Wednesday, June 14, 2017

LEGO Sets of the Month: Star Wars!

School's out for most of us, so I thought I'd have some LEGO Sets of the Month that were just fun for fun's sake. Plus Quinnmas (my birthday)(yes, it's called that)(it's probably on your calendar)(I accept late gift cards)(Amazon will do) is this week and I'm feeling like I need to share the love.

With that in mind, the LEGO Sets of the Month are all from Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. The sets include Battle on Takodana, Rey's Speeder, and a First Order Battle Pack. So you get some heroes, some villains, a fun vehicle, and a major setting and scene from the movie.

Here's the thing about The Force Awakens. It's not the best movie. But I loved it. More than anything, I loved the new characters. These LEGO sets have my favorites: Rey, Finn, Maz Kanata, and Kylo Ren. I don't disagree with the criticisms that too many of the plot points were recycled (yet another, bigger, Death Starry superweapon that's a little too easy to blow up)(a sandy world a lot like Tatooine, which I've seen on the big screen one too many times), but I'm intrigued at the potential of these people in that faraway galaxy.

Finn's story as a disaffected First Order Stormtrooper should go interesting places in The Last Jedi. I love the idea of little Maz Kanata as someone who's a believer in the Force, and maybe has some Force sensitivities, but isn't a Jedi herself. Kylo Ren is someone who I didn't like at first (especially sans helmet), but I'm liking more with each viewing. He feels like a failure for not living up to his parents' (Han Solo and Princess/General Leia) heroics, but also feels like the greatness of his grandfather (Darth Vader) is beyond his reach. Above and beyond all of the new characters of the movie, we have Rey.

Rey is the center of the movie, and Daisy Ridley carries that weight well. The budding Jedi of unknown parentage is compassionate, is brave, and may be the galaxy's last hope. A strong heroine who doesn't need saving (don't try to hold her hand, dude), this character we've known for a scant 18 months is inspiring girls and women (and boys, and men) around the world.

The LEGO sets I'm giving away are good, and even though they're ones I wouldn't normally recommend for classroom use, it's the Quinnmas season, and I want to share. That said, here are a few ways I'd use The Force Awakens (or other Star Wars movies) with students.


One of the mysteries in The Force Awakens is the location of Luke Skywalker. In the final scene of the movie, Rey has ascended eight thousand stone steps to reach the Jedi, and we're left with her holding out his lightsaber to him. Roll credits. We as the audience don't get to see what happens next, so we're left with a cliffhanger. Have students write a dialogue between the two heroes -- what would Luke say when confronted with this stranger holding his lightsaber? R2-D2 and Chewbacca are parked at the bottom of those stairs with the Millennium Falcon -- what would their reunion be like? Why did Luke exile himself in the first place? How would Rey tell him about (spoilers) the death of his friend Han Solo?

The tiny yellow Maz Kanata is one of my favorite characters. Not just in this movie, but of all time. With a few lines of dialogue, this aged little alien won my heart. We see her in her castle, where she runs a bar of sorts, with questionable clientele. She's lived there for "hundreds of years," and she's got a lot of stories to tell. Have students choose an alien from the castle and tell their story. How did they end up coming to Takodana? How long will they stay? What would their interactions with Maz be like?

Finn is trained as a First Order Stormtrooper, and was taken from his family so young that he doesn't even have his own name -- "FN 2187" was his ID number with the First Order, and it's pilot Poe Dameron who gives him the (awesome) name Finn. He's been trained to be a killer, but when it comes down to it, can't kill the innocent villagers in the opening scenes of the movie. Have students put themselves in his shoes, telling his story. Has he always had these doubts about being in that armor? What were his interactions with Captain Phasma like before the events of the movie? In the scene featured in the LEGO set, Finn is called out as a traitor by one of his former comrades. Why is that particular Stormtrooper so angry at Finn? Are they former friends? Enemies? Have students explore these ideas.

