Watch Heroes At Middle-School: Where Heroes are Made!

Jeff Brain

Table of Contents:
Brainstorm: early lesson
    • Brainstorm
    • Start Here!
    • Group Collaboration Rubric
    • Digital Superheroes Week One
    • Digital Superheroes Week Two
    • Digital Superheroes Week Three
    • Digital Superheroes Week Four
    • Digital Superheroes: Weeks Two-Four supplemental
    • Digital Superheroes: Week Five
    • Video Files
    • Using Web 2.0 and Mobile technology
Digital Superheroes
Comics Creation
Digital Citizenship
Digital Literacy
Focus Content Area:

Secondary Content Area:
English/Language Arts
Fine Arts
History/Social Science
Performing Arts
Grade Level:


Digital citizenship is an evolving arena that needs extraordinary individuals working together. This is where Heroes are Made. This unit is strongly influenced by the work of Jane McGonigal, and by the good people at Common Sense Media, whose digital citizenship curriculum was part of the core inspiration for this project:

Common Sense Media

Brainstorm: early lesson:


In this lesson, the students create brainstorm charts using the following starting questions:
• What are the current uses of technology?
• What are the current tools of technology?

Then, what will be the next "big" thing in technology ten years from now?

The chart above was generated by one class of sixth grade students.

ELA.6.1.1. Use simple, compound, and compound-complex sentences; use effective coordination and subordination of ideas to express complete thoughts.


Start Here!

Group Collaboration Rubric

Your hero will be working with other heroes during this project. As you work together, taking reference photos, creating your stories, etc., you can refer to the rubric to make sure you are on task. Here is the rubric for group collaboration:

Rubistar rubric



Digital Superheroes Week One

Our first step together is to identify who superheroes are, and their counterparts, supervillains. List twenty superheroes and twenty supervillains. (Class brainstorm)


•What makes the heroes good?

•What makes the villains evil?

This will be the topic of a class discussion. Then, each student will write a paragraph or two for BOTH the definition of good and the definition of evil.


Research Project: The class is divided into groups of three or four. Each group looks at legitimate news sources (brief discussion of internet information integrity) for stories where technology has a key role.






Groups are encouraged to think of the stories "in extremis", in grave or extreme circumstances, where the storyline might require heroic intervention.

Then, each student will create a hero whose powers have an effect in the digital realm. This will be part of a general class discussion looking at the digital world and possible powers. The first major individual project will be the heroes' origin stories.

I.A. apply existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products, or processes.
I.B. create original works as a means of personal or group expression.
I.D. identify trends and forecast possibilities.
II Communication and Collaboration
A. interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts or others employing a variety of digital environments and media.
B. communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats.
D. contribute to project teams to produce original works or solve problems.
III Research and Information Fluency
B. locate, organize, analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and ethically use information from a variety of sources
and media.
C. evaluate and select information sources and digital tools based on the appropriateness to specific tasks.
IV Critical Thinking, Problem-Solving & Decision-Making
A. identify and define authentic problems and significant questions for investigation.
B. plan and manage activities to develop a solution or complete a project.
C. collect and analyze data to identify solutions and/or make informed decisions.
D. use multiple processes and diverse perspectives to explore alternative solutions.
V Digital Citizenship
A. advocate and practice safe, legal, and responsible use of information and technology.
B. exhibit a positive attitude toward using technology that supports collaboration, learning, and productivity.
C. demonstrate personal responsibility for lifelong learning.
D. exhibit leadership for digital citizenship.
VI Technology Operations and Concepts
B. select and use applications effectively and productively.
D. transfer current knowledge to learning of new technologies.

Digital Superheroes Week Two

We determined that students need more background for both comics as a medium, and digital citizenship as a story vehicle. We began discussions about superpowers and their relation to digital media. We also came up with a story arc helper diagram linked here as a pdf file:

Digital Story Arc

Students began detailing their story, often beginning with the climactic scene of conflict between their hero and villain.

The good people at DigitalCitizenship.net have a nice list of nine areas of digital focus that can be used as a springboard for story concepts:

Nine Areas of Digital Focus

Then, of course, there is the possibility of media influence as a story topic. Most media today has a very strong digital component. One need look no further than your television or computer to see the prevalence of sophisticated advertising.

