Subscribe Here


Anne on Edutopia

Professional Development
On-Site PD

Online Courses


Food & Culture Project




Digital Brochure

Also see Superheroes & Educational Reform

 Superheroes –


as a Curricular Theme














Spiderman was an amazing blockbuster at the theatres this spring (2002), far exceeding the success of former “blockbusters”, even Harry Potter and the latest Star Wars movie!  While Spiderman was making it big at the movies, TV-Land began running the Batman television series of the 1960s.

Fantasy and superheroes are very popular right now, which is evident not only in the huge response to the movies, but is evidenced also in clothing, cereals, toys, stickers, cartoons, television commercials, books, web sites, etc.  Superheroes are everywhere today.

Life in the new millennium finds us immersed in a media culture [i]We have learned through our own experiences, and it has been documented by recent research, that students today are not engaged in learning the curriculum as it is being presented. [ii]  As John Dewey told us 100 years ago – we must connect the curriculum to the lived experiences and interests of our students!  This would demand, then, that we pay attention to and make use of the media culture to implement our curriculum. 

We now know of many “best practices” in curriculum and instruction which serve to motivate students, engaging them fully in the curriculum.  These practices include Project-Based Learning, addressing Multiple Intelligences [iii], Service Learning [iv], Constructivist Classrooms [v], Problem-Based Learning, Critical Pedagogy, many alternative modes to delivery and authentic assessment, and Thematic Curriculum which is addressed in this paper.  The thematic curriculum which I design includes the attributes of all the best practices listed here. 

One way of making the curriculum more meaningful is to present it thematically.  An interdisciplinary curriculum based upon a meaningful theme – sometimes serious, sometimes fun and fantasy, and frequently both  – is an excellent way to motivate your students.  I believe that the theme of Superheroes could be used to create an exciting unit which would be highly motivational for students and fun for teachers.  As William Glasser once said, “Learning is serious, but it doesn’t have to be grim.” [vi]

There are of course many concerns today regarding accountability.  The new Leave No Child Behind Act, signed in January of 2002, has increased bureaucratic pressures upon school districts, teachers and students to perform better on standardized tests.  Although these laws demand our attention, doing so does not mean that we must abandon quality curriculum and instruction.  In fact, recent research confirms for us that students actually learn more and perform better on standardized tests when engaged in meaningful curriculum.  Many of the state and national curriculum standards could easily be included in such a unit.

A unit of curriculum based upon the theme of Superheroes can include all the disciplines, and also provides a foundation for the investigation of values.  If the purpose of education is to enable our students to be productive participants in our society, part of that responsibility entails the ability to look at what is, what could be, and to devise and implement plans for personal and social change.  Our superheroes provide an excellent backdrop for this type of exploration. 

It goes without saying that students will be developing multiple literacies, from reading, writing and speaking to social, financial, scientific and mathematical literacies, media literacies – and many more.  The Superhero theme provides opportunities for the development of critical media literacies

         Analysis, critique and production of texts in multiple forms of media,

         Investigation of the media in social and historical contexts

         Examination of the media culture and consumerism,

         Financial literacy will develop as students unpack the economics of our media culture. 

The following pages are a brief sample of what could be done with the Superhero theme.  I am currently developing a unit which could be adapted according to the grade level of the class using it, and it will be added to my web site soon.  The following pages are online, and the blue text indicates hyperlinks which take you to additional information or which simply offer some interesting and amusing sights and sounds.  Please visit this page online and enjoy!

For a sample of what could be done with this theme, please see Batman and Robin to the Rescue - or, Media Culture, Superheroes and Educational Reform.  Be sure to click on all the links and have fun!

Links to Resources for a Superheroes Unit.


[i]  See the works of Douglas Kellner, in Social Sciences and Comparative Education at  UCLA. highly recommend his chapter entitled "Multiple Literacies and Critical Pedagogies - New Paradigms" in Revolutionary Pedagogies - Cultural Politics, Instituting Education, and the Discourse of Theory edited by Peter Pericles Trifonas, published by Routledge in 2000.

[ii] Learning in Deed - Making a Difference Through Service-Learning A Report published by the National Commission for Service-Learning, chaired by Senator John Glenn.  Visit their web site to request free printed copies of their full report and a wonderful video on service-learning, which is not the same thing as :"community service".  John Glenn says he prefers to call it "Academics in Action".

[iii] See the works of Howard Gardner.

[iv] I recommend Senator John Glenn’s work as chairman of the National Committee for Service Learning and their recently published report entitled “Learning in Deed -  Making a Difference Through Service Learning”.  This report was the result of a nationwide one-year study of American schools;  the committee concluded that students are NOT engaged in the curriculum and that it MUST be connected to student’s lives!  You may order a free copy of the report and an excellent video from them.

[v] Constructivism is often related to the philosophies of Dewey and Rousseau, and inspired by Piaget and Vygotsky. 

[vi]   Glasser, William (1998).  The Quality School:  Managing Students Without Coercion, Harper Collins Publishers.

Written by Anne Shaw, 2001

Batman photo from

Spiderman photo from



Site Map

Advisory Board


Workshop Schedule




Credit Card Payment


Becoming a 21st Century School


Classroom Strategies



Anne Shaw's profile