Archive for Teachers

A Newbie’s Guide to Teaching Comics

Guest Post by John C. Weaver, Williamsport Area High School

So, you’ve decided to bring graphic novels in the classroom, have you? Excellent! You’ll find it immensely gratifying, and your students will love it. Comics and graphic novels immediately engage both high and low end readers. But, now that you’re committed to teaching with this medium, how do you start? 

Picking Your First Books

Perhaps you have already chosen a comic to bring into the classroom, but if you haven’t quite reached that point, your first step is to select a book.

Would you prefer fiction or non-fiction? Perhaps you’d like to start with a graphic adaptation of classic books (there are many of them).

An excellent resource for teachers new to the medium is diamondbookshelf.com. There you will find plenty of book reviews; lesson plans sorted by elementary, middle school, and high school; and upcoming titles.

Although I’ve taught quite a few graphic novels (my classroom bookshelves are crammed with them), some of my (and my students’) recent favorites include Derf Backderf’s memoire My Friend Dahmer, which recounts Backderf’s high school acquaintance with future serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer; and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, which details her experiences as a child during the Iranian revolutions.

Before You Dive In

Once you’ve picked a text, the next thing I recommend you do is read Scott McCloud’s book Understanding Comics for your own benefit.

McCloud’s text is a comic book about the medium of comics, which will teach you both the theory and the practice of the form.

Order a class set of these for your classroom as well.

Ready, Set, Go

Your books have been chosen and ordered, so now you need to figure out how to introduce and begin to teach students the graphic novel.

What follows will not be a full unit plan (that’s a different, and vitally important, subject). Instead, this is a step-by-step guide to begin a unit on your comic.

Understand, this is what I do; feel free to adopt or ignore any of these steps, which also goes for the examples I include: use them as is or adapt them as you choose.

Step One (Duration: One or Two Days)

Take the temperature of the room.  Find out, whether through a bell ringer or a show of hands, what their experience with comics is—and newspaper funnies count.

Some students will have no experience at all, and others go to their local comic book shop every Wednesday. (For newbies out there, Wednesday is new comic book day.)

When you identify your comics fanboys and fangirls, RELY on them. They are your experts and will help the other students figure out how to read comics.

Once you have done this, you’ll need to show them how comics work. I suggest introducing the distinction between illustration and comics that Jimmy Gownley (writer and artist of the Amelia Rules series) has discussed in a teacher training that I attended.

Look at Figure 1 below.  (While the idea and the words are Gownley’s, the “art” is my own. Gownley is an actual artist!)

The EGL Blog | Where to Start | Illustration 1In the above examples, Gownley would call the one on the left an illustration, because the text and the art are very closely related, much as you would see in a children’s book.

The one on the right is a comic, according to Gownley, because the reader needs to connect text and art into a single idea that isn’t immediately apparent.

You can ask students to talk about the differences between the two examples. Having them discuss why the man is running for milk helps drive the differences home.

The last thing to do is to show a variety of short comic strips is among many websites that have free online strips, and ask students to discuss the connection between art and text. With the online comics, you can point out that they will read comics the way they read books: left to right.

Step Two (Duration: One Day)

Once students have become familiar with the form, you could consider the create-a-comic activity.

When I do it, I create three panels, each with a different piece of clip art.

In groups, students turn random pictures into a coherent story with some combination of additional art, captions, and speech/thought bubbles. They then share them with the class, which works really well.

My students make me proud with their imaginative responses. I’m sure yours will, also. Figure 2 shows the actual exercise I use.

The EGL Blog | Getting Started | Illustration 2

Step 3 (Duration: Two or Three Days)

Now that students are familiar with how text and art interact in comics, and they have done it themselves with the create-a-comic exercise, it is time to expose them to some comic book theory.

Bring out your class set of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, and assign them to read Chapter Three. 

While you may wish to assign them the whole book—which would be lovely—for practical purposes, chapter three of Understanding Comics is very useful.

McCloud looks at the same phenomenon that Jimmy Gownley does, that reading comics requires understanding the juxtaposition of text and art, or art and art. McCloud refers to the concept of closure, which means we can look at a series comic book panels and understand what point the comic artist is making.

Using the idea of closure, McCloud examines the different types of transition of one panel to the next. The taxonomy he creates in chapter three will be useful for you and your students as you discuss the writer and artist’s purpose for setting up the panels as they do.

It would be a good idea to create a graphic organizer such as the one in Figure 3 to help focus your students during the reading.

The EGL Blog | Getting Started | Illustration 3

Step 4 (Duration: As Long as It Takes)

Once your students have both a practical and a theoretical understanding of comics, and all of you have a common vocabulary to discuss them, it is time to distribute the graphic novels and start assigning readings.

