The PCC Classroom Blog | Educator of the Year

Announcing the 2nd Annual Educator of the Year Award

Pop Culture Classroom is excited to announce that we are now accepting nominations for the 2nd annual Pop Culture Educator of the Year Award!

At PCC, we believe that pop culture is an incredible educational tool. The Pop Culture Educator of the Year Award is our way of recognizing innovative educators who are using pop culture as a way to engage students, inspire a lifelong love of learning, encourage diversity, and increase literacy in their schools and local communities.

Do you know an educator who fits this description? Be sure to nominate them today! An award will be given out for each of the following four categories:

  • Elementary
  • Middle School
  • High School
  • Post-secondary Education (college/university)

All K-12 and higher education educators (including, but not limited to, teachers, librarians, administrators and informal education practitioners) are eligible for the award. Parents, students, administrators, and fellow educators may submit applications, and one educator can receive multiple nominations. You can even nominate yourself!

In addition to one of PCC’s own pop culture-based curricula, each award-winner will receive two 3-day passes to Denver Comic Con 2018 (June 30- July 2, 2018), a DCC’18 prize package, and even a special spotlight on PCC’s website. One Honorable Mention from each category will also be chosen and featured on our website.

We look forward to hearing about the wonderful educators in your lives and the great work they’re doing to support students using pop culture!

The EGL Awards Blog

Why It’s the Perfect Time to Recognize and Celebrate Graphic Literature

When we came together to create the Excellence in Graphic Literature Awards, the first question we asked was whether there was a need for such a thing; would it be different from all the other comics-industry awards? The answer is an unwavering yes.

Why We’re Doing This

We need to recognize the best in comics and graphic novels because there is nothing like the EGLs, whose purpose is to cast light on those works of graphic literature that the public should be reading – especially teachers and librarians, parents and their kids.

We may implicitly understand the education and communication value of graphic literature, but most people don’t. The time is now to help fully inform the public through the teams of publishing industry professionals who are currently submitting, scrutinizing and voting on the best of the best.

Why We Think Now is the Perfect Time

Readership tastes are constantly evolving, and the publishing industry has started to recognize this fact. As the previous generation of creators started increasing the length and broadening the topic of their stories, the current generation of student readers have come to expect a variety of books that reflects their culture and beliefs.

Both comics and book publishers have recognized this paradigm shift and are working to hire the hottest creators and publish the best books for this growing audience. Simultaneously, educators and librarians are eager to learn about the sheer scope of these offerings and feature the best of the best for their students and readers.

But the current review and ordering process is outdated, leaving these parties frustrated by the lack of accurate information about what readers want and what is available to fill their needs.

Through our year-long submission, judging and awards process, the Excellence in Graphic Literature Awards will shine a spotlight on these superior works.

Our hope is the award will establish a recognizable high-water-mark of industry credibility and quality, helping publishers more quickly identify the best creators, help educators more confidently choose books they present to students, and help eager students discover their next great read.

Why We are Calling it “Graphic Literature”

Why not just “comic books” or “graphic novels”? While we are grateful that comics are finally getting their due as a legitimate art form having literary merit, the term “graphic novel” is in danger of becoming so overly-broad that it is misleading.

For example, while they are certainly graphic, seminal literary works such as Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Rep. John Lewis’ March, relate factual stories of profound historical significance and as such are anything but novels.

In addition, we want to give publishers and creators the ability to submit for peer review works that don’t neatly fall into the GN or comic book categories, such as illustrated works that may contain as many words as pictures.

The key is that these will be works of literary and educational merit, that children and adults can enjoy and benefit from, that parents and educators will be confident of their literary value, and that students will enjoy at the same time they are learning.

Each jury will consider fictional works, but unlike other awards programs, works of non-fiction will have their own category to raise public recognition and awareness in a way that helps educators justify their use in classrooms.

In addition, even more than 60 years after Dr. Frederick Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent, great works like Maus and March have not been able to diffuse the stigma of the term “comic book”.

Our goal, therefore, is not only to highlight the year’s best graphic works with the greatest educational and literary value, but also to help publishers and educators undo the damage of seven decades of “bad press”, by highlighting those creators and their works of the past year which have the most literary and educational merit.

