Archive for PCC Classroom Blog – Page 2

5 Classic Educational Games to Kickstart Your Family Game Night


By Hannah Jorgensen

I grew up playing every kind of board game you can imagine. My family’s board game closet was nothing short of a vault filled with hours of entertainment. Even now, when I visit home from college, we find time to settle in for a couple of rounds of a family favorite.

Instead of watching hours of television, family game night ruled the house. And while it’s hard for me to look back and definitively say, “That one board game specifically expanded my critical thinking skills and made me the person I am today,” I do think that the board games that I spent hours playing benefited my development on a whole.

Board games have been lauded as being educational for children, whether it be their use in a classroom or as a supplement to education in the home. Research suggests that playing games can increase brain speed scores, expand creativity, support memory, and aid in the development of social skills like taking turns and collaboration, among other things. Games can also build executive function, which helps with school performance. And many educators are bringing play into the classroom because of its various benefits.

These benefits can be maximized through family game nights, or nights set aside specifically for playing games. And while I love my phone as much as the next person, there is something to be said for tuning out technology for a little bit and playing a tangible game with real people face-to-face.

Below are some of my favorites that I grew up with for your family to try.


The goal of Blokus is for players to fit all of their variously shaped pieces onto the board. It promotes strategic thinking and spatial awareness as you try to block out your opponents and fit in your own oddly shaped pieces.


Settlers of Catan

In this resource management game, players have to collect and trade resources, culminating in a game that requires strategic thinking, problem-solving and social skills. For younger kiddos and first-timers, consider starting with Catan Junior.



A classic party game, Scattergories requires players to brainstorm words to fit into certain categories, and skills like word recall and creative thinking are rewarded. If you’re looking to get a bit more vocal with your gameplay, consider Taboo as well.



Players race against each other to build a crossword grid and use up all their tiles. Kids get to practice spelling and vocabulary skills, plus the pace of play is much, much faster than Scrabble, keeping kids invested.


Clue (any version)

By taking good notes and making valid inferences, players can eventually deduce the correct identity of the hidden cards, strengthening deductive reasoning skills, in this classic game. If you’re wary of playing the original version, consider using one of the many adaptations of Clue, including everything from Junior to Harry Potter to Game of Thrones versions.

Solidarity Forever: A Review of On The Ropes

By Jason Nisavic (@Teaching_Humans)

My fifth year as a teacher almost began with a strike. As the contract negotiation process between our union leaders and the administration stalled out, whispers of greed and corruption began to poison the community on both sides.

For the first time, the day-to-day joy evaporated and I saw this career that I love as it really is: a sterile business arrangement forged in conflict. Thankfully, a compromise was reached, and classes began normally. I relate this story because, during my reading of On The Ropes (2013) by James Vance and Dan E. Burr, I realized how tame our contract negotiations really were.



Set in American in 1937, On The Ropes, the long-awaited sequel to the award-winning Kings in Disguise (1988) comic series, follows a undercover labor organizer named Fred Bloch, weaving in and out between his present and past. Over 250 gripping pages of art and story, we follow Fred’s perilous journey of survival and liberation through a violent world of unrest and upheaval during The Great Depression.

The graphic novel begins as Fred joins a unionized circus that was formed by the Works Progress Administration, one of the most influential New Deal Programs. In his time there, Fred assists stuntman Gordon Corey, a broken alcoholic with a death wish. Their side show attraction is simple: Gordon is handcuffed and a noose is tied to his neck. On the count of three, Fred triggers the trap door. Gordon has until the count of three to loosen the cuffs and save himself.

This acts as a perfect metaphor for both the personal anguish that our protagonists have found themselves in, as well as the larger struggle of the working class in this time period. Vance and Burr work well together to convey the desperation of the times as a backdrop to the story.

During the course of the book, we are reminded of exactly how bloody and painful the fight to form unions in the 20th Century actually was. On The Ropes holds nothing back, showing the barbaric tactics of union-busting business owners at the time.

We see organizers being dragged from their beds by hired goons. We see murder. And we are not-so-subtly lead to believe that multiple women are raped and killed. 

Many other characters inhabit and expand the plot. A female reporter and a precocious love interest highlight the plight of women in the 30’s working world, while the long-suffering manager of the circus gives us a manager’s agony over how to keep money flowing in tight times.

Perhaps the only drawback of the story are the two hired “goons” characters that serve as the main antagonists and come off as a little too ghoulishly superhuman. For most of the story, they pursue Fred with a terminator-like determination and relentlessness that undermine the book’s otherwise reliable authenticity, and it’s not until nearly the very end of the story that one of them gets a humanizing, semi-relatable backstory.

Throughout it all, there is rarely a moment of safety found in this book, and that’s the way it should be. It’s obvious that the authors have meticulously researched each element of the book, and their passion and dedicated consistently shines through. Readers will come away with an engaging and humanizing impression of the depression, the rise of labor, and the lengths that those in power did and can go in the pursuit of maintaining the status quo.



Most importantly, due to the book’s language and intense violence, the content of this book means it’s most appropriate to high school students, though it can be adapted to lower grades at a teacher’s discretion. Yet, despite the mature themes, the book’s characters communicate at a relatively easy reading level, making it accessible for a variety of students.

History and Social Studies: At its core, On The Ropes is a period piece. Characters make references and wear clothing that are appropriate and intuitive for the 1930’s, but might present a challenge a modern history or social studies student (e.g., characters referring to each other as “Trotsky”). With the right support and by using these references and the period-specific art as a guide, a teacher could build into the reading experience a research project on everything from the Labor Movement to The Great Depression, or simply spur discussions about these time periods from diverse perspectives. *

*For any fellow Illinois educators reading, I’ve included a list of Illinois state standards below that the book addresses specifically using the context of The Great Depression.