While teaching the text for the first time, you will need to rely on the students who read comics or manga regularly. They will be your greatest allies. However, keep in mind, English teachers can always discuss plot, character, setting, theme, and metaphor, just as with any book.

Comics simply add one more element—the interaction of art and text.  All of your students, both the high performing and the struggling students, will respond well to comics.

Have fun with it, and allow yourself to learn from your kids. I did, and I have never been more grateful for taking a risk with a group of teenagers. 

Resources

There are a number of teacher-generated resources for teaching with graphic novels, including Pop Culture Classroom.

Another great resource is Dr. Katie Monnin from the University of North Florida at Jacksonville. Her books, which can be purchased at http://www.capstonepub.com/classroom/authors/monnin-katie/ are very useful, and filled with practical teaching strategies and reproducible handouts for classes.

Another useful source is Maureen Bakis, whose books can be purchased on Amazon at this link: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias=aps&field-keywords=maureen+bakis

Full Lineup of Education Panels at DCC’17 Available!

Denver Comic Con 2017 is just around the corner! This year we have over 250 hours of education-based panels focusing on everything from teaching with cosplay to using board games in your classroom to engaging students with independent films, and so much more! These panels are all part of our overall nonprofit educational mission: to use pop culture to educate, inspire and engage students and teachers everywhere! 

To help you keep track of these exciting opportunities, we have compiled a full list of these education panels at the Con at the link below. 

www.popcultureclassroom.org/dcc/education

But wait, there’s more! At this link, and to further help you plan your DCC weekend, we have also created a list of interest tracks, which divide the education panels into seven categories:

  • Art, Diversity/Gender Issues
  • Film/Television
  • Gaming/Technology, Science
  • Teaching/Pedagogy
  • Writing/Literature

We have also included a Panel Tracking sheet, which is designed to help you easily keep track of all the educational panels you attended in a simple, organized way.

For easy access to these panels leading up to and during the event, we also encourage you to download the all-new Pop Culture Classroom app. You can use this to create a schedule of panels to attend and receive advance reminders about events and activities, as well as stay updated on any scheduling changes that may occur, as all panel times and locations are subject to change.

Finally, we offer ALL educators the chance to receive a certificate for panel hours attended at DCC. All you need to do is send a scanned version of your completed Panel Tracking Sheet into education@popcultureclassroom.org by July 7th, 2017. We will send you a certificate that you can provide to your schools and/or program for recertification/professional development hours.

Our unique approach to supporting educators and innovating education is part of what makes Denver Comic Con special each year. We can’t wait to celebrate another stellar year with you, and we hope these panels


The 2017 PCC Kids’ Lab Welcomes Community Orgs to the Floor!

What’s the coolest place at Denver Comic Con 2017 for families? The 10,000 square foot Pop Culture Classroom Kids’ Laboratory of course!

This year the PCC Kids’ Lab is back, each day bringing a full slate of fun, interactive and engaging activities for kiddos of all ages and interests to the show floor. This year’s theme is You Can Make a Difference, and we’re welcoming even more local community organizations and artists to help us inspire children to make a difference in their community.

These organizations and artists volunteer their time to be a part of the great cause of using pop culture as a tool in education, from promoting illustration in comic books to providing technology to empower kids to make their own media.

Take a look at all the awesome organizations offering fun, interactive activities and be sure to stop by and visit them at the Kids’ Lab during this year’s Con!


Community Organizations to Visit at the 2017 Kids’ Lab

DCC'17 Kids Lab - Pop Culture ClassroomRed Team Go

This is Red Team Go’s second year in the lab. They are a collective of local artists focusing on the comic book, anime and illustration and will be hanging out and providing sketches, zombie makeup, as well as contributing to some great panels. 


DCC'17 Kids Lab - Pop Culture Classroom

Jackman Brothers Productions

Jackman Brothers have been bringing smiles to families’ faces since year 1 of DCC. They bring their A-game with balloon twisting, face painting and the friendliest personalities in the state of Colorado. Not only do they donate their time, but they donate their tips to Pop Culture Classroom to support out initiatives.


DCC'17 Kids Lab - Pop Culture Classroom

The CoMMiES

The Colorado Modeling Militia Enjoying Sci-Fi (CoMMiES) will be back for their fourth year! They will be bringing paper make-and-take models for attendees to engineer. After you are done creating, you can take it to our local ASIFA to do some stop motion animation.


DCC'17 Kids Lab - Pop Culture ClassroomColorado Symphony Orchestra

Once again, our friends at the CSO will be joining us at a table all weekend. They bring funky instruments, fun activities and professional musicians to wow attendees with musical nerdy fun.


