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What If You Could Learn Like a Jedi

05/02/2014 03:32 pm ET | Updated Jul 02, 2014

A long time ago, in a classroom not so far away...

It was determined that education was nothing more than the transferring of knowledge from master to pupils. Schools flourished at producing populations who would go on to mass produce products to consume. All was well in the Universe.

But the Universe is not stagnant; it changes. People change, beliefs change, systems change, everything changes. When education doesn't evolve with these changes, it affects our present and future.

Fortunately, there are some education heroes among us who are leading the revolution against Industrial Age Education. This band of rebels have been using weapons of empathy, agile learning, and creative confidence to battle mass standardization and the "one size fits all" approach to education.

At the annual, What If...? Conference this past March, I got to meet two more heroes, Thomas Riddle and Wes Dodgens who have been asking, "What if the secret to better teaching is making learning more relevant?" What if, pulling from pop culture, educators can create learning environments that not only help students understand, but make them want to learn more?

Riddle and Dodgens are the co-authors of Star Wars in the Classroom, a website dedicated to helping educators use the Star Wars films and universe to bring a more transdisciplinary approach to their teaching.

Riddle stumbled upon the benefits of using Star Wars in his classroom when teaching World History. Struggling to find an effective way to communicate the concept of yin-yang to his classes, he called upon his favorite fictional mentor, Yoda. Introducing Yoda as a Taoist sage, his students were able to grasp the concept in ways that were effective and fun.

Since then, these two Jedis of pedagogy have been using the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films to make their lessons fun, meaningful, and long lasting.

In explaining the motivation behind their unorthodox approach to teaching, Riddle states: "we could drill and kill our students, or we can engage them. We [Star Wars in the Classroom ] choose to engage them."

Riddle remembers using Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces to teach Ancient World History and realizing it's possible to generate empathy through storytelling. When there's greater empathy between a student and what's being learned, there's greater interest. When there's empathy and interest, the learning can neither be fully measured, nor completely contained.

No need for any Jedi mind tricks here; once you understand how thoroughly these two view the world through the eyes of everything from Jawas to Wookiees, it doesn't take long to realize the effectiveness of their approach is outdone only by its reach. Very few subjects have been able to escape the force they're creating

For example, what if, the Star Wars films could be less about watching science fiction and more about watching historical fiction? Riddle and Dodgens do just that -- and help guide other educators to do the same -- by providing lessons and resources on how to use the Star Wars universe to teach and bring greater meaning to lessons about our universe such as Hitler's rise to power and the fall of the Roman Empire. They've also used the rest of the films to create specific lessons on American Westward Expansion and Shakespeare.

But they don't just use Star Wars to look backward, they use it help students look all around them. They've used Star Wars to teach things such as: Mythology, Social Studies, Literature, and Science. They even use elements of the films to introduce the dangers of propaganda and encourage students to "Serve Like a Jedi."

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What if you join the growing force of people who don't treat education as an occupation, but approach it as a heroic journey? If you're an educator, I encourage you to join their community of Rogues. If you're a fan of the films, or just want to support some of the "good guys" in education today, definitely give them a like on Facebook and follow on Twitter. And, if Star Wars isn't your thing, be sure to check out their Adventures in Learning with Indiana Jones -- and be on the lookout for their upcoming lessons using Harry Potter.