Literature: In a more general setting, educators might use this book as part of a spring break or summer reading assignment for honors+ level students. Teachers might craft a project that will encourage them to use inductive thinking and use Fred’s experiences to draw conclusions about the lives of 1930’s Americans.

Diversity: Part of the beauty of On The Ropes is that it feels timeless and contemporary despite its Depression-era roots. With the graphic novel’s focus on labor unions and its message of perseverance in the face of tremendous odds, this book offers numerous opportunities for discussions on issues of equality, fairness, free expression, fighting for what’s right, and The American Dream, to name a few. In addition, because of its ties into ideas of social justice and representation, the book can inspire great community-driven projects and collaborations in any subject area.



Overall, On The Ropes is a great casual read for a teacher to connect with those challenging times before diving into a Depression unit. A story of transformation and teamwork against tremendous odds, this no-frills graphic novel will engage your students in this time period in new ways and hopefully inspire them to seek change in their own communities.

P.S. – I do recommend playing some Pete Seeger in the background while reading this book…it sets the tone well.

Jason Nisavic has taught social studies on the south side of Chicago for 12 years and is enthusiastic about making the classroom a more engaging place. He has experimented with incorporating games, graphic novels, and online projects into his curriculum to great. Reach out to him on Twitter @Teaching_humans to keep the conversation going!

All images © Dan E. Burr / James Vance / W.W. Norton


Illinois State Standards addressed through On The Ropes:

  • SS.CV.8.9-12: Analyze how individuals use and challenge laws to address a variety of public issues.
  • SS.CV.9.9-12: Evaluate public policies in terms of intended and unintended outcomes and related consequences.
  • SS.H.3.9-12: Evaluate the methods utilized by people and institutions to promote change.
  • SS.H.5.9-12: Analyze the factors and historical context that influenced the perspectives of people during different historical eras.
  • SS.H.6.9-12: Analyze the concept and pursuit of the American Dream.
  • SS.H.7.9-12: Identify the role of individuals, groups, and institutions in people’s struggle for safety, freedom, equality and justice.
  • SS.H.12.9-12: Analyze the geographic and cultural forces that have resulted in conflict and cooperation.

Note: If you live in a different state, your standards likely overlap with just about all of these. In addition, the book directly references the Republic Steel Massacre of 1937 which occurred just outside of Chicago. This oft overlooked real-life tragedy creates a turning point in Fred’s life and would make for a great discussion anchor.

Pop Culture Classroom at New York Comic Con

Come check out all the Pop Culture Classroom panels at New York Comic Con next weekend! We’re set up at the convention center and at the Berger Forum of the New York Public Library. What’s more, we will be presenting with authors and artists from Scholastic, First Second, the French Comics Association, Image and more! Don’t miss out on these informative and entertaining panels.  


Title:  Lesson Planning for the Comics Classroom 

Description: Attendees of this workshop/panel will take with them strategies that they can use almost immediately in their classrooms. We will discuss what an ideal introductory comic unit looks like as well as a skills-based unit incorporating comics. Other items of note include how to put on Socratic Seminars and Lit Circles using graphic novels, and using single issues as writing prompts.     

Date: 10/5/2017 
Time: 11:15 AM – 12:00 PM 
Location: Classrooms A&B, New York Public Library  
Speakers: John Shableski (moderator), John Weaver, Adam Kullberg, Claudia McGivney, Michael Lopez   


Title:  Gender Identity: Understanding Through Art         

Description: At the forefront of modern social debate is the nature of gender identity and how we move forward culturally with new understanding of the diversity within. Many contemporary graphic novels directly and indirectly address this debate by providing fictional and non-fictional representations of individuals expressing and explaining how the definitions of both identity and gender have evolved. This panel will explore how this discussion can enter into the classroom. 

Date: 10/5/2017 
Time: 12:15 PM – 1:15 PM 
Location: 1B03  
Speakers: Dr. Katie Monnin (moderator), Tami Stronach, Molly Osterly, Michael Gianfrancesco, Dana Simpson   


Title:  Books As Flint: Using Graphic Novels to Spark Political Activism         

Description: Whether it be in the classroom or in the home, it can be difficult to open conversations about politics, race, religion, misogyny, and bigotry.  This panel will explore comic/graphic novel titles that work to open up those conversations as well as hopefully spark some political/social activism among those affected.  We will also explore activism options that could be/have been incepted from these reads.   

Date: 10/5/2017 
Time: 2:15 PM – 3:00 PM 
Location: Berger Forum, New York Public Library  
Speakers: John Shableski (moderator), Alan Brooks, Tony Medina, Stacy Robinson, Meryl Jaffee, Illya Kowalchuk        


Title:  The Representation Book Shelf: Building A More Diverse Comics Classroom         

Description: This panel will discuss the importance of diverse titles in classroom libraries as well as suggestions for titles to fill that shelf. 

Date: 10/5/2017 
Time: 2:45 PM – 3:45 PM 
Location: 1B03  
Speakers: Gina Gagliano (Moderator), Katie Monnin, Ngozi Ukazu, Michael Gianfrancesco, Geoff Gerber, Jorge Aguirre 


Title:  Content Literacy: Teaching STEM with Comics         

Description: Bring a one-two punch to teaching STEM: text and images teaming up in comics! Comics have been shown to improve reader engagement while enhancing both comprehension and retention. And with the new emphasis on reading nonfiction, academic vocabulary, and reading in the subject areas, comics are more relevant than ever. Join educators and comics creators as they present their specific strategies as well as a list of some of the best comics and graphic novels for teaching STEM topics. 

