But What If … ??

Today was the final day of the Winter Olympics, and it was the morning of the big hockey game: Canada vs. Sweden – who would win? While I was up early writing supply plans for Tuesday (I’m off on a visit to Jonathan So‘s class), I think that the rest of the world was watching hockey. 🙂 I was constantly checking out my Twitter feed and seeing the score updates and the numerous tweets from excited fans. It was a great day to be a Canadian! Boy am I proud of our amazing athletes!

This is where I think that my post might become a little less popular: the truth is that I’m not a sports fan and have limited interest in the Olympics. I actually haven’t watched a single event (including today’s hockey game). I still brought in the newspapers for my students to read. We still did some Olympic activities, and looked at some interesting connections to Social Studies, Language, and Math. Students still discussed the sports with their friends, and I still listened and asked questions.

Do I think that the Olympics have benefits for education? Yes! Watching the Olympics gave students the chance to see the benefits of hard work, goal setting, and determination. There were many opportunities for social interaction, camaraderie, team work, and patriotism. There were lots of very meaningful links to Language, Math, Social Studies, The Arts, and Science. The Olympics were full of learning opportunities. (And I thank our principal, vice principal, and instructional coach for helping me see these varied opportunities …)

But what about those people that aren’t interested? Not everyone is passionate about sports or motivated by the Olympics, and as always, I think it’s important to consider this other side as well. As I listened to family members, friends, and colleagues that were thrilled with watching the Olympic Games, I was often reluctant to share my views. How many of our students felt this way as well? How can we give all students the opportunity to pursue their passions — whether they be fuelled by the Olympics or not? Maybe we need to start with the big ideas that came out of our Olympic learning activities, and let students explore and share their learning about these areas in the ways that interest them. What do you think? How do we meet the varied needs of our learners (even when it comes to the Olympic Games)? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


35 thoughts on “But What If … ??

  1. You live in my head sometimes. I struggled with this this week, because while some of my students dived into our inquiry questions, and loved our learning, and found great connections in French class to what was happening outside of class, others just found their frustration level rising, because they just didn’t care. We listened to real-world French commentary on events, and read Tweets from athletes in French, and did biography cards and interviews to practice our questioning structures. Lots of interesting stuff, if you were interested in the topic – but many of my students weren’t.

    What concerned me most about this was that in some cases it underlined the different socio-economic situations my students come from. My higher-end kids tended to come in ready (and eager) to engage in conversations about what had happened the previous day. They had obviously been streaming or watching or talking around the dinner table about the Olympics. Other students didn’t have those opportunities, and many were very vocal about the fact that they didn’t care at all.

    I try really hard to create an equitable space in my classroom, and it was a bit of a struggle to realize that in our Olympic focus, I hadn’t done that. I’m passionate about the Olympics as a learning opportunity, and the big questions it brings up (what happens after? Is it worth the money we pour into it? Why is it more important to watch Latvia vs Canada in hockey, rather than watching the Canadian women win gold in the bobsled? Why did the Canadians gush over Vladimir Putin?). However, I can’t dig into any of that if my students aren’t interested. That may break my heart, but it can also be a big reflection trigger for me.

    We are moving into a mini-unit on researching, designing and buying/selling tickets for events. It uses Olympic event tickets as a starting point, but let’s students find any event (concert, sporting event, trip, anything!) that they want to go to. Hopefully, it will let all of my students engage in the process of learning, and make it meaningful for them.

    • Thanks for your comment, Lisa! As I read your response, I can’t help but think back to a comment that my vice principal wrote on one of my previous posts (you actually commented on that post too). It was the “Ewww … That’s Gross” post. When I was wondering how to respond to the students that did not seem interested in these provocations that I was sure would intrigue them, Kristi suggested that I turn some of the questions back on them to help them find a buy in point (this is paraphrased of course). I tried this, and it worked!

      I wonder if the same thing could be true for these Olympic activities. I don’t know what you tried already, but what if you spoke to those students that weren’t interested? What if you asked how this topic could be more interesting for them? What would make them care more about the Olympics? I love the idea of your upcoming project that allows all of the students to find a connection to something that they’re passionate about (if it’s the Olympics or not).

