Pop Culture Classroom’s Director of Education is speaking at TEDxCU

Pop Culture Classroom’s Director of Education, Illya Kowalchuk, M. Ed., is speaking at TEDxCU! As part of the event, Mr. Kowalchuk will give a must-see talk about PCC’s innovative program LEAD With Comics, a unique project that educates inmates at jails and prisons across Colorado to learn how to read and draw with the help of graphic novels. Comic books are an easy entry point into the vital world of reading. Time spent reading enjoyable material is crucial towards developing lifelong readers, be it for children in a traditional classroom or adults in detention centers.

As Mr. Kowalchuk will discuss, research shows students that aren’t given the opportunity to develop reading skills are more likely to end up in prison, and inmates who receive literacy education have a lower chance of reoffending. The LEAD With Comics eight-week course has found great success, and this TEDx talk will share how using graphic novels is a cool and creative way to engage all types of students; developing literacy skills and having the opportunity to create their own stories can help them find a positive way forward. “The inmates’ comic stories demonstrate just how powerful comic-book based education can be, and I couldn’t be more excited to share these tales at TEDx CU,” says Mr. Kowalchuk.

Join us on Saturday, April 15th at Old Main on the CU Boulder campus and listen to this thoughtful talk about a groundbreaking program!

The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation


Written by Johnathon Hennessey
Art by Aaron McConnell
Appropriate for Grades: Middle School and up


In interesting times such as these, the laws and traditions of the United States are finding themselves hotly debated on a daily basis. Coming of age in the 21st Century means that your students’ social feeds are filling with confusing political news, bold declarations by leaders, and loads of conflicting opinions. Questions emerge constantly about checks and balances, the limits of power, and the nature of our government. As teachers of social studies, it is incumbent upon us to help our students develop a clear understanding about the document that finds itself at the center of the struggle time and again: The Constitution.

At first glance, it may seem that breaking down a heavy primary source like the Constitution would be less appealing than the adaptations of novels and works of literature available to our friends in the English department. In actuality, Hennessey’s work divides into very intuitive chapters; it progresses just like the document itself with portions devoted to the Preamble, Articles, and Amendments respectfully. In addition, each section is accompanied by relevant details, illustrations (duh!) and entertaining stories!

Why This Graphic Novel is Awesome

Try this experiment: Call up friend and explain the 9th Amendment in detail to them. Unless your friend is a constitutional scholar or history teacher, it might look something like this:

Once you’re done holding them hostage, you might feel the pain and frustration that comes along with trying to teach the less “sexy” portions of the Constitution to students.

To combat this, The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation takes that amendment and explains it clearly in just 2 1/2 illustrated pages. Among the relevant details of the Amendment, no less than SIX supreme court cases are referenced with cool nonchalance. There’s also the clarifying use of a superhero of the author’s design called The Penumbra. Immediately, The Penumbra provides a concrete retrieval cue in the minds of students that will make this otherwise painful moment of learning into a highlight!

Mr. Hennessey’s graphic novel gives this same treatment to every part of the Constitution, with an almost frenetic shift in imagery between each section to help keep students interested.

Use In the Classroom

When teaching, I’ve found that Social Studies comics tend to be most useful when divided into smaller pieces. I personally would never have students read this dense and intimidating graphic novel from start to finish. Be forewarned: This is NOT a beginner’s book; it’s better suited to being read a few pages at a time followed by an opportunity to digest and discuss.

Hennessey’s book goes in the same order as the Constitution itself, providing context and clarification. He took care to plan out clear markers and stopping points so that readers will definitively know when the topic is shifting. Use this to your advantage. Small, 20 minute reading activities over the course of a semester will work well here.

Some portions might also work well as full-class projects. In one team-taught classroom, we enjoyed success in organizing a jigsaw of the Bill of Rights. We assigned very small groups of students to analyze the pages of one specific amendment. This is followed by a creation of their OWN illustration accompanied by a short explanation for their classmates. I’ve tried this activity using other methods (e.g., guided internet research), but Hennessey’s book has generally proven to be the fastest, most easily accessible resource for students and teachers alike.

In Conclusion

Through this graphic novel, Jonathon Hennessey has created a new, unique, and exciting way for students to engage with the Constitution – a text that has and will continue to affect all of our lives for decades to come. Please support him by buying all of his excellent books like I did!