Date: 10/5/2017 
Time: 6:30 PM – 7:30 PM 
Location: 1B03  
Speakers: Adam Kullberg (moderator), Jay Hosler, Alison Wilgus, Molly Brooks, Illya Kowachuk, Joe Flood 


Title:  Get Parisian in the Classroom: An Educator Meetup with French Comics Association and Pop Culture Classroom!       

Description: Teachers and other education professionals are invited to an exclusive meet-up with international graphic novel creators, co-hosted with the French Comics Association and Pop Culture Classroom. French artists will join with teachers with proven success introducing and analyzing comics in their classes, to engage and educate students from k-12 and secondary school. An interactive, small-group format where you’ll get the chance for personal discussion with these renowned stars of the bande dessinée scene about their accessible new releases, all translated in English (no foreign language knowledge required!). We’ll brainstorm lesson questions together and leave with new ideas you can use in class next week!   

Date: 10/5/2017 
Time: 3:45-4:45 
Location: Javitz Meeting Room 
Speakers:  Meg Lemke, Michael Gianfrancesco, Mark Daponte, Jon Eric Schneiderhan, John Hoffman, Laura Irene Miller 


Title:  Ready for Adventure? Action (and Romance) Packed YA / All-Ages Comics     
 An exclusive look at new teen and all-ages titles—swashbuckling, world-traveling, magical and action-packed adventure comics! Romance and adventure await in graphic novels by Patricia Lyfoung (The Scarlet Rose), Scott Westerfeld (Spill Zone), Nidhi Chanani (Pashmina), and Valerie Vernay (Water Memory) and Ngozi Ukazu (Check, Please!). Moderated by Adam Kullberg (Pop Culture Classroom). 

Date: Sunday, 10/8/2017
3:45 PM – 4:45 PM
 1A05 in Javits Center

12 Teachable Graphic Novels You (Probably) Haven’t Heard Of

By Michael Gianfrancesco

Over the last 20 years or so, I’ve watched as a renaissance has taken place in the graphic novel medium. Educators and institutions have realized that these books can be a valuable resource for inroads to skills based lesson planning, and as a result graphic novels have found their way into the hands of more teachers and students today than ever before.

But what’s most amazing to me is the fact that there seems to be canonical texts that have broken through to the modern pedagogical zeitgeist. In other words, there are graphic novels with which nearly all teachers are familiar—books like Maus, Persepolis, Smile, American Born Chinese, Watchmen, Fun Home, and The Sandman, to name a few.

However, while this is a great thing for the comics in the classroom movement, I feel like a lot of amazing titles have gone unnoticed because most mainstream teachers gravitate to the list above. Don’t get me wrong: These books are all marvelous titles well worth addition to any classroom library… but there are so many other books that don’t end up on the “Best Comics to Teach” lists out there on the interwebs.

Below I’ve put together a list of my top 12 favorites teachable graphic novels that you may have never heard of or considered for classroom use. Each of the titles also includes a short overview and descriptions of how it might be best utilized in your classroom.

If you like this list, let us know and we can offer up more in a future blog post!


#1 – Superman: Red Son by writer Mark Millar and artists Dave Johnson & Kilian Plunkett

What if Superman landed in the Soviet Union in the early 1950’s instead of the USA? How would the DC Universe be different? This compelling tale focuses on a revisionist history of a fictional world and opens up a number of opportunities for teachers to explore Cold War culture, how the Soviet regime operated (and ultimately fell), as well as the nature of the man versus the superman (literally, philosophically, and socio-politically).


#2 – Dropsie Avenue by Will Eisner

My personal favorite Eisner graphic novel, this book explores the origin of the street on which many of his other stories are set. The story starts in the 1870s in the spot where the fictional Bronx street will eventually be built. The farmland, settled by the Dutch Van Dropsie family, is where it all begins. Each new immigrant family that takes up residence scares off the previous. The Dutch are run off by the English, who leave when the Irish begin to move in around them. From there, Italian, Jewish, Latino, and African American communities rise and fall in sync with the buildings around them. The book is a harsh yet ironic look at the nature of class and cultural conflict and how superficial differences continue to divide the residents. The portrayal of an almost stacked oppression carried on from generation to generation will create many opportunities for classroom discussion.


#3 – Civil War by writer Mark Millar and artist Steve McNiven

After an irresponsible group of young superheroes accidentally causes an explosion which obliterates Stamford Connecticut live on a reality show, the government introduces the controversial Superhero Registration Act which requires all costumed heroes to reveal their presence and powers to the government. Iron Man and Captain America disagree fundamentally about this, Iron Man supporting it as a way to safeguard the country and Cap feels that it violates the basic human rights. The two leaders and their teams square off in an internal conflict that claims the lives of more than one of their friends. In a time of division in our country where passions ignite over political differences, what better way to start the conversation over whether fighting for our cause is worth the fallout of real conflict.


#4 – Green Lantern/Green Arrow by writer Dennis O’Neil and artist Neal Adams

Inspired by the “find yourself” films of the 1960’s and 1970’s (Easy Rider in particular), Dennis O’Neil decided to write what would become one of the most iconic DC teamups in comic book history. The story arc, unofficially dubbed “The Hard Drivin Heroes” sees the two emerald clad heroes take to the road and meet real people with real problems. They confront racism, drug use, the displacement of Native Americans, and the political strife of the time in a story which forces the normally space-bound Green Lantern to realize that he didn’t understand the problems in the world because he wasn’t really part of it. This book is a great look at the post-Vietnam War era in this country and offers an opportunity to open discussion on civil rights and what people knew and thought they new about the struggles of the oppressed in this country.


