights and explosions.

I realised not enough educators are talking about this film when I started to hear the reactions from many teens about Black Panther – “it was ok”. Clearly they don’t know how to read movies – and adults with a deeper understanding of cultural weight aren’t engaging with them.

In a generation that is rapidly decreasing its consumption of traditional literature, it is more important than ever that we infuse critical and textual literacy into our discussions of mass media – through all subjects.

As an educator, you DON’T want to be removed from the conversation everyone is having (in this case, the Infinity War Conversation), or you can’t educate into it. This goes for teens, but also your uncle or millennial sister-in-law or whoever is relevant.

I have three big reasons for Educators to watch marvel movies.

1. Critical Literacy

Superheroes reading a book

Media teachers all know that using a piece of culture of which students are familiar – like Disney Princesses, or Axe Body Spray – invites them into a conversation they can’t access with as much expertise if we start them off with a critique of, say, CNN. Marvel movies both serve as a “way in”, and as a teaching tool to avoid consuming media without applying literacy and critique. For example, if they thought Ant-Man and Thor – or even Iron Man and Iron Man 2 – were made at the same level of excellence, craftsmanship, aesthetic merit, attention to thematic significance, and writing, then they’re not “reading” movies well in general – and you can tease that out in the classroom.

My Superheroes Unit covers the following types of literacy:

Media literacy – differentiating text-types, implicit and explicit messaging,

Visual literacy—analyzing an image, video, text and image, comics (genre), film, graphic literacy

Cultural literacy –from where does popular culture arise? Cultural influences of media, media manipulation of culture; adaptation/appropriation

There is a deep cultural significance to Black Panther’s success, to a 19-film juggernaut series making us sit through 10 minutes of film credits every time (think of the job creation!), and to Thanos as a villain threatening the destruction of earth. We have kids in our classrooms for a short time – why not use that time to engage them critically and give them the tools to succeed as adults?

2. Cultural Critique

Captain America
The first issue of Captain America was published in 1941 – a year before America entered WWII

If you go back on the history of comics, heroes, and popular culture, each hero comes to us at a particular time as a reaction to something within the culture (a colleague taught me this while we were talking about movies). We know from the famous “Captain America punches Hitler” cover that “Cap” comes in at a time when America needs to get more active on the world stage (WWII had some bad dudes to stop). But the significance of superheroes to contemporary culture threads all the way through comic history. Wolverine was a grizzled war vet suffering from PTSD around IRL Vietnam vets coming home broken. The Dark Knight Returns – Frank Miller’s “gritty reboot” of Batman – came out in the midst of the Nuclear Freeze, Reaganomics, and the rise of the Yuppie. It begs the question(s): What world has made us long for Wakanda? What world has made us anxious that Thanos cannot be defeated by the good guys we’ve seen defeat bad guys for 10 years?

A few weeks ago a student sat beside me in the library, and said, “Hey- who do you think has the soul stone?” He thought it was Heimdall. And you know what? I was convinced. His level of analysis had me sold.

Heimdall
Heimdall, played by Idris Elba, is the orange-eyed Bi-Frost guardian in the Thor films.

The joy of discussing fan theories and the state of culture aside, how can you understand your students’ depth of thought if you’re not participating in their thought world?

Engaging teens through fan theories and visual literacy (e.g. Heimdall’s eyes, powers, and the stones), engaging let-downs and critiques and reconciling them with film, cultural, and literary history – wishing for literary, thematic, and symbolic cohesion – and engaging with the WHY – (Fan Theories are all trying to make a narrative make sense)- show a high level of literacy, which we can’t see if we’re not a part of the conversation. And we can’t challenge it, either.

3. Cultural Narrative and Participation

Cassius is Loki.gif
Loki (the villain from Thor and Avengers) has been described as Cassius (Julius Caesar), Edmund (King Lear), and Iago (Othello)

There is a lot of discussion about whether we should still read Hamlet in English class. The answer is: Of course – the reason? Cultural participation, shared understanding, and influence. Also, if you teach it well, students (even ones who “don’t read”) will like it. But it’s a useless exercise you don’t extend Hamlet to the culture it has influenced.

We need Hamlet in our English and Media Studies classes just as we need Elsa, Star Wars, and Black Panther – and for similar reasons. But we also need all educators not to dismiss their significance. 

When WHATEVER BAD HAPPENS IN INFINITY WAR – happens, you’ll want to be able to engage with your students about the near-apocalypse that is contemporary time giving us Thanos – a villain who can destroy worlds with his fist, and utterly crumble the superheroes that we’ve spent 10 years watching save the world (or galaxy). But we also want to connect these major cultural events to the past in literature and life. What makes sense? What doesn’t? What has led to this point? 

There’s also a discussion about artistry to be had. Take director Taika Waititi – what similarities can we draw between his film The Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Thor: Ragnarok (which is about more than you might think).

There have been countless examples of contemporary Shakespearean influencers and media critics comparing the Marvel Universe to the Bard. So if you’re looking for something with weight to ground your teaching, or if you’re looking for something with which to critique culture, or if you’re just looking to teach tropes, inversions of tropes, the Hero’s Journey, thematic significance, a number of literary theories, or … well… almost anything … (Science and Science fiction, Math, History?) then try out Marvel.

And if you just want to be able to engage with your students (and possibly enjoy Avengers Infinity War) I’ve included a list of Marvel movies you should catch up on.

guardians of the galaxy
Come on. If you haven’t seen Guardians of the Galaxy…

WHAT YOU SHOULD WATCH TO CATCH UP 

For the infinity stones, and for the significance.