[1] http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/strategy/strategy036.shtml

Finding Inspiration: Comics as a Pathway to Reading

By Michael Gianfrancesco, Comics Education Outreach

“Comics are a gateway drug to literacy.”
—Art Spiegelman, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Maus, A Survivor’s Tale

When I first began teaching comics in the classroom over a dozen years ago, one of the most dependable brick walls that I could rely on encountering was the dreaded question, “How can you justify the use of comic books in a serious academic setting?” Although I hear it less today, there are still some skeptical educators and administrators that love to question the viability of comics and graphic novels in the classroom.

There are plenty of case studies, scholarly articles, and texts that are helpful in addressing these concerns, and I have found myself hiding behind one or more in the past. While these resources are always effective in opening a dialogue with administrators, when it comes to getting buy-in from other classroom teachers, the simple fact that comics make kids want to read is often a far more powerful explanation. And when my peers ask, “But how?”, I – like so many comic fans – often return to one of my earliest childhood memories as an example.

I was 12 years old. I was watching my best friend Anthony and his family packing up their antique-filled house in preparation for a move to a new state. As Anthony’s father cleaned out an old piano bench, he called me over.

“Put your hands out,” he said.

He slid a very old, very colorful comic out of a plastic sleeve and gently placed it into my outstretched hands. The cover depicted Superman holding up a car, smashing the front end into a rock as horrified witnesses ran for cover. It was Action Comics #1, 1938. The gravity of what I was holding hadn’t yet hit me. In that moment, I was just mesmerized by this book. I didn’t even hear Anthony’s mother creeping up behind me and putting her hands on my shoulders.

“You are going to remember this moment the rest of your life,” she said quietly.

And she was right. In fact, that moment lit a fire in me that burns to this day – a love of reading. From then on I started seeking out as many comics as I could find, visiting the public library to dig through the small gold mine of collected editions of classic hero comics form Marvel and DC. I cut my teeth on Silver Age Fantastic Four, X-men, Green Lantern and Batman anthologies. When I had exhausted all of those titles, I asked the librarian for suggestions of other stories with similar elements to comics. This began my journey from comics to more traditional chapter texts. I went from Stan Lee to J.R.R. Tolkien, from Alan Moore to Terry Pratchett. From Neil Gaiman to…well…Neil Gaiman. And the more I read, the more I wanted to read.

Comics did that for me. It didn’t take a huge leap of logic to realize that it could do it for my students too. When I first started lending out graphic novels to kids in my classroom, the results were hard to argue. Kids devoured the books, sometimes returning the next day having already finished and begging for more. They spread the word that
“Mr. G” had comics to loan out in his classroom, and kids I had never seen before were timidly approaching me asking for my trade paperback of Aquaman, Pride of Baghdad, or Swamp Thing. I recalled then what the librarian had done for me: connecting chapter books to comics and showing me that a good story is a good story, comic or not. I started telling my students that if they liked Maus they should read Night; if they liked A Soldier’s Story they should read Band of Brothers; if they liked Smile, they should check out The Scarlet Letter or even Catcher in the Rye; and on and on…

We are always looking for in-roads to inspire our students to become readers, and it seems to get harder and harder with each passing year. But we all have stories in our lives about the moment we connect, truly connect, with a text, and are suddenly hungry for more. As a teacher, I have seen first-hand that comics and graphic novels have the power to open the door (or at least crack a window) to a love of reading for students, regardless of their backgrounds.

So if you, as a teacher, find yourself challenged to explain how “classics” like Shakespeare or Machiavelli could possibly measure up to Satrapi or Yang, I urge you to search your own history for the moment your love for reading was ignited. For students today, graphic novels and comics can offer a unique (and often untrodden) pathway to literacy, creativity, and a lifelong passion for reading.

Looking for Focus Group Participants!

Calling all educators! Pop Culture Classroom is looking for participants for a focus group! PCC is starting the Graphic Novels Lending Library, a program where educators can rent graphic novel libraries for instructional purposes. We want graphic novels to be accessible to all for use in instruction, and wish to gain information from a focus group on how to be most effective in the implementation of this program. This focus group will help us understand what conditions and resources are necessary to make the program successful. Whether or not you are familiar with using comic books or graphic novels as educational tools in the classroom we need your input. School educators, administrators, librarians, parents and students are all welcome and encouraged to participate. There will be two sessions of focus groups held on Saturday, March 11th, from 11am-12pm and 1-2pm at the Denver Public Library Main Branch.