Here are five links we continued to monitor to generate story ideas:






This was also an opportunity to continue the discussion of credible links and citing sources from research.


Students created a table in a word processing program to save links, their description, an image associated with the link, if available, and a usefulness rating:


4: Easy navigation, credible source, very relevant information in understandable language

3: Navigation relatively clear, credible source, can glean relevant information in fairly understandable language

2: Navigation issues, credibility question, information hard to discern, or language too difficult

1: Poor navigation, credibility in significant question, language too opaque


We also previewed how to use reference photos for this project.

Digital Superheroes Week Three

I created this document to help students in their illustration technique for the comic medium:
Drawing Tips

We also used our in-class library that includes copies of:

 Origins of Marvel Comics; Stan Lee

Drawing Words and Writing Pictures; Jessica Abel and Matt Madden

Framed Ink; Marcos Mateu-Mestre

Writing and Illustrating the Graphic Novel; Daniel Cooney

Making Comics; Scott McLoud

Dynamic Anatomy; Burne Hogarth

How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way; Stan Lee and John Buscema


This week we are really working on the story, creating characters and their origins. Click the links below for mp4 files as I check in with the students.











Digital Superheroes Week Four

In the next iteration of this course, we took a slightly different approach. Using the creative commons d20 game system as the backbone, students are fashioning their own superheroes. They are in the process of learning the roleplaying system, and designing unique characters. The goal is they write an origin story this week. The following documents and links are part of this process:


Skills List

BAHD notebook
BAHD logo
Superhero parameters

Using David Freeman’s work as a springboard, students created a character diamond, defining traits so that their heroes would have an identifiable "character" in both illustration and writing.

We first discussed what the illustration below revealed about both the protagonist and the dragon:
What are his character traits?


The following Word document is a beginning list of character traits:

Character Traits

These documents help guide students in their origin story creation:
Origin story
Origin 2

Digital Superheroes: Weeks Two-Four supplemental

Students are working on their comic book images and storylines while considering how to work together as a group. I provide movie files (this actually is often done in week two or three) for them to reference while they work:



The next step for this class came after a great deal of reflection about the process, content, project management and assessment involved in both super-heroes as a genre and digital citizenship as a broad focus.

With that in mind, I invented the Bureau of Allied Hero Deployment, an agency devoted to the welfare of mankind in a digital near future. The Bureau allowed me to "hire" the superheroes, and divide them into groups, a popular superhero genre.



The following file allows each group to select the scenario they will tackle based on their earlier research:

BAHD Opening Scenarios

Digital Superheroes: Week Five

Here are a few images that a current class is working on, or has posted. They combine origin stories and missions. This week is spent honing the images and text, creating story and focus on the collaborative process.Super heroine origin


making a supergroup


Video Files

I envision building a story that can be woven through classrooms worldwide. The following video is an additional reference image how-to.



This file previews one of the super-villains, Emoticon, and mentions one of his cohorts, Relay.




Using Web 2.0 and Mobile technology

There are a host of resources that one could adapt to this unit. Sharing planning through Prezi, or Google Docs is an immediate opportunity to not only hone collaborative planning and project management, but teach key issues in digital citizenship; one’s digital footprint, creator rights, collaboration and communication in a digital world, etc.


Students can use their mobile devices to capture reference images, very useful since it is not necessary to capture high resolution images. There are also opportunities to use cameras to record ideas, audio enhancement of graphic images, posing apps, etc.


Image sharing apps are becoming more prevalent, and the use of file storage apps such as Dropbox, enable students to work on images collectively rather than forced to work alone.


Dabbleboard (see also Zwibbler and Groupboard) are online whiteboards that could allow students to work together on this project, even if separated by continents or oceans (dabbleboard depicted):

Dabbleboard screen shotBasic interface compendium

Queeky is a more traditional drawing application with social media properties:

Queeky screen shotQueeky home site

Bomomo is one of the strangest online drawing applications I’ve seen:

Bomomo screen shotBomomo illustration