  1. *Captain America: The First Avenger
  2. Iron Man –
  3. $ Thor
  4. $ The Avengers
  5. $ Captain America: The Winter Soldier –
  6. * Thor: The Dark World –
  7. $ Guardians of the Galaxy
  8. The Avengers: Age of Ultron
  9. Captain America, Civil War –
  10. *Doctor Strange
  11. *Guardians of the Galaxy 2
  12. $ Thor: Ragnarok
  13. $ Black Panther

* if it’s not the greatest movie but it’s important to the narrative

$ if it’s a really great movie

– if you could cut out watching it to save time (but, like, you shouldn’t, cuz culture).

note: Spider-Man Homecoming is really great, and watch it for itself…but not for Infinity War.

Disagree? Need resources? Let me know in the comments!

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Pay Attention to Pokemon GO! 

If you believe the wild ramblings of The Internet, Pokemon GO is either the best app ever made or the most disturbing. Whichever camp you’re in, there are three big reasons you should be paying attention to this game- especially if you’re a teacher. 

1. Augmented Reality Gaming

Augmented Reality gaming is an important tech development, and Pokemon GO is a critical access point. 

Feel free to skip this point if you’re aware of the massive movement that is Augmented Reality (AR) gaming, and its current and potential impact on education. 

For everyone else: you should know, Augmented Reality is a big deal.

AR is a central attraction of Pokemon GO. In case you are unfamiliar with the concept, it’s basically the practice of integrating digital components into everyday “real world” environments. In this game, it means whenever you see a Pokemon, it appears through your camera to be there  in ‘real life’ – on your street, in your home, and around your city. The game also integrates landmarks, real street map, and GPS to help assail cartoon creatures in the world around us. 

While Pokemon is certainly not the first app to incorporate AR, it seems like it’s by far the most popular. AR is important to anyone who wants to understand the evolving landscape of technology in everyday life, but is especially important for educators. AR in education has been a thing for a while. You may be a couple years behind in educational technology if you’ve never heard of it. Read up on it here , or here. 

Why do you need to pay attention to Pokemon GO, specifically? Why not just any AR in general?

 Well, frankly, students are familiar with Pokemon GO. Our springboard into seamless AR integration is literally at our fingertips. Students are using Pokemon,  and students are having a great time doing it. This can be directed to our advantage as educators (or parents, or allies, or whoever you are) to connect with students and add to their toolbox. 

Ask yourself: why is this game fun, and how caniu we make it “learning” as well? This game can be the key that unlocks all that AR potential for our students- and can therefore be a savvy classroom tool. 

Incorporate AR into your classroom with Pokemon GO specifically, or with a  number of other awesome apps available to us for educational purposes. 

I recommend taking a look at Laura Mustard’s Cohort 21 project using Aurasma for a great example of AR use in education. 

And for all you non-teachers out there, you need to get onboard with Pokemon GO and AR because this is the way the world is headed. If you sit back and disengage,  you may fall behind. 

2. Monuments and Cultural Spaces

Pokemon GO opens up the world around us and reveals pieces of our culture and history as a mechanism of game play. 

In Pokemon GO, there are two special kinds of places you can visit while hunting for Pokemon: Pokestops, and Gyms. Both types of location, rather than being scattered randomly, are placed with great care at monuments, landmarks, and cultural spaces. 

Think about that for a moment. Not only are people getting off the couch to play the game, but they’re being forced to visit cultural spaces and monuments within gameplay. As a history teacher, this makes me feel pretty darn pumped. 

Here’s why you should pay attention to Pokemon GO: rather than time wasting, it actually gets people to know their cities better. 

My closest Pokestop, which I always just thought of as my local mermaid themed coffee shop, looks like this on my game:  


I have lived here for two years  and purchased many-a-coffee, and never noticed that plaque. 

Imagine my surprise when I started to walk around with my game and notice these little plaques everywhere! Like me, students are learning about local culture without putting in much extra effort. 

Might we use this opportunity to challenge them to tell us about a few of the cultural spaces and monuments they visit every day? What an opportunity for growth, potential for active citizenship, and fun way to understand the community! 

This point is the most directly applicable to the classroom. If you’re looking for more, check out this post.

3. Social Upheaval

We could also call this point Augmented Socialization.  

If you track media use among teens, you know that “digital media is altering the way teens interact“. People are meeting less in person and more online. This third point is very simple. We need to pay attention to Pokemon GO because it is changing the narrative of media culture. This game is getting folks out of the house, talking to strangers (in the best way), and meeting up IRL. 

Last Monday, there was a big planned Pokemon meetup at the CN Tower in Toronto– and it looked like an awesome party. I was at Toronto Harbour last week, and watched hundreds of people congregate spontaneously to play the game- watching their phones and talking to each other about what they saw. As long as you’re being safe, this social stuff is good news! 

Could this game be the first in a popular movement of Augmented Socialization in media? I hope others follow, and spurring other apps on to this reality is a major reason to endorse the game in schools (where, incidentally,we can also talk about safety and responsibility). 
What should I do now? 

We are too tempted as educators to control through banishment rather than participation. I am still bitter about Pogs, myself.  Instead, let’s get behind the game and embrace it in our schools. 

Broadly, take a look into Augmented Reality gaming and dream big. What could you do with this to support and enhance learning, life, and fun? 

Specifically, you can try the game out and explore your neighbourhood. Go to your school before September to see where all the Pokestops are in the area. Most importantly, get to a higher level than your students in the game so you can own the local Gym and brag about it. (OK, maybe that’s just for me…) 

The most important thing is actually this:  pay attention to new popular movements in culture. Like Pokemon GO, if it’s big, there’s likely merit to it.