      I love how much you care about the students and creating this motivating and engaging learning environment for all of them! Your students are lucky to have you!


      • Thanks, as ever. I actually did try some of this, and knowing my kids fairly well does help, as I was able to intrigue one with looking at fashion design in terms of uniforms (those Norwegian men’s curling pants), and helped some realize that “why do people get so excited about the Olympics?” Is a great question to explore.

        I think what worried me about my engagement gap, and its apparent link to income was highlighted just before the Olympics. We had a former Olympian come to speak to our junior and intermediate students. She is also a teacher, so her presentation was engaging, and she managed the crowd very well. She brought many of her medals with her, including an Olympic gold, and had them laid out on a table for anyone who wanted to to walk by and have a close-up look. To my surprise (okay, my shock) many of my students had no desire to do so. I was forced to face the reality that earning an Olympic gold medal (and the incredible effort it takes to do so) had no currency with many of my kids. I haven’t figured out yet whether that’s because they don’t see that goal as anything they could ever attain, or whether they just genuinely do not attach value to it. It shook me up, because it made me realize (again) how much we attach our own bias to events like this. “Of course we’d love to have an Olympian come to our school – who wouldn’t?” We need to look hard at that question.

        • Wow Lisa! What a powerful final statement! While I love what you did to engage your students (and it’s very clear that you know them incredibly well), I think that your final paragraph can really cause all of us to pause and think. This makes me think about Aaron Puley, and how he always looks at everything through an “equity lens.” Even when it comes to the Olympics, it appears that we should be doing the same. I’d be curious to hear what others have to say about this!


  2. Aviva and Lisa, I love being a fly on the wall with this conversation. Both of you make some great points. I am one of those people who really didn’t care much about the Olympics, which is funny when you are surrounded by teachers and students excitedly watching games on their personal devices during lunch or streaming it during class time. (I like to claim that the connections between the Olympics and “Hunger Games” are too close for comfort for me, but I’m sure there are other factors.) I can fake interest, or at least be nominally informed, thanks to Twitter and news media, and I chalk it up to “cultural literacy”. It seems like, if you are a Canadian, you “should” know that Canada won gold in both women’s and men’s hockey and curling at the Olympics. Who determines the signposts for cultural literacy? Is it necessary to fake interest? Right now, my junior / intermediate students are starting an inquiry on “popularity” during library periods – this would make an interesting conversation … who feels comfortable to admit that they cared or didn’t care about the Olympics? Why is the Olympics popular? Different economic positions impact interest – are there any other influences? Remember when there was a call to boycott the Olympics? Who did and didn’t? Who continued to keep the same stance when the news was covering the Olympic successes and tragedies so frequently? Thanks for these brain squirrels!

    • Thanks for your comment, Diana! I’m definitely like you here, and yes, I can fake interest too. You do make a good point about knowing certain facts because of “cultural literacy,” and I can certainly see the importance in this (I knew these facts too). Your assignment on “popularity” could open up some interesting discussions when it comes to the Olympics. I wonder if some students will admit that they didn’t care for the Olympics, and I wonder how other students will respond. As you share all of these questions here, I start to wonder if a topic that does hold little interest to us could become more interesting to people if given enough entry points. It’s kind of like Lisa’s activity that connected to Olympic fashion. Student choice does matter, and maybe we can help connect to other student passions with enough varied questions. And while your topic on “popularity” could extend beyond the Olympics, this still provides an interesting place to start.

      So much to think about …

      • I love how you reply to every comment, Aviva! My popularity inquiry actually did begin with brainstormed lists of various popular things (video games / TV shows / movies / etc.) and then we chose one list to examine in depth the next period. I was SUPER happy when I heard a grade 7 tell a classmate that this was going to be a great lesson because he talked with his friends in the other class (that had library before their class did) and heard it was fun. We voted on which list to discuss and when I saw there were students that weren’t really thrilled with the topic, we did have side conversations alongside the big (and loud) talks. I should’ve taped it – but then again, I probably would’ve just heard lots of yelling! (I liked Lisa’s connection with Olympic fashion too – that was genius!)