Again, The Force Awakens isn't a perfect movie, but as with most of the Star Wars movies, the characters become more important than the events of the movie itself. Let your students explore these characters with writing, with art, with music. With The Last Jedi coming this December, it's going to be on their minds.

For more Star Wars lesson plans and ideas, be sure to check out Star Wars in the Classroom -- they're adding new stuff all the time, and you're sure to find something your students will love. Because they are nerds. And you love it.


I knew you were wondering. There are three ways to enter:

1. Comment on this post. You do that below at the very end of this post. Lower...lower...there.

2. Subscribe to the monthly Play Like a PIRATE newsletter. It comes out once a month, with ideas for the classroom, a graphic novel review, and a review and chance to win the new LEGO Set of the Month. No spamming (beyond once a month), no selling your emails to anyone. I don't even know who I would sell them to. It may be worth investigating.

3. Follow @jedikermit on Twitter and retweet this tweet. If you're not on The Twitter, you really should be. Sign up just for this entry. And follow me. So worth it. You can follow the #PlayLAP hashtag to see what other people are doing with Play Like a PIRATE. A book you should totally buy.

So you can enter up to three times. Don't try and cheat. Teachers always know.

Some fine print: the LEGO Set of the Month will only be available to U.S. residents. Even though I love everyone on the planet, international shipping is beyond my reach right now. The drawing for the June LEGO Set of the Month will be at 6 PM MST on Saturday, June 17. The drawing will be taken from all eligible entries with a random generator. So hopefully you win. Yeah, you.

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Thursday, June 1, 2017

Celebrate Wonder Woman Day!

This Saturday June 3rd is Wonder Woman Day. It was announced by DC Comics last month, in conjunction with the first ever Wonder Woman live action film, coming out June 2nd. I have a few thoughts on how to celebrate Wonder Woman Day, and the character herself. There are some classroom tips at the end of this article for those of you who are teachers, and some other tips for everyone else. 

I'm excited for the new movie for a lot of reasons. The World War I setting is one of my favorite time periods as a history teacher, and even though I don't necessarily like war, I don't specialize in military history...understanding World War I helps us understand the rest of the twentieth century. And well into the twenty-first. Gal Gadot was one of the highlights of the Batman v Superman movie last year, so I'm excited to see her again. Chris Pine is always good, so him as Steve Trevor? Sure. The bits of sidekick/comic relief Etta Candy we got in the trailer made me laugh. I'm down with all of it. A few days ago in Target I saw a display that had current DC Comics DVDs/Blu-rays with "8.00 off Wonder Woman tickets with purchase" on if you're looking at buying Supergirl, Batman v Superman, the original Batman or Superman movies, Suicide Squad, can basically get a free Wonder Woman ticket. So yeah. The best way to celebrate Wonder Woman Day -- go to the movie. I will be.

Beyond the excitement over the new movie, I simply love the character Wonder Woman. Part of it is that I'm a child of the 70s, and Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman wasn't just beautiful, she was brave and smart and strong and did not put up with your crap. Plus the jet. Plus the spinning. Plus sometimes when she needed a different Wonder Suit, she got one. Even a special skateboarding suit. For reals. And that's awesome. I "met" Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman about the same time I discovered Adam West's Batman and Christopher Reeve's Superman, and the three of them still have a special place in my heart. Upper ventricle. Over...over...there. That's it.

After Lynda Carter, and Wonder Woman in Super Friends, I finally discovered her in the comic books. I found out more about her origins, which were a mixture of mythology and personal heroism and risking everything from her old life to become a hero in our world. I learned about why her magic lasso was magic, why sometimes she had a secret identity and sometimes not, and that unlike her television appearances, she can fly. No Invisible Jet required. Although she still had one in the garage anyway. Just in case. She's been in comic books consistently since 1941 -- the only female superhero to make that accomplishment. I like her alongside the Justice League, but her solo stories have a different quality to them. A power that's larger than life, and a different feel than other heroes. Comixology has an incredible sale on digital Wonder Woman comics right now -- if you've got a tablet, this might be the way to go. My primary recommendation would be Wonder Woman: A Celebration of 75 Years for $9.99 instead of $29.99. Most of the books on that site are in the $5.00 range, and most of them are very well done. It's a curated collection of the best of the best, and it's hard to go wrong. I prefer print comic books that I can put on a shelf, but man. These prices are hard to pass up.