#5 – Saga of the Swamp Thing by writer Alan Moore and artist Stephen Bissette

When Alan Moore puts his name on a book, you can count on it being something special. When he decided to reinvent the failing Swamp Thing book for Vertigo, he started almost from scratch and turned a fifth string plant man into one of the most powerful and relevant superhumans of all. The book takes the origin of the character, originally believed to be a man who had been turned into a plant, and flips it around (he’s a plant who is pretending to be a man) and in doing so, explores the relationship between mankind and the environment by creating a spiritual and ecological connection between these two entities. This would be a fantastic supplement to any climate change or other environmental lesson.


#6 – Far Arden by Kevin Cannon

The search for paradise, Utopia, Shangri-La, or whatever other name it may go by is a fairly common motif in literature. In the case of this book, Kevin Canon dubs his promised land Far Arden and his hero, Army Shanks, is gruff, resourceful, and, at times, even emotionally fractured. During the course of his adventure, he meets strange and wonderful characters, most notable is his companion, the orphaned Alistair Cavendish. Shanks is forced to start relying on others in order to be successful (and stay alive) and this is a hard lesson learned by a hard man. The book explores the nature of the father/son relationship, the desire of excitement and adventure, vulnerability, and the hero’s journey. You could pair this with Beowulf, The Odyssey or any other classic or modern adventure story.


#7 – Top 10 by Alan Moore, Gene Ha, and Zander Cannon

This is far and away one of the most unique explorations of a world with superhumans that has ever been published, and it’s one of my all-time favorite series. Imagine, if you will, the Earth being overrun with magical, scientific, and genetic superheroes to the degree that normal humans are tired of their nonsense and create a city where all of them can live together. That’s Neopolis and Top 10 follows the exploits of the cops of Precinct 10 who have to deal with the day to day minutia of robot gangsters, Norse Gods acting out their classic brother versus brother combat, otherworldly threats who accidentally teleport into a busy intersection, and the like. You know, normal, everyday stuff. The book takes the mythos of the modern superhero genre and turns it on its head with silliness and a dose of intrigue and mystery. Great text to illustrate the nature of satire as your students will no doubt recognize some of the tropes being roasted in this book.


#8 – Taxes, the Tea Party and those Revolting Rebels – A History in Comics of the American Revolution by Stan Mack

There are a lot of amazing historical-based comics out there. In fact, I could dedicate a single list to just those titles (and maybe I will at some point) but in the meantime, I wanted to share this little gem. Spanning the history of our country’s origin from 1761 to 1789, this book tells a ground level tale of the rebels and scoundrels that were instrumental in helping found our nation. The artwork is fun but serious when it needs to be, and Mack pulls no punches when it comes to historical accuracy. He uses historical imagery, allegory, and geographic maps and locales to make these crucial decades accessible and powerfully rendered. This would work really well as a supplement to any American history or civics lesson and the concept of resistance and revolution is always poignant in the tumultuous and connected world of the 21st Century.


#9 – Clan Apis by Jay Hosler

If you are teaching biology and have a unit on entomology, this book needs to be part of your instruction. Dr. Jay Hosler is a professor of biology at Juniata College and one amazing artist/author. His book tracks the life cycle of a honeybee from birth to death using a narrative structure and amazing characters. Readers follow Nyuki from her larval stage all the way to the end of her adventures which allows her to cross paths with all sorts of other flora and fauna as she learns what the circle of nature really means and how all creatures feed each other and that keeps the world turning. Hosler doesn’t use cutesy art with his characters, choosing instead to make them look anatomically correct but using subtle artistic choices to convey emotions. It’s a book to read for pleasure that secretly teaches you when you aren’t looking. Great addition to any biology or life science classroom.


#10 – Slovakia – Fall in the Heart of Europe by Marek Bennett

I first met Marek Bennett at the Maine Comics Art Festival many years ago. I was just starting my work with teachers and comics in the classroom and he came highly recommended as an educator and an artist. Turns out, that recommendation was pretty well deserved as Marek and I have worked together many times over the years. This book, one of many that he has produced in his career, focuses on a visit to the land of his familial origins, Slovakia where he reconnects with his heritage and his family, and does some educational outreach work too. This graphic memoir has simple art where the characters are represented as different animals. Marek’s experiences are recounted in brutal honesty and we learn about the cultural and social world of this seldom talked about Central European country. This is a great book to illustrate biographical storytelling, travel writing, and European culture.


#11 – Tangles by Sarah Leavitt

This autobiographical account of Sarah Leavitt’s struggle with helping her mother as she slowly succumbs to Alzheimer’s disease is a tour of emotional explosions. Her portrayal of her vibrant and witty mother who has to cope with the knowledge that her mind is slowly fading is heartbreaking but also strikingly inspirational. You will learn a real lesson about courage and fortitude as Sarah and her mother face the darkness together, until Sarah is forced to face it alone. It’s every bit as amazing as it sounds and my simple words here cannot possibly do justice to what lies within these pages. The art, though minimal is complex in its portrayal of themes. You can almost feel the pain and power with each stroke of the pen. Bring this to a psychology class or even a college level course on neurological diseases as it tells a very real tale of Alzheimer’s which transcends the medical reality and brings us face to face with what it can do to a person and a family.


#12 – Tomboy by Liz Prince

Liz Prince’s graphic memoir about her own understanding of her personal identity as a woman who wasn’t, as she puts it, “a girly girl” nor was she “one of the guys.” Instead she places herself squarely in “the middle,” which is not an advantageous place to be in a world of absolutes. She worlds through her childhood and adolescence in the book, exploring her identity in all ways, from clothing and hairstyle, to choice of companionship, hobbies and passions, and all the choices, desires, and impulses that make her who she is. It’s a frank and amazing story that I read at least every six months. This would work well in just about any memoir unit or a psychology class.



