Culminating Semester Project: Science Superheroes!

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SWBAT identify a science related community issue and develop a solution that we can do together to help address it.

Big Idea

Get students thinking about big-picture issues and how science can help solve them as they create their own science superhero and perform a superhero action in their community!

Notes for the Teacher

This project is a new idea I chose to work with this Spring.  The inspiration came from an arts related professional development session I attended hosted by our local public television station, KQED, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) educational programming team.  In this session, they featured the work of an internationally known contemporary artist and 2012 Guggenheim Fellow, Amy Franceschini.  She is known for her focus on collaborative art making and discussions surrounding community needs and interests.  For more about Amy Franceschini and her work, check out her KQED Art School video profile.  

I was very interested in a specific project she does with students called the Superhero Project in which students create a superhero, brainstorm and create a costume, interview community members, and go out to perform a community act of heroism based upon their superhero's mission and powers.  I decided to morph this idea into a Science Superhero project as a culminating experience for our year together in biology class.  This year, I have intentional chosen topics and activities to connect science to our daily lives and contemporary issues.  I felt this project could help students take what they've learned and shift it into actions that every citizens can do to help create the world we want to live in now and for future generations.

Because this was something new and one I brainstormed late in the semester, I kept the expectations light so that I could use the experience as a pilot to gauge student interest, topic range, and navigate any issues that might come up with the community outreach piece, which is a huge part of Amy Franceschini's work and approach to art making.  With that in mind, I did not have students create their entire project in class the way I normally would.  Instead, I introduced the work, participated in this brainstorming session with them, and then allowed students time on their own over the course of three weeks to put together the pieces of the project before sharing them with the class in an informal presentation format.  I met with individual student groups for weekly check-ins to take their questions and encourage them in their own ideas and planning.  The final presentation session was very informal.  I brought snacks, and students chose to either come in their costumes or not while we sat in a circle and shared out what we did using props and videos when students felt it would help their presentations.  The goal here was not about accumulating points but rather to share in a student directed community experience.  

I am really excited to hear your thoughts about the potential of this lesson as I reflect on ways to expand upon it for next year!


The Classroom Flow: Introducing the Activity

15 minutes

1.  Pass out the  science superhero project document to each student.

2.  Show the Amy Franceschini Superhero video clip outlining the basics of the project to students.  This clip information is listed on the document so that students can access it later on their own as well.

3.  Write down the major aspects of the project on the board:

  • Brainstorm your superhero:  What does she look like?  What does he do?
  • Interview members of your community to find out what it important to them, what they need.
  • Brainstorm an action that your superhero self could take or do in your community that addresses one of the community needs you identified.
  • Reflect on the process: what did you learn?  
  • Upload all documents and project documentation to your Biology Google Drive folder.  


4.  Tell students that today they will be brainstorming with partners ideas for this project.

  • Note:  Students may choose to work alone or in a Justice League team in which each person is their own superhero, but the group is working to address a specific topic or need.  For example, one of my teams decided that they were interested in health issues for teens and each member took a specific aspect of health:  mindfulness/meditation/balance, healthy eating, sleep habits, etc.  

The Classroom Flow: Time to Brainstorm and Create

25 minutes

1.  Ask students to take five minutes on their own to think about a science topic area they are immediately drawn to or interested in for their superhero project.

2.  Have students state their one phrase topic idea (if one came to mind) in a quick room popcorn share out.

3.  Tell students that they will have the rest of the class session to think more about their topic idea, their superhero, and the project components.  Inform them that they are welcome to work on their own or with others and that now that they have had a chance to hear some of the topics in the room, they might have a better idea of potential teams.

4.  Set up the room for high collaboration and brainstorming session expectations:

  • Students are expected to be working on our project idea generation during the class session.
  • Students can work together or alone and are able to use any support materials they like:  textbook, notes, presentations accessed online/on their personal devices, or discussion time with their teacher.

5.  Allow students to settle into a space with partners and get to work!  

  • Note:  Because students were highly engaged in this project because it was interesting to them and because they had so much say into every aspect of the project work, my work here today was incredibly easy.  Student collaborations were genuine and not forced and I was able to support students best by giving them the space to talk on their own, being available for consultations about specific topic ideas and how they might work in a group so that each person had a distinct superhero identity and focus, and suggesting possible resources to help them make their decisions and do further research for their project ideas.

The Classroom Flow: Preparing for Individual Team Work

10 minutes

1.  Ask students to sit together in their potential working groups and direct them to the following prompts listed on the board:

What tasks need to be done next?  Who will be responsible for each task?

When will we be meeting again?  What will each member be expected to bring/do for that meeting?

What questions do we have for our teacher before continuing?  

What questions do we need to answer on our own?

2.  Using the spokesperson protocol, ask students to share out their questions for the teacher.  

  • Note: Questions tend to be about how to structure the Justice League concept:  that each student is their own unique superhero, but that all superheroes in their JL are working toward the same goal/on the same issue.  Other questions will come up about possible community interactions.  Tell students they can do something for or teach something to community members and that community can mean school, church, club, city, or any other group that is meaningful to them.

Following Up: The Projects

I received a wonderful range of projects from my students!  Most students turned in word documents of their Science Superheroes written work and photos of their images.  Others used time lapse video clips to show them creating their logos, concept maps, and costume ideas.  Other students turned in handmade books of their work.  The topics ranged from climate change issues and endangered species to recycling, mental health and emotional well being in teen life, and food issues/diet choices.  One student created a pinterest page with her own sketches as well as photos that served as inspiration for some of her work.  Take a look at their work below!  I was really happy about the range of ideas students used in putting together their own unique version of this new project. 


I graded these projects holistically and did not use a detailed rubric outside of the five categories outlined in the initial project document.  This really was a pilot activity inspired from a professional development session that happened just two months before the end of the school year.  With that in mind, I felt it was more appropriate to keep this project concept focus on the student experience rather than the outcome.  I loved seeing students independently driven to work collaboratively and individually to make their deadlines and shift what they envisioned into what they produced and did out in the community.  Now that we have completed the school year and I have read through each project, I have many ideas as to how to elevate it into an even more meaningful experience.  Check out my Reflection below for more!  I can't wait to hear your thoughts as well.