With the worldwide dominance of Avengers: Endgame at the box office, the widespread popularity of superheroes is without question. In an effort to capitalize on this intense interest, here is a collection of superhero themed lesson ideas to use in your classroom with your gifted superheroes.
The Choice Is Yours: Flight or Invisibility?
A great way to start the superhero conversation is by introducing this age old quandary: If you were somehow granted with the choice between having the power of flight or invisibility which would you choose and why? In the many years that I have used this prompt with gifted kids and teachers, as soon as I am done asking the question that is when the questions start “flying”. I have found it fun to leave the problem intentionally messy and let them determine what the constraints of each power are.
Comedian John Hodgman discussed the Superpower Dilemma extensively on an episode of the NPR program This American Life back in 2001. A quick internet search will result in a flood of articles and reviews of this psychological experiment that can fuel the discussion for as long as you care to let it go.
Interestingly, I have found that regardless of the group that I ask this question, there is almost always a nearly even split in which power is chosen.
What Makes A Superhero?
Ask your students to take a moment and consider the characteristics that make a superhero. Give them some time to really think deeply and discuss as they create their lists. Other than the somewhat obvious “really cool costumes”, groups that I have worked with tend to come up with items such as having superior abilities that few others possess, a sense of justice, a deep desire to help or save the world, and intensities on a variety of levels. Others point out that superheroes also possess weaknesses and while they are often seen as perfect they seldom are.
Are Superheroes Just Super Gifted?
Once your students have had a chance to delve into what makes a superhero, ask them to consider how superheroes are different than gifted kids. If we look at many of the common characteristics we see that there are a great deal of similarities between the two groups. Indeed, the X-Men series has a strong focus on its members being “Gifted”. In the origin stories of many superheroes we also see how they have to develop their powers over time. Helping gifted kids realize they might not necessarily be that different than a superhero can be an empowering experience. This idea is further explored in a chapter from the book Our Superheroes, Ourselves, Robin S. Rosenberg and Ellen Winner entitled Are Superheroes Just Super Gifted?
What’s Your Superpower?
Now that your gifted kids have begun to think of themselves as developing superheroes, have them identify what their superpowers are. While none of them will possess powers like flight or invisibility, they will have the power of intelligence. Help them think of their areas of greatest strength and the things that they are able to do that the vast majority of others are incapable of. You might have them develop a superhero name or identity, design an icon or logo, create a signature costume or look, and even come up with their own origin story.
Knowing Your Kryptonite
Another commonality of superheroes is that they often have an area of weakness. Most notably Superman has a weakness to Kryptonite which ironically is comprised of the remains of his home planet. While it is important to be able to as Torrance suggested in The Manifesto to “know, understand, take pride in, practice, develop, exploit, and enjoy your greatest strengths” it may be equally as important to have an understanding of the things that we are not good at. By recognizing our weaknesses we can begin the path toward knowing when to ask for help and to look for opportunities to collaborate and learn from more knowledgeable others.
As Stan Lee so wisely advised us time and time again in the Spider-Man comics and films, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” Our gifted kids possess great powers, but they must learn to use those powers responsibly. We must help them to learn to not use their genius for evil, but instead to become the hero of their own stories.