I like that Wonder Woman is her own hero -- not a sidekick or female analogue to a male hero. I like that she's not "_____girl." Don't get me wrong. I love Supergirl and Batgirl and Hawkgirl. Even though each began as a simple knockoff to a better-known male hero, over the years they've become complex heroes in their own right. But decades later, each of them is still tied to their male counterpart. Wonder Woman doesn't have that baggage. She has tons of other baggage, believe me. But not that.

The real world backstory behind Wonder Woman is as crazy as any comic book origin -- her creator, William Moulton Marston was also the inventor of the lie detector. Thus, her lasso compels people to tell the truth. (complete truth be told, he was one of several inventors of the polygraph, and was really a more successful promoter of the device than the "inventor.") Marston's relationship with women was complex. He was a bigamist, he was the nephew-in-law of suffragist and women's health pioneer Margaret Sanger, and his stories were a combination of empowerment for women and kinky bondage and mythology and feminism and -- there was some bonkers stuff in there. And I love it. Learning about the creators of our favorite characters always sheds light on the characters themselves -- and learning about Marston made me appreciate the complexities in Wonder Woman's early stories. More than a straight-on masked-and-caped superhero, more than a damsel, although she was both of those things sometimes. She was nearly a goddess (and in later stories, was).

A character born in time of war to bring peace. To bring peace through love if possible, with bullet-deflecting bracelets if not.

About a year ago I hosted a Twitter chat where we talked about superheroes, and one of the questions was just taking a survey -- who was your favorite superhero? The 56 heroes listed weren't a comprehensive sample, but I was happy to see Wonder Woman come out on top.

Three ways to celebrate Wonder Woman in the classroom:

First -- there was a program that came out in 2013. Wonder Women: The Untold Story of American Superheroines looks at female heroes in pop culture. Wonder Woman, the Bionic Woman, Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- it was before the current Supergirl series on CW (which is great and you should watch it and season two just got added to Netflix), but she'd be included now too. Possibly better for our purposes: there's a fantastic curriculum guide that goes with the program. 39 pages, middle school level, but easy fixes to bring it up or down to high school or elementary. In 2015, Junior Scholastic had an issue about Wonder Woman and superheroes, and it's still available online in a handy PDF, so if you're looking for something more elementary-ey, this could be for you.

Second -- seemingly more than any other superhero, we care about Wonder Woman's costume. How revealing it is, how many stars are on those shorts, is it an eagle or a W on her chest...okay, mostly how revealing it is. Check out the changes from 1941 until now in this infographic. I'm a big fan of having students design their own superheroes to represent different core concepts. You can read all about that in my book. And you totally should. Why not have students redesign Wonder Woman's costume? Brainstorm the qualities about Wonder Woman that make her a hero, and then have students design a new costume for her based on those qualities. I've got free superhero templates here; go nuts. As inspiration, look at some fan art and choose some that could be shared with students (as a middle school teacher, there are definitely some of those costumes I wouldn't share with my kids...because have you MET middle school kids??)...there are some great alternative looks for Wonder Woman that still manage to bring home her strength and symbolism.

Third -- have students research how their own favorite hero was created. Learn more about who creates the media they consume. It could be superheroes or video game characters or cartoon characters -- there's a story somewhere behind every character. The story behind Wonder Woman is very "grown up," what with bigamy and bondage and all -- but there are more kid-friendly stories behind Batman and Superman and picture books that tell those stories. It might be an interesting exercise to retell Wonder Woman's origin in a kid-friendly manner that would still pass the lasso of truth test.

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