“As the kiddos go back to school, knowledge of science, technology, engineering and math are certainly important, but their imagination, creativity and how they interact with others is critical.”
This oddly compelling Iron Man vs. Tesla video demonstrates that STEAM and superheroes were pretty much made for each other.
The joy and exhilaration of discovering hidden strengths.
Kirby Ferguson speaking at TED on the topic of remixing:
Our creativity comes from without, not from within. We are not self-made. We are dependent on one another, and admitting this to ourselves isn’t an embrace of mediocrity and derivativeness. It’s a…
We briefly mentioned remixing in our Adaptability v. Persistence post. One rationale for viewing Creativity as remixing that we Big-Brained Superheroes can really get behind is that remixing (copying, transforming, and combining) can exercise quite a few of our superpowers (Teamwork, Leadership, Sense of Adventure, Critical Thinking…) in one go. Which is probably why, although The Big-Brained Superheroes Club itself sometimes gets praised for originality, we do seem to take quite a lot of pride in our own fairly derivative origins.
Here, 99% Invisible eloquently explains how, if you want to create change, you should first begin with a name.
The Big-Brained Superheroes Club also embraces this philosophy, which is why we place a high priority on calling out our superpowers by name at every opportunity. For example, in our club meetings, the phrase “good work” takes a back seat to “excellent use of your Persistence superpower”. Instead of “that’s beautiful”, we might prefer “way to exercise your Creativity superpower”.
Here's a good way to exercise our Empowerment superpower:
Think about the things that are important to you. Perhaps you care about creativity, family relationships, your career, or having a sense of humour. Pick two or three of these values and write a few sentences about why they are important to you. You have fifteen minutes. It could change your life.
This simple writing exercise may not seem like anything ground-breaking, but its effects speak for themselves. In a university physics class, Akira Miyake from the University of Colorado used it to close the gap between male and female performance. In the university’s physics course, men typically do better than women but Miyake’s study shows that this has nothing to do with innate ability. With nothing but his fifteen-minute exercise, performed twice at the beginning of the year, he virtually abolished the gender divide and allowed the female physicists to challenge their male peers.
The exercise is designed to affirm a person’s values, boosting their sense of self-worth and integrity, and reinforcing their belief in themselves. For people who suffer from negative stereotypes, this can make all the difference between success and failure.
Closing the achievement gap a few sentences at a time!
So, we’ve documented at least some of the story behind the “superheroes” part of The Big-Brained Superheroes Club, but what’s with all this “big-brained” stuff? Well, the answer isn’t as obvious as you might think…
We here at The Big-Brained Superheroes Club believe in science. And as of now, science says teach kids about their brains:
“If we gave students a growth mindset, if we taught them how to think about their intelligence, would that benefit their grades?” Dweck wondered.
So, about 100 seventh graders, all doing poorly in math, were randomly assigned to workshops on good study skills. One workshop gave lessons on how to study well. The other taught about the expanding nature of intelligence and the brain.
The students in the latter group “learned that the brain actually forms new connections every time you learn something new, and that over time, this makes you smarter.”
Basically, the students were given a mini-neuroscience course on how the brain works. By the end of the semester, the group of kids who had been taught that the brain can grow smarter, had significantly better math grades than the other group.
“When they studied, they thought about those neurons forming new connections,” Dweck says. “When they worked hard in school, they actually visualized how their brain was growing.”
Dweck says this new mindset changed the kids’ attitude toward learning and their willingness to put forth effort. Duke University psychologist, Steven Asher, agrees. Teaching children that they’re in charge of their own intellectual growth motivates a child to work hard, he says.
“If you think about a child who’s coping with an especially challenging task, I don’t think there’s anything better in the world than that child hearing from a parent or from a teacher the words, ‘You’ll get there.’ And that, I think, is the spirit of what this is about."
OK. Maybe the answer was obvious. But the point is that we here at The Big-Brained Superheroes Club aren’t just using our big brains…we’re using our big brains to learn about, visualize, and embiggen our big brains. We’re very meta that way.
“You are looking a visual reconstruction (from array-tomography data) of synapses in the mouse somatosensory cortex, the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsive to sensation. Neurons are depicted in green; multicolored dots represent separate synapses.”