For Next Time…

We hope this helped answer some of the questions you may have, but as always if you have more questions or would like to suggest a topic for us to cover, feel free to write them in the comments below, post them on our Facebook, Instagram or Twitter pages, or send them to

Keep an eye out for our next posts coming in a few weeks. We’ll be introducing the major award categories, along with general topics regarding the awards and advice on how to get more involved with graphic literature both in and out of the classroom.

Be Well, Read More.

Using Humor in the Classroom


By Michael Mannix

I used to teach 7th grade English, and one of the best parts was that anything I read, watched on TV—anything—could be an artifact for the classroom. Some of these artifacts seemed more obvious—like a New York Times op-ed on the function of the word “like.” Some were less so—like a Taco Bell commercial students adapted as a promotional video for Spirit Day. And then some I just missed totally. One of these was The Onion, and, when I realized it, I wanted to try to make up for it. The result was Teaching with The Onion, a Facebook blog for teachers of all subjects.

Right now, the site publishes about one lesson a week based on parodies from around the internet. The standards and subjects these lessons address are diverse: There’s a lesson on teaching research skills in ELA, Social Studies and Science using an article called “It’s Called ‘Columbusing,’ And It’s The Latest Teen Craze That Has Kids Sailing The Globe In Search Of Spice”; a lesson on teaching public speaking skills with an Onion parody of a TED Talk (shout out to PVLEGS!); and another one designed for students to critique and develop conversational norms in the classroom using an article called “College Encourages Lively Exchange of Idea.

Parody websites like The Onion, Clickhole, Reductress, McSweeney’s and countless others churn out these articles on a daily basis, and the possibilities for classroom use are endless. I hope that, as the page grows, teachers will contribute their own lessons while also adding feedback to others’. I also plan to expand the page’s purpose, such as posting education-related parody texts with ideas for use in teacher professional development.

At the same time, I realize there is resistance to using parody in the classroom, and, more broadly, even humor. In talking to teachers and even scholars of humor in education, I’ve been reminded of the stigmas—and dangers—of using particular texts in the classroom, particularly those perceived as being separate from “the canon,” or those too closely associated with pop culture. For various, often problematic reasons, some texts are given secure positions within schools, while others face instant skepticism.

Humorous texts pose their own challenges. For one, they aren’t always morally acceptable. When it comes to humor more broadly, there’s humor that punches down, humor that reinforces harmful stereotypes, and humor that just doesn’t fit with the decorum of particular spaces. In general, there can be an ambiguity about the effects of humor on other people, which poses particular risks for schools.

There are other obstacles for teachers, too. Currently, the battle against “fake news” has led to a renewed focus on the importance of teaching the evaluation of sources—but not necessarily the glorification of parody news. Further, in the last half century, influential reports and standards in education, from A Nation at Risk to No Child Left Behind, have pressured educators to focus on practices that look “serious” and focus directly on a particular set of skills, often at the expense of instruction that seems to be more…joyful. Michael Smith, Deborah Appleman, and Jeff Wilhelm, for example, attribute the rise of “zombie close-reading” practices to the Common Core State Standards. This approach to reading has students focus on the text at the expense of personal response and background knowledge; it also tends to exclude instructional practices like choice reading, book talks, and literature circles.

Finally, there’s the majority of Western philosophy’s take on humor, which has not been so kind. Plato, for example, called laughter a vice, suggesting we should avoid it if possible. Aristotle agreed—he equated wit, famously, with “educated insolence.” The Stoics were, of course, on board with all of this; one was admired by his followers for never laughing at all. He claimed it helped with self-control.

I bring up these sources of resistance to humor to acknowledge them as real obstacles, but also to offer alternative perspectives. Humor, after all, is often considered non-serious, and yet it has serious effects: provoking diverging thought, relieving stress, communicating persuasive messages, developing open-mindedness, building solidarity, engaging an audience, and the list goes on.

There are concrete benefits for instruction, too. For one, reading and writing parody requires all kinds of knowledge—of genre, content, and literacy skills in general. As creative writing professor Bev Hogue points out: “The elements that make humor effective—pace, timing, economy of expression, vivid language—also make other kinds of writing effective, so exercising these elements provides skills transferable to other tasks.”

Finally, there are ethical considerations with humor, but these obstacles can be reframed as opportunities: How, for example, do we know what effect our writing will have on others? How do we know what’s offensive? And, as satirists ask all the time, what needs a little offending?

Although it may seem counter-intuitive, then, I would argue that—even in these times—there’s a positive role for fake news in the classroom, both as a genre that can produce positive effects, and as a process that can generate benefits for students and classrooms.

