Lessons about teaching and learning from Star Wars

The newest Star Wars movie was released last week and the world is going crazy with talk about Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and the other characters from a “galaxy far, far away.”  Seeing the movie, I couldn’t help but think about different quotes from the movies and how they could be applied to teaching and learning.  While I recognize some of 2000px-Star_Wars_Logo.svgthese may be reaches, I couldn’t resist getting into the Star Wars fun.

1. “Use the force, Luke!”  In the Star Wars universe, the force is an invisible, ubiquitous power that surrounds everything and gives Jedi their strength.  Thinking about our roles as instructional Jedi, what is it that gives teachers our strength?  In past posts, I have called assessment the secret sauce of blended learning. I’m going to go one step farther here and say that assessment is the force in the educational universe.  Think about it.  Assessment offers powerful information that guides a teacher’s instructional decision making and informs their work with students.  Like the force, assessment data is all around us and good teachers know where to look.  They see assessment information on the faces of their students and get feedback in all sorts of formal and informal ways.  Good instructional Jedi know how to use the power of assessments to positively impact student learning.

2. “But beware of the dark side.”  In the Star Wars universe, the force also has a dark side.  The dark side is a disruptive and corrupting entity drawn from anger, hatred and despair.  Assessment also has a dark side. While assessment can provide important information for well-intended instructors, used in other ways, assessment can bring about anger and despair. Look at the instructional impacts that large scale standardized testing has brought to schools.  In some districts, standardized tests represent a significant amount of classroom time causing some students to completely hate coming to school.  If assessment is the force, standardized testing represents its dark side.  Beware!

3. “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”  Across the Star Wars movies, technology plays a variety of roles.  Technology is embodied in some of the most loved characters (R2D2 and C3PO) and in some of the most iconic images (the Millennium Falcon, for instance).  Looking at other elements, however, technology represents pure evil (the Death Star and Darth Vader).   In some ways, technology plays similar roles in the educational universe.  While I would resist calling any form of instructional technology “evil,” there are better ways to integrate technology into learning spaces than others.  If only John Williams could supply dark menacing music in the background as we considered different instructional technologies, we would have a better idea of knowing which droids to look for.

4.That is why you fail.”  In the Empire Strikes Back, Luke says, “I don’t believe it!” when his teacher Yoda uses the force to perform a feat of strength.  Yoda responds, saying “That is why you fail.”  This belief has powerful connections to Dweck’s research on mindset.  Believing that one’s ability is not fixed in time but can grow and develop over time is integral to educational success.  To make a difference, teachers must believe that students’ talents are not preordained but result from hard work and dedication.

5. “The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner; now I am the master.”  The evil Darth Vader says this as he faces his former teacher, Obi Wan, in the epic battle that ends the original Star Wars movie.  While the application to teaching and learning is far less sinister than the way Vader implies, it is equally important.  Instructors have the ability to spark interests in students that set them on learning pathways for the remainder of their lives.  As instructional Jedis, we want to foster problem solving and questioning and engender a spirit of lifelong learning.  This completes the circle; the learner becomes self-directed and guides their own inquiry.

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