So there you have it. Check out these titles, tell us what you think, and feel free to post your own choices for this list in the comments below.

If you like this post, let us know and we can do it again in the future! And be sure to follow me on Twitter @tryingteacher and you will see weekly recommendations for texts you can use in your classroom! Happy reading!

Michael Gianfrancesco is a high school English teacher and adjunct professor of English who has been advocating for the use of comics in the classroom since he was a pre-service educator. Over the years he has done workshops and panels at Harvard, Brown, Fordham, New York Comic Con, C2E2, Denver Comic Con, and NCTE.

Review of Best Shot in the West: The Adventures of Nat Love

Written By: Patricia C McKissack and Frederick L McKissack Jr.
Illustrated by: Randy Duburke


Each era of American history has a distinct color and feel to it – from the black and white clad puritans, to the green camo of the boys in World War II, to the tie-died hippies marching for change. In the graphic novel Best Shot in the West (2012), writers Patricia and Fredrick McKissack and artist Randy Duburke give a new, unique take on the gritty world of post-Civil War America, a time commonly known as the Wild West. 

At its core, Best Shot in the West is the story of Nat Love – a former slave who becomes an unexpected cowboy. Starting with Nat’s life on a plantation, the graphic novel quickly transcends to a story of a man who not only traveled the vast expanse of the 50 states of America, but across several of iconic moments in American history.

The story begins when Nat is 11-years-old. The Civil War has ended and he and his family are free, but without prospects. Nat becomes the man of the house but has a taste for adventure, so after winning a bet and earning enough money, he bids his family good bye and set out to make his life in the Wild West.

Soon he finds himself an indispensable hand in a group of cowboys running cattle up and down the western prairies. His life is filled from with stampedes, nights under the stars, shoot outs and even a raid by the Pima Indians – who take Nat in rather than kill him because many of them too were of mixed race. Ultimately Nat settles in Denver, just in time to see another icon of American industry rise – the railroad.

Today, Nat Love is remembered by history as a daring cowboy, but sorting out reality from myth has been tricky for many historians. Best Shot in the West utilizes brief snapshots of his life – from growing up as a slave on a plantation, to becoming famed for his marksmanship, to being captured by Pima Indians – to transport the readers into his story.

The illustrations are strikingly reminiscent of old photos, battered by time. But the stories presented – through fact and historical fiction – tell of a young man determined not only to make a better life for himself but also to have the adventure of his life doing it. These pieces of history also provide a rich touchstone of personal context from which to look at slavery and wider race relations in America during the late 1800’s, the development of the west by pioneers, and the effect of industry on rural life.

But perhaps the most valuable aspect of Best Shot in the West is that it tells the story of an African American cowboy. The problem of visibility (or lack thereof) often creates a barrier for minority students in taking ownership of these pieces of American history as their own. By telling the stories of American people of color, this book provides a story that is accessible to students, and a protagonist that they can identify with whether they share his racial heritage or not.


Cowboys, African Americans in the West, Growing up with financial hardship, Bravery in the face of danger, Believing in yourself.


The text is not full of terribly difficult words, so younger readers can easily digest the adventures of Nat Love, but the story structure itself is a little more complex. The book skips from moment to moment in Nat’s life, creating almost an anthology of stories…not all of which are in order.

This makes piecing together the various pieces of his life an interesting puzzle and will keep younger and older readers engaged. Here are some suggestions for use in your classroom:

  • HISTORY: Discuss the interplay between the various points of American history- How did the Civil War impact the development of the west? What would it be like to live from isolated life on a plantation to the full development of the railroad across the country? What kind of periods do you see yourself living through now and in the future? Discuss Colorado History – How did the culture of the “wild west” shape Colorado? How did the Railroads change Denver? How is Cowboy Culture still alive here?
  • LANGUAGE ARTS: Discuss the use of non-linear story telling. How does that choice benefit or detract from the story? Discuss representation of People of Color in American literature. How does this story compare to other classic portrayals like in Huckleberry Finn, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or To Kill a Mockingbird?
  • ART: Discuss Color Theory – How does the author use black and white and color illustrations together? What is the impact? What does the progression of color throughout the comic tell you about the story?  


Woven throughout all the history in Best Shot in the West is a story that shines through of a young man living an incredible version of the American dream. He started a slave and became one of the most famous shots in the west – a celebrity of his time. He was never rich, but he made his aspirations come true, married someone he loved, and created a life that he was proud of when he could have sunk into apathy so easily.

It is this grit that can be used to spark discussions among students about their own aspiration, goals and the obstacles to reach them. By reading about Nat Love’s incredible journey in Best Shot in the West, they will hopefully be better able to see what stands in the way of these dreams, and how can those obstacles be overcome.

Solution Squad Review


By Hannah Jorgensen


As I read Solution Squad, I had a vivid flashback to little 5th grade Hannah sitting in a classroom learning math. I can clearly remember learning about prime numbers and factors out of the workbooks that we always had to use and which I loathed with all of my small being.

In fact, most of my elementary school math memories are not remembered fondly. Staring at a board looking at numbers that I couldn’t picture in the same way that a book allowed me to imagine things fatigued me. I simply never liked math, but reading Solution Squad makes me wonder if I might’ve liked it more had my teacher’s approach to teaching the subject been a little bit more fun.

This book, a collection of several Solution Squad comics, one illustrated prose story, lesson plans and more, is creative in how it combines a classic superhero comic with mathematic principles. The heroes are living embodiments of various mathematical concepts, which makes learning the concepts they encounter fun and accessible to kids. Topics like prime numbers, train problems, the four steps of problem solving, and the coordinate system among others are exemplified through storylines that are engaging and fun to read.