If you are interested in sharing your thoughts with us about this program in our focus group apply here by March 1st.

Lumberjanes, Volume 1: Beware the Kitten Holy

Written by Noelle Stevenson & Grace Ellis
Art by Brooke Allen
Appropriate for Grades: 3rd grade and up


Full disclosure: When I was growing up, I was obsessed with all things related to summer camp. I loved Meatballs, and Salute Your Shorts, and sadly, even Ernest Goes to Camp. I lived for s’mores and spooky stories told around a campfire. The thing is…I’ve never been to camp in my life. I grew up in Chicago, and my family had very little money. The closest I came to camp was the free day camp at the local park (here, “day camp” is code for run around in the sun until you get tired and dehydrated). So when I saw the cover of Lumberjanes I was already on board.

So what is Lumberjanes? It is the story of five best friends spending the summer together at Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types, the home of the Lumberjanes Scouts. As the summer goes on, they learn there’s more to the camp than meets the eye. The girls endure magical quests, mystical creatures, and a mysterious Bear Lady, all while celebrating friendship to the max and girl power! The creators describe the book as “Baby Sitters Club meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Scooby Doo Goes to Camp.” It’s supernatural, mystery and adventure all wrapped in a ready-for-Cartoon-Network package.

Lumberjanes really shines because of it’s humor and characters. Each of the mains are people the reader can root for and care about by the end of the book. Young and older readers alike will definitely gravitate to Ripley, the wild and hyperactive girl with an endearing innocence and kick-butt attitude that make it hard to not fall in love with her. That may be what makes this title standout the most: the emphasis on the friendship and love these friends have for one another. By the end of the book, readers feel like these girls are their friends, too!


  • Lumberjanes really handles character well, so one idea is to explore archetypes through the main characters and antagonists. Students could identify the ways the characters fit and break the archetypal character patterns, and then characterize themselves by connecting their own character traits to those of one of the main characters.
  • There’s a bit of mythology in this first volume as well, so students could explore the hero’s journey through Lumberjanes and connect it with texts from other cultural myths.
  • At the secondary level, students and teachers could examine feminist themes in the book, and explore the significance of the relationships between the young women in the book.
  • Throughout the series, women of historic importance are constantly getting shout-outs. It’s a great opportunity to pause the action and go look these women up, and talk about what their contributions were and why they are important to recognize.

Overall, Lumberjanes is a great book, that features a predominately female cast, and was created by an all-female creative team. The work they are doing is full of fun and adventure, and the characters will appeal to all genders, but this book does a great job of representation for all kinds of girls, from a wide range of experiences and backgrounds.

Announcing the Comics Education Outreach (CEO) Program!

Contributed by: Jason Nisavic – 2/1/2017

Pop Culture Classroom is excited and proud to announce its newest program, Comics Education Outreach! Organized and managed by veteran teachers from across the United States, Comics Education Outreach (CEO) is dedicated to providing innovative and practical resources that help educators successfully incorporate comics and graphic novels into their classrooms. We offer professional development, lesson guides, comic/graphic novel reviews, and the CEO Lending Library. We believe that comics are more than just a gateway to literacy; they can be the vehicle for deeper engagement.

Who Are We?

The Comics Education Outreach (CEO) is made up of a group of veteran teachers who are passionate about the educational value of graphic novels and comics. In addition, the CEO works with a growing network of educators from all subjects areas and varied backgrounds.

What Do We Do?

Every day, teachers from all grade levels and subject areas are discovering new ways to make their classrooms more engaging with comics. With a rapidly growing market for graphic works, time-stressed educators can have trouble sifting out the useful material from the rest. To help out with this effort, CEO promotes this new approach to literacy in multiple ways:

  • We develop graphic novel & comics reviews across the spectrum of subjects and grade levels to bring attention to educational potential of these unique texts.
  • We share stories of our successes and failures using graphic works in the classroom, helping you to start strong and avoid common mistakes.
  • We host panels and workshops at comic and educational conventions across the United States, joining together with other educators, artists, publishers and authors to spread the word about the teaching and learning potential graphic texts offer.
  • Most excitingly, we’re running a graphic novel/comics lending library of several popular graphic novels — complete with lesson plans! Starting in April 2017, classrooms anywhere in the country can apply to borrow both classroom sets (30 copies) and smaller “Lit Circle” collections (7 copies).

