Heroes inspire. Everyone wants to be associated with ordinary people who accomplish extraordinary feats. As educators, we should recognize the importance of using heroes to teach children and adolescents various subject matters ranging from values to science.
The use of heroes in the classroom is becoming more and more popular. However, careful thought should be put in the curriculum design if educators want to ensure the effectiveness of the method. Here are a few tips:
The instructor needs to find a suitable hero to use. There is not generic hero that can be used across all subject matter, although heroes by and large have universal attributes. For instance, it may be more appropriate to use Michael Jordan as a role model when teaching sports rather than using Oprah, obviously.
It is important we don’t take away the human element in heroes. They are not super humans, and it is important for children and young adults to understand this. They need to know that they can be their idols; they can be the heroes who always put things into perspective, who makes sound decisions based on careful reasoning, and who thinks of the greater good more than self-interest. The purpose of examining heroes is for students to be able to see the hero potential in each of them.
In 4th grade, we have the students choose a California hero. They don’t necessarily have to have been born in California, but significantly added to California’s history in a rich way. Students choose from a list of heroes I’ve provided for them. Some of the names include John Sutter, James Marshall, Eliza Tibbets, and Walt Disney.
The students are required to write a research report about their hero, answering specific questions about their personal life and how they had a great impact on California’s history. They also present their hero to the class using a 3-dimensional display, while dressing in clothing their hero would wear.
This assignment combines all the standards we want our students to learn from researching techniques, writing a 5 paragraph essay, and presentation skills. It also adds the added bonus of researching a relevant hero.