My conviction originated in the classroom, when my students proposed an April Fools edition of the school newspaper. I admit: at first, I was nervous. Although an avid reader of parody news (*ahem*…and The New Yorker), I had never taught it before. I was also aware of how news about other people in the school—fake news—might not be okay with those individuals or even with the school administration. We would have to be careful, serious, rigorous.

This influenced our approach to everything: topics, headlines, word choice, images, even fact-checking. During the entire process, we gave as much attention to entertaining our audience as we did to ethical considerations. We talked about the writing for weeks—in the hallway, over Google docs, in class, even at recess. And our conversations about humor were often serious: What was appropriate to publish? What writing would actually be funny? And what would the writing’s impact be on the school community: a real-world audience of students, peers, teachers, and families? On the day of publication, some of the newspaper’s toughest critics were converted into fans, and the writers felt proud of the work they had done.

As a doctoral student now, I’m motivated to know more about what was going on with this experience. Using some of the research I’ve done on humor studies, education more broadly, and the eighty-two Clickhole articles I see every time I check my Newsfeed, I’ve continued to think of ways to support teachers in using humorous texts to teach reading and writing. In addition to managing Teaching with The Onion, I recently put together a curriculum for creating parody newspapers with students. It contains resources for taking students through a range of experiences, including brainstorming, drafting, revising, conferencing, and publishing.

There’s a lesson on creating what Onion writers call a “Tough Room”—a sort of writing workshop where the main currency is laughter; a lesson on using elements of humor theory to guide the revision of sentences; a lesson on co-constructing ethical guidelines with students, with ideas generated through reading articles about school administrators’ reactions to practical jokes; and a lesson on brainstorming multimodal companions to articles.

My hope is that, when students participate in the lessons, they have the chance to draw on diverse knowledge and literacies, and transform the way they think about writing. I also hope that, when teachers use the guide, they have the opportunity to think about the challenges and opportunities of using humor in the classroom. To support that process, I have included classroom anecdotes and integrated scholarship on humor whenever appropriate. I invite you to continue the conversation by posting work, questions, and experiences—around anything related to teaching humor and literacy—on Teaching with The Onion.


Michael Mannix is a former middle school English teacher and current doctoral student in Reading/Writing/Literacy at the University of Pennsylvania. He works with the Philadelphia Writing Project on a number of programs, including the Philly School Media Network, an initiative to support student journalism. In his research, he is interested in humor studies, ethics, and literacy education.

The EGL Awards Blog

Introducing the Excellence in Graphic Literature Awards

Comics and graphic novels are taking a leading role in driving the circulation of libraries, and students are reading them from pre-K through higher education, in every learning environment possible.

More today than ever before, readership and content accurately reflect society. Librarians everywhere are noticing how the size of their graphic literature collection directly affects the circulation of their entire collection. Pre-K through adult educators see that graphic novels engage students across the entire ability and interest spectrum.

It is time for the publishing industry to have its own Graphic Literature award.

Celebrating the Best in Fiction and Non-Fiction Graphic Novels

Responding to this need, Pop Culture Classroom and Denver Comic Con are excited to host the Excellence in Graphic Literature Awards (EGL Awards).

The EGL Awards recognize the phenomenal expansion of graphic literature across multiple industries. The creators and content of graphic literature are more diverse and eclectic than ever, and the format is experiencing tremendous growth in the book market.

Our Advisers and Judges – The Most Respected in the Industry

Our Advisory Board and Juries are composed of diverse, experienced and informed professionals that span the publishing, library, and education industries. These team members will select the best in graphic literature through a clearly defined and transparent process.

Now Accepting Submissions

Even as comics and graphic novels have become big business in other media such as gaming and movies, mainstream and independent publishing still feeds that creative pipeline.

We are aware of this symbiosis, which is why we are accepting submissions for any-and-all works published during the calendar year of 2017, regardless of publisher size. Individuals, creative teams, editors, agents, and publishers are all welcome to submit their books for consideration.

A Trophy Like No Other

The physical EGL award should be just as treasured as the winning of the award itself. To achieve this, we have been working with world-renowned sculptors Colin and Kristine Poole to create a trophy that will be a treasured reminder of this achievement, along with an associated medallion that can be used for book promotion following the award ceremonies.