DCC'17 Kids Lab - Pop Culture ClassroomDenver Open Media

This year we would like to welcome Denver Open Media, who throughout the year works with PCC to offer educational programming for local youth. They are dedicated to putting the power of the media in the hands of the community and providing technology resources. This year, they will have a spot in the Lab to teach attendees how to be a media maker!


Don’t Miss Out on the Best Kids’ Lab Yet! 

All of these great organizations and artists plus many more will be making the Lab a fantastic part of your Comic Con weekend. We feel that being a part of the community is how we can make change, and we are thankful for the support of everyone. Stop by the Lab with your family for some nerdy and educational fun!

If you haven’t bought tickets yet visit here to be a part of the hottest event of the summer!


Webcomics for the Classroom: Part 1

Contributed by: Jason Nisavic

When students walk in the door to start your class period, what do they expect to find? Hopefully, they look forward to your class as a chance to engage with something unusual and interesting.  For teachers who would like to jumpstart their lesson with a conversation piece, it’s hard to beat a good web comic.

Take for example one of my favorites, XKCD, a fantastic online, science-focused comic that occasionally shows a great deal of heart:

Webcomics for the Classroom Part 1 - Pop Culture Classroom

I have a copy of “Grownups” on my wall because of its profound impact on my approach to adulthood.  This is more than a three-panel punchline – it’s a short story with humor, a moral, and a happy ending.

WEBCOMICS IN THE CLASSROOM

Now, as an experiment, let’s see what we could do with this XKCD comic in the classroom. I gave myself 60 seconds to brainstorm, and here’s what I came up with:

  • English: Turn the story into a first-person narrative. What thoughts does the man have as he navigates this situation?
  • Sociology/Psychology: Reflect upon the expectations of adolescence and adulthood in society.
  • Math: Calculate how many 3” diameter playpen balls could fit in your classroom.

That’s just one strip from a comic that has nearly 2000 entries. Here’s another one from XKCD that’s just as intriguing a comic as it is a classroom resource: 

Webcomics for the Classroom Part 1 - Pop Culture Classroom

Upgoer Five” is a powerful example of the phrase “restrictions breed creativity.” In it, a diagram of a rocket is explained using only the 1000 most commonly used English words (a full list can be found here.) How fun would it then be to have your students use the same list to explain a recently-learned topic as a formative assessment? The possibilities are endless!

OTHER WEBCOMICS OF NOTE

And that’s just to start!  Below is a list of other promising webcomics to engage your students.

A Softer World

Webcomics for the Classroom Part 1 - Pop Culture Classroom

A now-defunct comic featuring mainly pictures with quirky captions, A Softer World can provide hundreds of creative writing prompts. (Occasionally NSFW)

The Oatmeal

Webcomics for the Classroom Part 1 - Pop Culture Classroom

The Oatmeal can give funny, sincere reflections upon life and culture (often NSFW, so be selective!)

Camp Weedonwantcha

Webcomics for the Classroom Part 1 - Pop Culture Classroom

Camp Weedonwantcha follows the ongoing struggles of a group of abandoned children who try to live together in an isolated camp.  Funny, touching, and great character development.  Organized into story arcs, but good luck pulling yourself away once you start.

Colorful History

Webcomics for the Classroom Part 1 - Pop Culture Classroom

Colorful History is a biweekly webcomic created by Pop Culture Classroom that provides short historical comics that focus on important figures in Colorado state history, complete with teacher guides! 

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. Keep an eye out for Part 2 to get more examples and suggestions!


The Pop Culture Classroom Kids’ Laboratory Returns for DCC’17!

The Pop Culture Classroom Kids’ Laboratory is back for Denver Comic Con 2017!  

What is the PCC Kids’ Lab, you ask? It’s only 10,000 square feet of pop culture-based educational fun for kids and teens – not to mention the most fun you’ll have all summer long!

This year, our Kids’ Lab theme is You Can Make a Difference. Each day, we’ll be offering a full slate of fun, interactive and engaging activities for kiddos of all ages and interests. All activities aim to give these children and teens the tools to empower themselves to make a difference in their world. With the help of the Denver Comic Con superhero team, students will learn about cleaning up Cherry Creek, making your own pizza garden, creating edible water bottles and many, many more activities sure to leave them inspired!

As a bonus, each activity at the Lab this year falls under at least two letters of S.T.E.A.M. (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) and comes with a lesson plan that teachers and parents can request to keep all the pop culture fun alive at home too!

Finally, there will be dozens of community organizations, presentations, live demos, workshops, arts & crafts, and interactive activities going on throughout the weekend.

If you’re new to DCC or just haven’t checked out the Lab before, stop by with your family and check it out and learn all about how DCC’s unique family friendly and education focus is helping us reach pop culture fans of all ages!