According to a study conducted at Yale University and published online in the Journal of Educational Psychology earlier this year, emotional connection in the classroom can have a major impact on students’ success in school. Students tend to thrive in classroom environments in which teachers are sensitive to students’ needs; teacher-student relationships are warm, caring, nurturing, and congenial; teachers take students’ perspectives into account; teachers refrain from using sarcasm and harsh disciplinary practices; teachers express warmth towards, respect for, and interest in students; teachers encourage student cooperation; and teachers are aware of the students’ emotional and academic needs.
This phenomenon has been very apparent here at The Big-Brained Superheroes Club when our Empathy superpowers are in full effect. For instance, when one of our Big-Brained Superheroes was briefly engaged in an unproductive interaction with another one, rather than immediately criticize his behavior (it’s not as if he didn’t already know it was wrong), we expressed some understanding. We told him that we understood where he was coming from and that it was ok for him to “hang out in his limbic system for a bit” before reciting The Big-Brained Superheroes Club Oath, which he did. And instead of having the incident devolve into a power struggle (as these things so often do) with hurt feelings and moping all around, our young Big-Brained Superhero came back to us ready to re-engage in the activities we were all enjoying. Everybody learned.
However, the big challenge we’ve had is finding the right balance between the more prescriptive style of authority that a lot of our Big-Brained Superheroes are far more versed in and the more cooperative approach outlined in the study described above. One of the benefits of being an after-school program is that we have an even greater opportunity to make these emotional connections than we might have as conventional school teachers. But one of the drawbacks is that we lack the institutional authority that conventional school teachers can typically assert, and this lack of institutional authority does present its own set of challenges.
Respect is one of the superpowers we’re working to build and exercise. The need to demonstrate Respect to generally recognized authority figures has a certain—somewhat obvious—logic inherent in it; the need to demonstrate Respect to everyone and everything else may require a bit more abstract reasoning. One method of getting our young Big-Brained Superheroes to consistently demonstrate respect to us might be to assume an air of authority even without the institutional backing. But even if that suffices for us, we still aren’t addressing the deeper, more abstract, problem of Respect for all things that we all need to build. And this is where we come full circle…can we eventually get to Respect through Empathy? If so, is that the better (if not the most direct) path?
There’s no shortage of evidence that stress inhibits learning.
Maybe we should do something about that.
Listen to On Point’s discussion of Social and Emotional Learning and how (as the science suggests) it may help solve the problem of stress and improve learning:
Or read about it in Scientific American:
“Even more important than your achievement test score is this idea that if you fail, you’ll try again, that you don’t need people to bail you out, that you’ll persevere in the face of difficulty,” says developmental psychologist Dale Farran of Vanderbilt University. “These are the key to the grades you get in school.”
Where experiential learning meets science:
If we want to empower students, we must show them how they can control their own cognitive and emotional health and their own learning. Teaching students how the brain operates is a huge step. Even young students can learn strategies for priming their brains to learn more efficiently; I know, because I’ve taught both 5th graders and 7th graders about how their brains learn.
More superheroes; fewer zombies.
Why we semi-banned the word “smart”:
“Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control,” she explains. “They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.” [emphasis added]
Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics instructors have been charged with improving the performance and retention of students from diverse backgrounds. To date, programs that close the achievement gap between students from disadvantaged versus nondisadvantaged educational backgrounds have required extensive extramural funding. We show that a highly structured course design, based on daily and weekly practice with problem-solving, data analysis, and other higher-order cognitive skills, improved the performance of all students in a college-level introductory biology class and reduced the achievement gap between disadvantaged and nondisadvantaged students—without increased expenditures. These results support the Carnegie Hall hypothesis: Intensive practice, via active-learning exercises, has a disproportionate benefit for capable but poorly prepared students.
Just a little of what we have to learn about math:
…studies show that “number talk” at home is a key predictor of young children’s achievement in math once they get to school. Now a new study provides evidence that gender is part of the equation: Parents speak to their daughters about numbers far less than their sons.
Just one source of motivation for continuing to take a holistic approach in The Big-Brained Superheroes Club:
Positive social relationships in childhood and adolescence are the key to adult happiness, according to new research.
Let’s keep modeling the kind of discourse we want to see!
How can we make best use of this information?:
Bilingual children outperform children who only speak one language in problem-solving skills and creative thinking, according to research led at the University of Strathclyde.