The available titles in April 2017 include:

  • The Lumberjanes
  • March
  • Ghost/Sisters/Smile
  • Persepolis
  • The US Constitution: A Graphic Novel Adaptation
  • American Born Chinese

How Can I Learn More?

Come visit us at our website here, and connect with us on Twitter, to learn about how you can use and discuss comics in the classroom!

Michael Gianfrancesco – @tryingteacher
Eric Kallenborn – @comics_teacher
Ronell Whitaker – @MisterWhitaker
Jason Nisavic – @Teaching_Humans

In addition, CEO is continually searching for exciting artistic works that have educational value and educators from all subjects and backgrounds. For any questions or suggestions, please email info@popcultureclassroom.org.

Pop Culture Classroom Educator of the Year Award

Pop Culture Classroom is excited to announce our first-ever Pop Culture Educator of the Year Award! Pop culture is an incredible educational tool and our goal with this award is to recognize and honor educators who use pop culture to engage students, inspire lifelong love of learning, encourage diversity, and increase literacy in their schools and local communities.

If you know an educator who provides innovative and inspiring educational experiences using pop culture, please submit a recommendation! Nominees will be judged based on the following:

  • Innovative use of pop culture as an instructional tool
  • Demonstrated student engagement
  • Significant and lasting impact on their students, as well as within the larger school and local community

In addition to one of PCC’s own pop culture-based curricula, the winners will receive two 3-day passes to Denver Comic Con 2017 (June 30- July 2, 2017), as well as a special DCC’17 prize package.

Who is Eligible?

All K-12 and higher education (college/university) educators are eligible for the award. Parents, students, administrators, and fellow educators may submit applications, and one teacher can receive multiple nominations.

An award will be given out in each of the following categories:

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

How to Submit

Submit using the following link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/PopCultureEducatorAward
Deadline to receive submissions is May 1st, 2017. Winners will be announced May 10th, 2017.

Grand Prizes

The Grand Prize winner in each category will receive:

  • 2 (TWO) 3-day passes to Denver Comic Con 2017
  • Free access to 1 (ONE) PCC Curriculum
  • Special DCC’17 Prize Package
  • Spotlight on the PCC/DCC website

Honorable Mentions

An Honorable Mention from each category will be featured on our website.


Can an educator nominate themselves?

Are there any fees?
No, entry is entirely free!

What is the selection process?
After the deadline, all applications will be reviewed by a judging panel, who will select the winners. Ideal candidates should demonstrate a significant and lasting impact on their students, as well as within the larger school and local community, through the use of pop culture.

Winners will be notified via email by May 10th, 2017, and provided further instructions. Please ensure that the email address for the educator is correct upon submission.

What qualifies as “pop culture”?
While we understand that pop culture is an extremely broad category, for the purposes of this award we are looking for teachers who make innovative use of comics, games, television, social/new media, movies, and/or music as instructional tools.

Does it matter if the educator doesn’t live in Colorado?
The nominee can live anywhere; however, the prize is 2 (TWO) passes to Denver Comic Con 2017, and other expenses will not be covered.

Must the winner be present at Denver Comic Con 2017?
No, the winner does not need to attend Denver Comic Con 2017, though we highly encourage them to attend.

Must the educator be notified of a nomination?
No, however we do require a verified email address for the nominee so that we may contact them.

For any other questions and concerns regarding the award, please email us. We look forward to reading your submissions!


No purchase necessary. A purchase will not increase chances of winning.

Employees, officers, directors and agents of Pop Culture Classroom and members of the immediate family or persons living in the same household of such individuals, are ineligible to participate. Contest is subject to all federal, state and local laws.

Experience the Comix

Experience the Comix was created through a partnership between Illegal Pete’s and Pop Culture Classroom. Each year, tickets to Denver Comic Con—a program of Pop Culture Classroom—are given to middle and high school students with the goal of helping these students experience pop culture as a fun and engaging educational tool. Experience the Comix also teaches students about the many career paths that pop culture offers. 

When is Experience the Comix?
ETC will take place on Friday, June 30th, 2017 from roughly 10 AM to 5 PM.

Where is Experience the Comix?
It will be held at the Colorado Convention Center (700 14th St, Denver, CO 80202) during the first day of Denver Comic Con 2017. Important note: We cannot provide transportation to and from the event.