Brought to life through the uniquely interdependent combination of words and pictures, graphic literature is a distinct narrative art form. It’s an art form that deserves to be celebrated. It’s time for the Excellence in Graphic Literature Awards.

Award Categories

Awards will be given to the best in graphic literature for the following categories:

  • Children’s Fiction (Grade 5 & Under)
  • Children’s Nonfiction (Grade 5 & Under)
  • Middle Grade Fiction (Grades 6-8)
  • Middle Grade Nonfiction (Grades 6-8)
  • Young Adult Fiction (Grades 9-12)
  • Young Adult Nonfiction (Grades 9-12)
  • Adult Fiction
  • Adult Nonfiction
  • Mosaic Award –  This award recognizes the ever-growing number of talented storytellers and rich content that come from our diverse communities, ethnicities, nationalities, faiths, genders, and orientations. The Mosaic Award is open to titles that span any age range. Qualification for this category is determined by the person submitting a title.
  • Book of the Year– Winners of each of the above nine categories will be entered into competition for the Book of the Year. Book of the Year will represent the year’s very best in graphic literature.

For Next Time…

We hope this provided a solid introduction and overview of the awards program. We will be updating the website frequently, so check back often. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter pages. If you have more questions or would like to suggest a topic for us to cover, feel free to write them in the comments below, post them on our social channels, or send them to

In our next post we’ll explain why it’s so important right now to recognize and celebrate graphic literature excellence.

Be Well, Read More!

Highlights from Pro Day at New York Comic Con 2017!

By Michael Gianfrancesco
& Illya Kowalchuck

New York Comic Con is probably the largest fan event that Pop Culture Classroom attends each year. It is a four-day whirlwind of superheroes, studios, and sensationalism. We often equate it to Christmas in that it takes months of work to prepare and it’s over in just a couple of days…

…but what a wonderful couple of days it was!

The Highlights

Pop Culture Classroom and our friends found ourselves on a number of amazing educational panels throughout the NYCC weekend. Many of our panels took place at the New York Public Library (NYPL), where the show put together a special “Professional Day” on Thursday, October 5 for teachers, librarians and educators from all over the world. Some of the PCC team attended this event and presented on panels there, while others held down the fort at educational sessions at the Javits Convention Center ten blocks away.

Lesson Planning for the Comics Classroom

This first panel we were fortunate enough to participate in was also the first offered as part of “Pro Day,” and we were excited to find a packed room awaiting us when we arrived at the NYPL Thursday morning!

Moderated by John Shableski (Udon Entertainment) and featuring librarian Claudia McGivney, high school teachers John Weaver and Michael Lopez, and PCC’s Education Program Manager, Adam Kullberg, this panel introduced a packed room of educators and librarians to what an introductory comic unit looks like. It also provided hands-on strategies, tips, and resources meant to help educators incorporate comics into classrooms and libraries.

Books As Flint: Using Graphic Novels to Inspire Social Activism

Later on in the day, PCC presented on a panel aimed at using graphic novels to inspire social activism. And boy, did it live up to its name! Tony Medina and Stacey Robinson (My Name is Alphonso Jones), Meryl Jaffee (Proffesor at Johns Hopkins), R Alan Brooks (The Burning Metronome), and Marjorie Liu (Monstress) joined PCC Director of Education Illya Kowalchuck in lighting up the Trustees Room at the library.

The conversation was on fire from the outset, with each panelist chiming in about stories that echoed the power of graphic novels in their lives and classrooms. The through line for all of this was how easily the medium opens doors for powerful conversations and sheds light on the inequities present in contemporary society. Rather than let these issues smolder, well-chosen graphic novels can hold up a mirror to the reader. What’s more, this evolving art form can ignite students’ awareness and, potentially, inspire change.

Gender Identity: Understanding Through Art

About 10 blocks away from the NYPL, PCC Comics Education Outreach Programming Director Michael Gianfrancesco participated in three of PCC’s sessions that took place there, including two panels and our third-annual Educator Meet & Greet session.

The first panel focused on talking about how to use comics to illustrate and inform students (and anyone, for that matter) about sexual and gender identity with gender identity. It included moderator Dr. Katie Monnin (Teaching Graphic Novels, Teaching Reading Comprehension with Graphic Texts), comic creators Dana Simpson (Phoebe and her Unicorn) and Molly Ostertag (The Witch Boy), and actress, dancer and educator Tami Stronach (The Paper Canoe Company, The Neverending Story).