        • Thanks for sharing more about this inquiry, Diana! I love how you figured out a way to get everyone involved (be it in the big, loud main conversation or one of the sidebar conversations). I think that this is one of the big tricks of teaching. I can’t wait to hear more about how this inquiry goes. And like you, I think that Lisa’s fashion connection was a genius idea!


  3. Ok, so full disclosure. I love the Olympics. I will likely be in withdrawal for the next few days. I see your point, but I don’t know if I totally agree. I think the Olympics are a world event and students should be aware of the world around them and think about their place in it all. Having said that, I think Olympics are so much more than just a hockey game or snowboarding event. It’s rather telling that we hear an awful lot about the Olympics and not too much about the X Games or World Figure Skating Championships. Those are sporting events, the Olympics are a historical world event. If we see the Olympics as an inquiry topic, it is about opening up the topic to students in order to find their thread of interest and study. Studying the way a country portrays itself through the arts in an opening ceremony may hook one student. Studying the business of advertisement during the Olympics would be another (side note: does the Canadian team really need an official gum of the Olympic Games? Why are only olympic moms profiled by another advertiser? Didn’t dads play any role?) glance into social and financial systems. Designing a better sliding track or learning about the science of clap skates could engage another student. Learning about how other world events have affected the Olympics through history would also be a nice hook (hello boycotted Olympics). None of these involve knowing anything about sport. All of them help us understand our world better.
    I think the best thing a teacher can do is make sure students know that the Olympics are so much more than the wins, losses and medals accumulated. Showing how any topic has more sides than it appears to at first glance is a valuable skills for students to learn and apply to other topics. Maybe students need more teachers who don’t embrace the sports side of the Olympics so that they can see these other sides modelled for them.
    I can probably make a case for the Olympics to be integrated into just about any grade and subject (I kind of spent a lot of time this year writing the resource for just that!). BUT. I would also making a case for it not to be the only thing we are teaching. Anything we teach one dimensionally will not do our students any favours. So, I think we should try to integrate the use of the Olympics in our classes, but not just as a sporting event, and not as the be all and end all.
    I’m not sure if this even makes sense at this point. I might already be going into withdrawal 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment, Kristi! You make a ton of excellent points here, and let me see another side to this topic. I think that maybe my problem was that many of the activities that I was seeing in place were on the sports themselves. If students weren’t interested in the sports, then how were they engaged by the activities? The suggestions you share here though allow students to look beyond the sports. You’re providing the multiple entry points, and as I said in reply to Diana, maybe this is what it really needs to come down to.

      And in the interests of full disclosure, the few Olympic activities that I did try came from the package of suggested ones that you wrote (and the students were engaged and did meet with success). I would have done even more too, but the Big Body Bonanaza overlapped with the timing of the Olympics, and I haven’t figured out how to get a few extra hours in the day yet. 🙂 Back on topic though, your comment makes me further think about the importance of totally immersing our students in learning opportunities, giving students input and control over their learning, and providing these multiple entry points so that all students can be engaged and successful. Something definitely worth thinking about …


  4. In my class the children are responsible for extending their own learning based on what we are doing/exploring in each subject area! Olympics were a HUGE hit with most, if not all the children! But….for the few who were not into it, (at times) they continued to extend their learning about other things we are learning in class! Sure, many of my mini-lessons over the past few weeks stemmed from the Olympics as I strive to be authentic and connect children to what is going on in the world but the children are free to show what they know in anyway they want! Those into the Olympics spent two weeks creating math stories about medals on the rekenrek while the others made numbers stories about their friends or experiences! The art centre was full of Olympic Creations but…….those not into it created things about what they were into. I think that is the benefit of playbased/inquiry based learning in Grade One! It is so open ended that all children can participate or buy in at their comfort level. I think it is so important to not let what “we” are fond or not fond of sway the children’s experiences! That can be hard, for me anyway! Last year we had a huge inquiry on Submarines going on and I found it hard at first not to have the entire class be apart of it, but by the end of it I realized it didn’t matter…..they were not into it so they wouldn’t have gotten anything from it anyway! But saying that, over the past few years I have noticed if it is something I truly love and am passionate about the kids almost all buy in. If it is something that is just not me……….even though I fake it, they seem to know that! P.S. I LOVE THE OLYMPICS TOO KRISTI!!!!!!!!!!! I am going through withdrawl right now…….

