Trying something new this week, harnessing the power of purple capes to motivate leadership roles in my science classes. Since I teach middle school, I have a bit of latitude to be silly and hence make use of a super hero themes. The idea is to utilize a purple OneNote cape to designate student “Cape Leader” status. I instructed each lab group to nominate a team leader who could help with technology and learning questions. I told them to nominate someone who could help lead discussions, at their lab table, about our science topic for the class period. And if they nominated more than one individual who met the qualifications, then they would need to solve it scientifically. They asked “how?” I answered with the only reasonable decision maker solution known, by rock, paper, scissors, of course. Once newly elected, the Cape Leaders garnered the coveted purple cape. To set expectations, we discussed the leadership responsibility that comes with the cape. We talked about how the group can also help support their Cape Leader as well, that leadership is a two-way street. We also discussed the safety considerations about wearing a cape and acknowledged the wisdom of Edna Mode, from the Incredibles, about flying too close to jet engines. We agreed we would stay inside the classroom to alleviate this risk.
The first trial of Cape Leaders was a success, the last class of the day agreed they wanted to continue the opportunity to nominate a new cadre of Cape Leaders next week. It was obvious watching the faces and animated conversations that students were having fun having caped leaders in class, but I also watched how many of the Cape Leaders embrace the leadership role. In our 6th grade class, the Cape Leaders were the team leaders who received clarifying instructions about the cellular metabolism whole classroom model. These leaders helped their group members understand how the molecules would need to move to the various body systems to demonstrate a functioning healthy body. In 7th grade, the Cape Leaders assisted leading group members with a vocabulary review. They led their team to discuss how geology terms could be broken down so an elementary student could understand how to use the academic science word in context with their plate boundary map analysis work.
Teaching middle school science is not always about teaching science content. Sometimes teaching science means providing opportunities for students to practice leadership skills, even if its cloaked in a cape. Science in the classroom is also about making scientific thinking visible to others, sharing ideas, revising ideas, and demonstrating how to understand a scientific process. I don’t think we would want to have Cape Leaders every day, but if well timed, the power of the purple cape portends potential for prevailing positive effects.