Throughout the panel, the energy in the room was very powerful and the panelists brilliantly helped the room unpack a topic that is often misunderstood by educational leaders as well as students and parents. As Gianfrancesco put it, “I walked away from this experience with a much greater understanding of gender identity, but more importantly, with a sense that there is so much more for me to learn.”

PCC’s Michael Gianfrancesco participates on the Gender Identity panel at NYCC 2017. Dr. Katie Monnin, Tami Stronach, Dana Simpson, Molly Ostertag (shown left to right).

The Representation Bookshelf: Building a More Diverse Comics Classroom

Next, PCC’s fourth panel of the day brought Gianfrancesco together with creators, educators, and publishers to discuss how to help teachers and librarians choose titles that focus on, or at least include, diverse characters. PCC was honored to share the stage with moderator Gina Gagliano (First Second Books), Geoff Gerber (Lionforge), Jorge Aguirre (Giants Beware, Monsters Beware), Ngozi Ukazu (Check, Please!), and Dr. Katie Monnin.

The panel talked about graphic novels with characters of color, with varying religious backgrounds, with disabilities, and of a variety of sexual and gender identities (calling back to the previous panel). A number of amazing title suggestions were handed down by the participants and we later found ourselves running through the show floor trying to get our hands on books like Superb from Lionforge, Mighty Jack from First Second, and Lowriders in Space from Chronicle Books.


PCC’s Michael Gianfrancesco takes a selfie with dancer and educator Tami Stronach (The Paper Canoe Company, The Neverending Story).

Educator Meet & Greet Session

Immediately after the second panel wrapped up, PCC staff had to hightail it over to our annual educator meet & greet across the Javits Center. PCC was fortunate enough to partner with First Second Books and The French Comics Association for this innovative session, which connected creators from France with American artist, writers, and teachers from around the country.

The meet & greet was set up with four tables, each which focused on a specific grade level or topic, meant to help teachers easily find out what they needed for their particular classroom and grade level. PCC’s Gianfrancesco was seated at a table geared towards high school and college appropriate texts and got the chance to meet some wonderful creators including French writer Fabien Nury (The Death of Stalin) and Stacey Robinson and Tony Medina. Likewise, PCC’s Kullberg and Kowalchuk were seated at tables for YA books and K-5 Graphic Novels, respectively.

Over the course of an hour, this meet & greet discussion turned to the differences between what is considered acceptable texts in European schools as opposed to here in the US. What fascinated us the most was the fact that, in France, comics are considered viable texts for elementary school age children, regardless of the content, which can sometimes get risky in American culture because of sexual content. We also learned that once a child begins to reach teenage school years, the French education system no longer considers comics or graphic novels usable at all, regardless of the subject matter.

PCC’s Michael Gianfrancesco alongside creators and publishers from the French Comics Association (FCA) including Stacey Robinson, Fabien Nury, Tony Medina, Zep, Meg Lemke (left to right.)

Content Literacy: Teaching STEM With Comics

PCC’s final panel of the NYCC Professional Day was a one-two punch focusing on how graphic novels and comics can improve engagement and retention among students in STEM. Featuring PCC’s Kullberg as a moderator and Kowalchuk as a panelist, we were thrilled to share the stage with artist and teacher Jay Hosler (Last of the Sandwalkers), as well as First Second creators Alison Wilgus and Molly Brooks (Flying Machines) and Joe Flood (Sharks, Dinosaurs).

In addition to discussing these STEM comics creators and educators’ inspirations and insights, this panel offered the audience a comprehensive list of STEM comics that they could bring into elementary through high school classrooms, offering new inroads for students to tackle STEM topics.

In Conclusion

We had a truly enlightening and educational experience at New York Comic Con this year. As always, it was amazing being a part of these discussions because we not only got to share the stage with creators, publishers, librarians, and other educators, but were able to meet the fantastic fans and educators who shared their own experiences using comics with us.

We also picked up a lot of great books from artists and publishers, when soon we will be publishing a blog post or two containing lists of some of the best titles we snagged along with some suggested classroom applications! For now, we returned to our respective homes, families, and day-to-day duties, decompressing and reflecting on a fantastic experience at NYCC.