The heroes are clever personifications of math concepts. Absolutia can raise or lower temperature, symbolizing positive and negative numbers, and absolute value being the energy spent no matter the direction. In one character, the comic effectively demonstrates what I remember being the frustrating and hard to understand concept of negative numbers.

It is more than just a character explaining the mathematical concept, but rather an active demonstration of it so that kids can effectively picture it. Kids have a way to picture absolute value and what it truly means, instead of teachers just saying its any number without it’s negative sign, and that being that. Instead of being told, kids get to see. And that is just one character. The book is filled with clever applications of math like this.


  • MATH: These comics are great for use as a supplement in a math curriculum. While there aren’t enough issues to exclusively teach an entire math course through the comics, they are highly helpful for the topics that are covered, like prime numbers and basic algebra. The book comes with ready-made lesson plans to use in conjunction with the comics in a classroom.
  • INTERDISCIPLINARY APPROACH: Or, consider crossing over into other disciplines. The focus of the comics is of course math, but elements of storytelling and other literary conventions are present and worth analyzing as well. Comics are a great way to introduce kids to analyzing literature, and this comic is no different.
  • DIVERSITY: These comics are incredibly inclusive in their portrayals of different genders and races. One comic contains a moment where the team’s assumption of a villain’s gender causes them to be unable to solve the mystery until the assumption is challenged. This type of casual moment promoting inclusion and very literally challenging assumptions is important in the continued promotion of tolerance and acceptance in schools and in our lives in general. 


Young, small Hannah would’ve loved this book in a classroom. By combining visual elements with mathematic principles the book effectively makes learning math more fun and interesting than any workbook ever could, which could inspire children to not look at math as something boring but a whole other world worthy of interest.

Any math teacher looking to engage students in a new way and make math more enjoyable and easy to visualize should consider using Solution Squad as a tool in your STEM curriculum.

PCC Celebrates a Successful Round of Summer 2017 Workshops (Part 2)

Between June and August of 2017, PCC conducted over 100 hours of programming at 24 different libraries, schools and community centers across the Front Range.

Below are some of our favorite highlights (part 2) from our summer 2017 workshops. A tremendous thank you to the many students, PCC teachers, and sites that made these workshops a success! Read Part 1 by clicking here

YMCA of Metro Denver – Power Scholar Academies  

For the 3rd year in a row, PCC again partnered this summer with the YMCA of Metro Denver to offer programs at two of their Denver-based Power Scholar Academies, K-6 programs meant to boost students’ math and reading confidence while preventing them from falling behind their peers over the summer.

This year, PCC ran Game On!, its cutting-edge game design program, during YMCA programs at Wyatt Academy and Omar D. Blair Charter School, helping 2nd-5th grade students to develop vital critical thinking, literacy and problem solving skills in a collaborative environment.

Over 6 weeks, students were tasked with creating a complete and playable board game – including everything from a game materials to boards to instructions – giving them the chance to build self-confidence, creativity and connections to their peers in these fun, play-based workshops.

According to PCC instructor Shawn Bowman, in the Power Scholars workshops “we stressed the importance of writing as a process for game building and the role of designers in communicating rules and themes. These young scholars built a number of creative projects from a hilarious card game based on Just Dance to a multi-level board where angles and demons fight in the after-life.  Their enthusiasm for experimentation with concepts and different game play mechanics illustrated the many creative and analytic parts of our brain we engage when we build games. It was inspiring.”

A Wyatt Academy student tests out designs for her game board. During Game On!, students design and plan out every part of their game with the help of PCC instructors and resources.

A member of the YMCA plays a real-life game with Omar D. Blair students to help them discover ideas for their own games.

PCC instructor Robin Childs helps an Omar D. Blair student brainstorm how the materials will be used in her game.

Students at Omar D. Blair work on the design for their games. PCC provides boxes for students to keep their board game materials in, which students then decorate.

For the final steps of the Game On! program, students work together to playtest another student’s game and then provide constructive feedback to their peers.

Jefferson County Public Library – Comic Creation Workshops

 Thanks to the generous support of the Jefferson County Public Library (JeffCo) this summer, PCC was fortunate enough to offer comic creation workshops at 10 different JeffCo library sites up and down the Front Range!

During these 1-hour workshops, students were given a quick overview of the building blocks of a comic book, from character design through panel layout, followed by a drawing lesson. Over the summer, PCC was able to introduce and engage 150 students in comics at these 10 different libraries, both spurring their creativity and self-expression and giving them the basic tools and knowledge to develop more comics of their own at home!

PCC instructor Shawn Bowman, who taught many of the JeffCo comic workshops, explained that this was a “fantastic opportunity for us to spend time with young artists in the community, some in more remote locations where kids might not have the opportunity to interact with writers and artists as frequently. At some of the smaller workshops we were even able to cater the lesson around a specific skill or area where the kids wanted to work, like drawing lessons for monsters or techniques for mapping out a full comic storyline.”

A group of JeffCo students work together to build their comics!

A group of JeffCo students work together to build their comics!

PCC Instructor and comic book artist Dan Conner helps a JeffCo library workshop participant create his first comic.


Youth One Book, One Denver (YOBOD) 2017

 For its  3rd year, PCC partnered with the Youth One Book, One Denver (YOBOD), a summer reading program designed for 9- to 12-year-olds. During the 6-week program, students were offered fun activities and events related to the book Upside Down Magic in order to enhance their reading experience and combat learning loss.

PCC was proud to offer 4 unique workshops at sites throughout Metro Denver in support of YOBOD. Sites included the Sun Valley Youth Center, Johnson Boys & Girls Club, Colfax Elementary, and Heart & Hand Prep Academy.