    • Thanks for your comment, Lori! I love your inquiry approach to the Olympics. It sounds like all students met with success (whether they chose to focus on the Olympics or not). And you’re right: it’s important for us to not sway students because of what we may be thinking or feeling. This can be hard for me sometimes too. Maybe the best thing that we can do is show students how we do make this learning enjoyable for us. So, for example, I may not like watching the sports, but I do enjoy reading the tweets about them. I also really enjoy the Olympic commercials, so maybe I can find a media literacy connection that interests me. Modelling how we all find these different “entry points” could be very beneficial for students. Maybe then, students would be even more willing to share their likes and dislikes, and look at ways to make all learning more meaningful and enjoyable for them. You’ve given me lots to think about here …


  5. I love the sports of the Olympics, but I admit my favourite part is analyzing the ads and seeing the different perspectives world wide to the events. Everyone could have an interest entry point, especially in this day and age when there is so much coverage in so many ways to the event.

    • Kristi, I’m going to assume that you read my reply to Lori, or else you can read my mind (which actually could be a bit scary 🙂 ). As I said to Lori though, I also happen to really like the Olympic ads, and I can definitely see a tie in here for everyone. What a great opportunity for media literacy and critical literacy … and with an event that holds so much interest for so many people.

      Thanks for giving me more to think about!

  6. Oh man, what a great convo here. So amazing to read.

    The Olympics was a struggle for me in lots of different ways, many of which have been mentioned here. I’m starting to think that my main feeling is that we should celebrate it in education. Especially in Canada, with our deep winters and general lack of notoriety on the global stage, the Winter Olympics is a confidence builder. I’m not saying we should hinge our self efficacy on nationalistic fervour, but we should surely recognize its cultural significance.

    But also criticize it. There is a great deal of hypocrisy, corruption, and profit-over-people thinking in The Games. This is not a theory, it is plain fact. Why do we not really discuss this openly in our schools? We surely would if it was occurring in a different context.

    In countries like Canada where the Games are an all encompassing media fiesta, we should never ignore the Olympics; I just wish it wasn’t such a sacred cow.

    Thanks again for starting this convo.

    • Yeah, yeah, yeah, Royan – I started to get into some of this with my kids on the freezing rain day we had on Friday. I put together a lightning quick Olympic on-line scavenger hunt, and then discussed the answers. Some were simply facts (name the Dufour-Lapointe sisters – and of course some people only came up with 2), but others asked “why?” – why did some people get angry at Marcel Aubut after Friday night at Canada House. It made for great discussion.

    • Royan, I’m having a flashback to an earlier tweet that you sent out about the Olympics being a “sacred cow.” You’re right. I also agree that if we’re going to discuss the Olympics in class then we need to celebrate it, but also look critically at it. If we want to get our students thinking more, then this provides the perfect opportunity for them to do so … even if these discussions may be hard ones to have!

      Lisa, you mentioned that you had some of these conversations on Friday. How did the students respond? What did they say? This would be really interesting to hear!

      Thank you both for the comments!

  7. so loving the conversation here. These are the times I wish I had a non-Core french classroom, to delve into some of these. However, I think I`m saving Kristi`s ideas about ads for the next time around – my students were baffled/surprised/intrigued about the fact that the same ads they`d seen in English existed in French, but didn’t sound the same. I was going to use the #noussommeslhiver/#we are winter ads, but the poetic language is both was so archaic I couldn`t go there (although it would be an interesting question to look at why the advertisers chose 19th century poems about winter as the backdrop).

