Release Your Inner Superhero

This is a post from August 13th, 2013. 
As I was walking through the streets of Asheville, NC (COOL CITY!), I came across a metal pole that was supporting a stoplight. On this old, beat-up metal pole was a sticker that looked like it had been there a while. I walked past it, but noticed a cool-looking penguin with - is that right what I'm seeing...? A cape? Yes, a cape! That penguin has a cape! The next thing I noticed was the words - release your inner superhero. I'm not sure that bumper stickers are meant to change lives or be revelations, but this one struck me deep. I work at some youth camps each summer and a recurring message that we hit hard is how we can find our true selves. The theme at camp in 2013 was, specifically, SUPERHEROES. It seemed like a message put there just for me. Release your inner superhero. Find out who you truly are. Find your best self.
This has become my theme for class this year. I teach Modern World History and US Government, but I know that I really teach students how to find themselves as a student and a person. When students are able to find their true selves - to release their inner superhero - it is a magical moment that I wish I could say I've felt more than I have the past 3 years of teaching. I asked students today what their favorite thing to do with their time was. A lot answered with different sports, acting, singing and other similar answers. I then asked if their answer is their true purpose in life; if that is the reason they are here. When I was their age, I knew that I was going to be a professional soccer player. That was my purpose. I now know that I am meant to help young people find their way in life. I am put on this Earth to help other release their inner superhero!
So how to go about doing this? A marshmallow tower challenge, of course! This ingenious design challenge (http://marshmallowchallenge.com/Welcome.html) gives students 20 sticks of uncooked spaghetti, 1 yard of scotch tape, 1 yard of string, 1 whole marshmallow and 18 minutes to create the tallest freestanding structure that they can build.
This picture shows one of the stronger structure built throughout the day.
The best percentage any class had was 50% of structures standing. (3 of 6 groups with standing structures) A great TED talk explains some surprising trends of this challenge. For example, one of the most successful groups in this challenge is kindergarten students! They have unique ideas. They aren't afraid to fail. And most importantly, they try many different attempts during their 18 minutes. As we get older, we seem to try to build the perfect tower, waiting until the last moment to put the marshmallow on top. For some, it works. For many, the tower fails and there is no time to fix it!

MARSHMALLOW CHALLENGE


This is a great lesson for releasing your inner superhero. We are asked to improve all the time, and many of us try to find the perfect solution to whatever problem is in front of us. I remember in my first year of teaching, I spent so much type looking for the perfect method of organizing each of my units. Unfortunately, I didn't spend enough time actually planning the units! Of course I struggled when students came into contact with my under-planned lessons and activities! Like the kindergarten builders, I have learned to jump into my planning activities and worry less about the template with which I begin. The students in Modern World History class will have to do the same as they work through several projects and activities this year. If they spend all their time looking for the perfect solution, they'll succeed some of the time, but more often, they'll not have time to fix whatever errors are found right at the end. That moment when the marshmallow gets placed on top of the tower too often leads to stress, when it should just be another step in the process!

Next week we're going to have a revolution! It should be fun...