These workshops focused on everything from designing creatures to creating a board games and comics based on Upside Down Magic, giving students the opportunity to deepen their reading experience and respond to book with their own creative projects.

Adam Kullberg, PCC’s Education Program Manager, says the “YOBOD workshops are a great opportunity PCC has every summer to engage at-risk students in reading and provide them pathways to success, whether it be in their schools or their communities or both, through pop culture. We love being part of the YOBOD program and hope to continue with it in summer 2018!”

A big thank you to the Denver Arts & Venues and Parks & Rec for making these workshops a reality and supporting early literacy development all across Colorado!

Students at Colfax Elementary play games based on Upside Down Magic in groups, giving them a chance to engage more deeply with the book and tackle some important themes and topics from it.

In our “Creature Design” workshop, students were given an art lesson and then given time to draw magical creatures from Upside Down Magic and ones they created themselves.



Overall, we were thrilled with the outcome of our workshops this summer! It was such a rewarding experience to help students across Colorado improve their literacy, creativity, critical thinking and ability to express themselves.

As a reminder, it’s your support of Pop Culture Classroom and its annual program, Denver Comic Con, that allows us to continue offering these opportunities. So we want to especially to thank all our fans and attendees who have helped us connect with students, educators and organizations all across the state of Colorado – and beyond!

To learn more about workshops or request one at your school or site, please visit or reach out to us directly at

We look forward to impacting more young lives with the power of pop culture!


PCC Celebrates a Successful Round of Summer 2017 Workshops! (Part 1)

This past summer, Pop Culture Classroom was hard at work developing and running pop-culture based workshops for diverse sites and students all throughout Colorado! These workshops are all part of PCC’s educational mission to inspire, engage and ignite students’ love of learning using the tools of pop culture – including comics, board games, cosplay and so much more!

Between June and August of 2017, PCC conducted over 100 hours of programming at 24 different libraries, schools and community centers across the Front Range.

These innovative workshops gave us the chance to work with almost 500 students over the summer. Students ranged from 2nd graders through high school seniors, and represented an incredible array of talents, interests and backgrounds.

Below are some of our favorite highlights from our summer 2017 workshops. A tremendous thank you to the many students, PCC teachers, and sites that made these workshops a success!

Greenwood Village – Art in the Park

Our summer started with lots of comics and clothe! As part of the Greenwood Village Art in the Park summer series, PCC offered two workshops – “Superhero Design” and “Cosplay 101” – for younger students 6-10. These workshops were a great way to give early childhood and elementary learners the chance to engage with pop culture and learn the ins & outs of comics and costume-making!

In the Cosplay 101 workshop, students created outfits for their superhero personas! Here, an Art in the Park volunteer shows off her DIY costume to a younger student.

Students drew and created backstories for a hero and villain in the Superhero Design workshop!

Even our instructors, Terra Necessary and Rebecca Silva, got in on the fun!

African Community Center – Refugee Youth Workshops

One of the most exciting new opportunities this summer was PCC’s involvement with the African Community Center and their efforts to help refugees rebuild safe, sustainable lives in Denver.

This summer, PCC participated as a partner and program provider for ACC’s OnTRAC (Training Refugees Accessing College) youth program, which seeks to support refugees by offering college literacy lessons, while honoring their identities, experiences and strengths. PCC offered 2 summer workshops as part of this innovative program, with the goal of using Storytelling Through Comics, PCC’s comics creation program, as a way to help these refugee students improve their literacy skills and prepare for college applications.

In each workshop, refugee students were tasked with creating a comic or comic strip reflecting a journey or moment of personal growth, helping them visualize and develop compelling stories to serve as the foundations for their future college applications and scholarship essays.

According to ACC’s OnTRAC coordinator Yazan Fattaleh, “Pop Culture Classroom’s comic workshop helped our students understand their own stories, and how they can articulate them in more creative ways to increase their confidence. The PCC team did a great job connecting scholarship essays and comics for our students, most of whom had never seen a comic book before.” 

An OnTRAC student works to finish her final comic. Graphic novels like Persepolis, American Born Chinese and Ms. Marvel served as great models for their own stories of personal growth and transformation.

OnTRAC students work together to complete an in-class drawing activity meant to help them create and layout panels for their comic stories.

An OnTRAC student shows offer early designs of her comic character.

Participants in the OnTRAC workshop pose for a photo with PCC instructors Shawn Bowman and Erik Jacobson. Jacobson said he “loved meeting so many enthusiastic, polite, hardworking young men and women from so many different countries. Everyone had different strengths, yet they all produced something impressive by the end of the workshop.”

A few of the OnTRAC participants show off their final comics with PCC instructor Brack Lee.


To be continued…

Webcomics for the Classroom: Part 2 (Web Comic Hosting Sites)

For all but the most financially sound school districts, it can be a struggle to convince penny-pinching department chairs to make a heavy investment in a hard copy set of graphic novels or student-wide Comixology access.

Luckily, the internet can still surprise with its infinite array of resources of such high quality that they have no business being free. With nothing but a half-decent computer lab, your students can still explore comics by accessing web comic hosting websites.

Although this is by no means an exhaustive list, below are three web comic hosting websites that could provide you with worthy content for your classroom. These amazing hubs of creative expression let users browse through the passion projects of thousands of aspiring comic artists at no cost (with most offering a link for donations, of course.) Stories from every genre and of every length are posted page-by-page over months or years until a truly impressive library of works builds up for public consumption.

Now, only in our dreams would these free comic stories come with pre-made lesson plans. As an educator, you’ll need to comb through them to find the sort of works that would fit your class’ subject, objective, and maturity level. To make it easier for newcomers, though, I’ve picked out some exciting and age-appropriate up-and-coming webcomics from each site for you to check out.