Now Accepting DCC’18 Panel Submissions

Our Denver Comic Con 2018 lineup of events and activities is going to be bigger than ever with a diverse range of topics for all ages and pop culture and literary interests. 2 Main Events stages, 25 session rooms, with almost 600 hours of panels, workshops and demos!

We want to give YOU the opportunity to present your own session. This is a chance for you to share your wisdom and knowledge with your fellow pop culture enthusiasts. We’re looking for great panels covering comics, sci-fi, fantasy, games, cosplay, literature, film making, art demonstrations and much, much more!

Colorful History in the Classroom

Recently, we reached out to our community to see how they were using “Colorful History” in the classroom. We received lots of responses about the many different ways that these comics are providing educational value.

Erik Burgeson, a library media specialist at Kilbourne Middle School in Worthington, OH, told us that he first started using Colorful History comics in his Graphic Novels course. “At first,” he told us “I used it as an optional read in between longer reads such as Trickster and American Born Chinese.” A few years later, Erik started using the comics frequently in the classroom with his 8th grade students, after Kilbourne Middle School began an effort to do formative and summative assessments in writing across the curriculum.

“I started with my 8th graders and found the comics and the teacher guide and questions to be extremely valuable as they were aligned with exactly what we were trying to do, increase students reading and writing about non-fiction topics. This year I began using the comics with my 7th graders as well. In fact, right now my eighth graders read one comic every Friday and answer the teacher guide questions as a practice (formative) assessment for their graded writing assignments.”

Another response we received came from the Mayor’s Office of the National Western Center. Executive Assistant Tricia Ortega informed us that the publication goes beyond a school setting! She wrote to us, saying:

“Colorful History is not just for kids! I print the comics out and put them on the front counter for the Mayor’s Office. A lot of our staff does not know much about Colorado history other than what we were taught in school a few decades ago. Everyone has enjoyed the comics and they provide something for folks to do while waiting for meetings.”

Janae L., a 4th grade teacher at Bristol Elementary in Colorado Springs, described to us her student’s excitement after reading an issue on the Colorado Flag:

“I downloaded the Colorado Flag comic so students could view it on our Google Classroom site. I created a lesson target that would promote student inquiry. One student said, “I can explain the importance of the Colorado state flag and tell what aspects of Colorado are important to me.” As students read, their hands shot up as they discovered the information. They excitedly shared with me, and students ended the class remembering the information. I LOVED the student excitement and engagement because they were able to gain information from a comic and use technology to access it.”

We are thrilled to hear stories of how Colorful History comics are utilized, both in and out of the classroom!

Click the link below to check out different issues of our comic strip! We hope you find them just as useful!

Announcing Our 2017 Scary Story Design Contest Winners!

Thank you to everyone who participated in our 2nd Annual Tattered Cover Scary Story Cover Design Contest! We were thrilled with all the creative, original and hair-raising artwork we received from students across Colorado.

One winner and honorable mentions were selected for each grade level, and from these awardees a single grand-prize winner was chosen to be featured as the cover of the 34th Annual Scary Story Contest Book of Winners!

In addition, honorees received a collection of all the winning stories with the Grand Prize winning cover, and an invitation to a special reception at the Tattered Cover on Colfax Avenue. You can read the full collection of amazing writers and artists at this link!

Many congrats to the winners and honorable mentions listed below!



The 2017 Scary Story Design Contest Grand Prize Winner is…. (drumroll)… Islas Luevano!

Islas will receive two (2) weekend passes to Denver comic Con 2018 and a $25.00 Tattered Cover Book Token for this winning submission.

Likewise, each winner from each grade level below will receive a $25.00 Tattered Cover Book Token, while honorable mentions will receive a $15.00 Book Token.


WINNER: Augusta Ramp (Age 7, Grade 2)

HONORABLE MENTION: Tyler Grantham (Age 7, Grade 2)


WINNER: Leo Ramp (Age 8, Grade 3)

HONORABLE MENTION: Katherine Analovitch (Age 8, Grade 3)


WINNER: Islas Luevano (Age 11, Grade 6)


HONORABLE MENTION: Addison Rafferty (Grade 6)


HONORABLE MENTION: Cal Foster (Age 11, Grade 6)

HONORABLE MENTION: Lexi Rufenacht (Age 11, Grade 6)

HONORABLE MENTION: Avery Dossey (age 11, grade 6)


CONGRATULATIONS again to our wonderful contest winners, and thanks again to everyone who submitted a story cover!

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.