The Brilliance of the Superhero Sketchpad

In my last post I mentioned that I was auditing the edX course The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact on Pop Culture. So far, this course is an insightful look at the history of superheroes, and their place as our modern mythology.

But what I really want to remark on today is the course’s main activity (and main source of a grade): the Superhero Sketchpad. To those without an art background, this activity at first seemed to intimidate some of the participants. But after just the first week, I can already tell that this activity is going to force even the most passive learners into active learning and critical thinking.

It sounds fancy, but the Superhero Sketchpad is really just a set of slides, offered in a template that the students themselves fill out. During the first week, while thinking about how the first American superheroes were created as a response to their social influences (the Great Depression, the rise of the mafia, WWII), students are asked to think of a current event or issue and create a superhero in response to that. Students are asked to also take mythological figures into account, as the original superheroes were created as reflections of these as well.

Forcing students to not only think of what their superheroes would look like, but what their strengths and weaknesses would be, and what social evil they would be fighting, brings this class from a history class to a true critical thinking experiment. This activity could be easily adapted into a number of educational environments.

If you want to see this in action, just go hop on over and sign up for the class. It’s free to audit, and you still get to participate fully!

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