Happy hunting! And be sure to check out Webcomic in the Classroom: Part 1 to learn about the other great webcomics out there.




1. Tapas

I credit my discovery of these resources to one of my students who first turned me on to Tapas. She invited me to read the beginning of her story and give a little feedback. One of the advantages of using websites like this is that grade-level material is easy to find because some of it is created by artists at grade-level!

As a website, Tapas is a little clunky. Clicking on links takes you counterintuitively to the last page of a work with no way to quickly jump back to the first. There is an iOS app that works more smoothly, but not every class has access to iPads! The best way to quickly lead students to a story would be to find the URL of the first page and hyperlink it for them.

Promising Comic: Heroes of Thantopolis

A boy wakes up with no memories of his previous life to find himself thrust into a war to protect Thantopolis, the city of the dead. I can definitely see this being used in a junior high or even elementary school English class.


2. Smack Jeeves

This website seems to be the most well-designed of the three listed here. It also seems to provide a very rare and powerful safe space for authors and artists with an LGBT perspective. Beyond that, a great deal of diverse characters seem to occupy this space. This might be my first choice to mine for material if I were working in an urban setting or if I want to expose my students to other cultures & viewpoints (and I always do!)

Promising Comic: Joseph and Yusra

While Marvel gets into trouble by calling into question the validity of diversity as a sales strategy, a contributor to Smack Jeeves named KawaiiYusra has paired up a Jewish boy with a Muslim girl as they flirt while fighting extradimensional beings with magical guitars and hammers. Yes. A thousand times Yes.


3. Comic Fury

Comic Fury offers something unique and immediately useful: it very helpfully tags each comic with a warning label for content like Violence or Sex. It let me zero in on appropriate material much more quickly than the other two. Beyond that the site has a retro, almost 90’s style that frequent childhood visitors to dial-up internet will appreciate.

Promising Comic: Abby Normal

Abby Normal, a Frankenstein-type zombie and a charming homage to Mel Brooks, tries to solve the mystery of her death with her sidekicks Petunia the Ghost and Benedict the talking-brain-in-a-jar. Although it’s macabre, the atmosphere is earnest and funny.



Web comics are an excellent, zero-budget way to start thinking visually. If things go well, then maybe it’s time to start exploring the ways that comics and graphic novels can bring new life to your teaching. And while these are a great start, keep in mind they don’t even scratch the surface of all the great webcomics out there.

And keep an eye out for Part 3 to get more examples and suggestions!

Review of Beowulf by Gareth Hinds


By Erik Kallenborn

For the past few years, I’ve been lucky enough to travel the country, speaking about the benefits of comics and graphic novels in the classroom, helping many teachers get started with the medium in their own classrooms along the way.

There are many roads that led to where the Comics Education Outreach is at this point in time, and a lot of our success comes from the partnership with Pop Culture Classroom; they saw and acknowledged our passion and were gracious enough to take us on as one of their many amazing programs. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention or give partial credit to Gareth Hinds’ version of Beowulf for our success as well.

Gareth Hinds’ amazing adaptation of the classic epic poem Beowulf has been a staple in my classroom for over five years, and my kids continue to find new aspects of the graphic novel to explore. My exploration of the relationship between reading time and assessment scoring even sparked a Chicago newspaper to cover a story about my usage of the graphic medium.

As teachers in a sea of sub-par classical adaptations, we have to find the gems. An adaptation of a long-taught classic that is engaging and relatable, Beowulf is a great translation and students dig it. The art and lack of text make this book work wonderfully in the classroom as an entryway into classic literature!

Using Beowulf In the Classroom

1.) Literary Analysis: While reading and discussing this title, students can engage in discussions on tone, mood, symbolism, pacing, plot, characterization, etc. If discussing character and author intent are your things, you need to teach this book; it has everything an English teacher needs.

2.) Art Analysis: The book is crafted in such a way that this title can also be an educator’s entryway into teaching the graphic novel medium. Along with the normal English classroom discussions going, you can layer discussions of color shift, graphic weight, panel layout, inference, etc. Add as much or as little as you like based on your conformability with comics and graphic novels. On his website, Hinds even provides sketches and a teacher’s guide as materials for classroom application.


3.) Engaging Different Types of Learners: Students can write about this title with as much familiarity and confidence as if they had read the classic epic poem. As someone that has used this book in an AP Literature class in which half of the students read the graphic novel, and half of the students read the adapted poem after which the graphic novel is created, I can say with certainty that, when the students write about the story, you will be hard-pressed to discover which student read which version.


4.) Text Pairing: If replacing the original text scares you or seems off-putting, pair them! Beowulf has the ability to be used as a paired text with the original version. Allow the images in the graphic novel to supplement the text and aid with understanding and comprehension. There are even some great essay prompts waiting to be created that will allow students to compare and contrast the text to the graphic novel, such as essays about characterization, Hinds’ edits, tone, and so on.

In Conclusion

If you are interested in learning more about the book and its classroom application, my fellow teacher Ronell Whitaker and I will be the Keynote speakers with Gareth Hinds at the closing of NCTE (National Council for Teachers of English) discussing our continued work with his books in our classrooms. It is a great honor to have been asked, and it will be an amazing opportunity to continue to speak about this fantastic book and its benefits to educators.

As you can see, there is a lot that any excited educator can do with this book. I implore you to check it out if you have not done so already. Let me know if you dig it, what you do with it, and how your kids like it. I wish you the best of luck and hope you see the success with this book in the classroom that I did!


Eric Kallenborn is a Chicago-based high school teacher and comic book aficionado. He can be contacted on social media @comics_teacher and over email at