Who can come?
Middle and high school students who are unable to afford a day at Denver Comic Con are welcome to attend. Our goal is to provide an inspiring cultural and educational opportunity that will open minds to new, potential career opportunities. We ask that students who have already come to Experience the Comix in previous years please refrain from returning to allow others to enjoy this unique experience.




Thank you for attending the 2016 Denver Comic Con Art Auction! 

We would like to thank all the volunteers, staff and attendees who made last Saturday’s (Dec 10) annual Denver Comic Con Art Auction a success.
Your investment in our mission makes it possible for Pop Culture Classroom to continue to inspire a love of learning, celebrate diversity and build community through our many educational endeavors, which include things like pop culture-based curriculum and workshops, the Colorful History bi-weekly web comic, the LEAD With Comics program and Denver Comic Con. We’ll keep you updated throughout the year on how your donation has helped make our educational work possible.
We would also like to extend our gratitude to our community partners who donated items for the auction: Elitch Gardens Theme Park, Colorado Symphony, Sally Centigrade Art Gallery, Tattered Cover Book Store, Denver Film Society, The Curtis Hotel, Colorado Rockies and Illegal Pete’s.


Third Annual Pop Culture Classroom Kids’ Comics Contest!

Calling all parents, educators, and comic book fans! Pop Culture Classroom is launching its third annual comic book contest for kids, and we’re asking for your help to spread the word to young comic book creators everywhere. Whether you know a budding graphic novelist, an up-and-coming cartoonist, a comic book aficionado, or all of the above, we’re encouraging young artists from Colorado and beyond to enter our 2017 Kids’ Comics Contest!


Along with a pair of 3-day passes to Denver Comic Con 2017, contest winners will have their artwork prominently featured in the official Denver Comic Con 2017 souvenir program and admired by thousands of con attendees. Additional prizes include exhibition of artist’s work on the Pop Culture Classroom website and a special meet-and-greet session with a professional comic artist during Denver Comic Con 2017.


About the Contest

Running from December 9, 2016 to May 1st, 2017, the Pop Culture Classroom Kids’ Comics Contest is open to all Kindergarten through 12th grade students. Artwork must be in the form of an original comic or graphic text. Students may submit previously created artwork as long as it has not been published elsewhere and is age-appropriate.

Applications will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. Two winners (Grand Prize and Runner Up) will be chosen from each of four different age categories and announced on May 10th, 2017. The age categories are:

  • K-2nd grade
  • 3rd – 5th grade
  • 6th – 8th grade
  • 9th – 12th grade

Submissions will be judged on the following categories:

  • Storytelling. Story arc, character development, setting, and dialogue/captions.
  • Art. Use of comic conventions, character representation, setting, and layout.
  • Adherence to theme. This year, we’re introducing a theme to the contest. Your art and/or storytelling must display    one or all of the following ideas: Strength, Justice, Courage or Unity.


What is the desired length of the comic?

We do not have any specific requirements on length, though we are specifically looking for comics and graphic texts that tell a unique, engaging story through a mixture of text and art. You are welcome to submit a comic of any length that you feel accomplishes this. If the winner’s artwork is more than one page, we will print the first page of the comic in the DCC souvenir program, with the rest located on our PCC website.


Do you have a theme?

Yes! This year, for the first time, we’re introducing a theme to the Kids’ Comics Contest. Either in your art or storytelling, we’d like you to display one (or all) of the following ideas: Strength, Justice, Courage or Unity.


What are your rules in regards to mild violence/gore?

Since we’re a family-friendly con, we ask that you keep it PG-13.


Grand Prize

The Grand Prize winner in each category will have their artwork featured in the official Denver Comic Con 2017 souvenir program, inclusion in a special digital exhibition on the Pop Culture Classroom website, two passes to Denver Comic Con 2017, and a meet-and-greet session with a professional comic artist.


Runner Up Prize

The Runner Up prize winner in each category will be included in a special digital exhibition on the Pop Culture Classroom website and will receive two passes to Denver Comic Con 2017.


How do we submit the project?

Email artwork to contest@popcultureclassroom.org (highly preferred). If possible, please scan artwork in color, at 300 dpi, and send as a PDF or JPG or send via “snail mail” to PCC’s offices at

1391 N Speer Blvd, Suite 360
Denver, Colorado 80204

Deadline for contest entry is May 1st @ 5pm (MST).

For any other questions and concerns regarding the contest, please email us. We look forward to reading and enjoying your submissions!