    • Lisa, I think that the ad idea is a great way to go! There are certainly lots of interesting discussions and critical literacy that could come out of this. And I do believe that the advertisements are great ways to get all students interested in at least a portion of the Olympics.

      Hmmm … so much to think about!

  8. We really focussed on character traits and media literacy in our class too. Our school character trait for the month was teamwork so it worked nicely! So many of the books we read tied into something that had happened (and not always the actual SPORT) ! Koala Lou (Mem Fox) we compared to the sisters who won medals…….does the mom love the one that didn’t win the medal less? The Royal Games (some terrible Disney Jr story! they all loved of course) made us think of Scott and Tessa complaining about their coach after losing. Maybe it was true, maybe it wasn’t, but was that the time to complain? Emotions after winning/losing really helped the kids understand how to express how they are feeling. We often say “stop crying” it is just a game…………and then we see the Olympians in tears. The Canadian coach who helped the skier with the broken ski…………..I could go on and on……. So many great teachable moments! The children were QUITE complexed over the McDonald’s ads connected to the Olympics as well! Sometimes we even looked at some American news to see how they didn’t focus on us……..just themselves! That would be point of view maybe??? One thing I did realize was that those children whose families were not into it…….took longer to buy in! Then I am thinking now if I didn’t expose and they didn’t expose at home, how would they know if they liked it or not?? Hmmmmmm….. Also have to mention our enthusiasm in class prompted a few parents to decorate their work places and send pictures to us! I think for me it was more about “being Canadian” promoting our nation and the idea of people working together to show we love our country! Another big bonus……..many teachers at my school used this to make their first “jump” into inquiry based teaching and I think the Olympics certainly offered a great platform for that! Social studies, science, art, math, gym, literacy…………….it was all in there!

    • Thanks for sharing more here, Lori! It’s great to hear about what you and others did. I love your tie in to media literacy and also character traits. I know that the primary classes at our school really focus on character traits each month — I wonder if they also made the connection to the Olympics. I’ll have to ask. Hearing about what some of the parents did at your school because of what was happening in your classroom is also quite exciting. Sounds like some great parent engagement!

      And I will say that regardless of how I feel about the Olympics, I definitely love any opportunity for inquiry learning. If the Olympics helped with that, this definitely makes me happy!


  9. Aviva, you make some valid points here. I never thought about the students that didn’t like sports but, I guess because I gave them a choice and a voice in our exploration it wasn’t needed. I made connections with the Olympics to our social studies research project on different countries which all of my students were engaged in. We got a chance to see Sochi through the eyes of the athletes we were following on Instagram as well as on Twitter. So for those students who weren’t as into sports they had a chance to see what life was like over there (which amused all of them). They, all, also, got a chance to ask and tweet whatever questions they wanted to the athletes who connected with us. So those that didn’t like sports asked what other passions the athletes had or asked about what they were passionate about themselves (favourite book for example). I tried to make the unit as inclusive as possible and tied it into all subjects like health were athletes told us about goal setting through Tweets. By the way, I am not really into sports either but just a proud Canadian who was made even prouder by the Canadian athletes who connected with my students.

    • Zoe, thanks for sharing how you used the Olympics in your classroom. I love how you provided opportunities for all of the students to get excited and engaged by this topic (even if they weren’t necessarily into sports). Reading your ideas made me think about Lori’s ideas as well — both of you provided entry points for all of your students. You also used technology in such a meaningful way, and I have to admit that I just love that! What amazing athletes for responding to your tweets as well. This is something that I’m sure the students will remember (regardless of their thoughts on the sports).

      Thank you for giving me something different to think about!

      • Thanks! My students will know have some left long memories thanks to the amazing Canadian athletes. They have made me so proud to be Canadian.


        • That really is incredible, Zoe! I may not be that into sports, but I have to say that tweets back from Olympic athletes is very amazing! I can only imagine how your students must feel. Thanks for making the learning so meaningful for them!


  10. I have to be honest… I was mostly on the fence with bringing in the Olympics. I always feel like we are scrambling for quality instructional time as is and there are always a million and one things I want to share…

    It was a comment from a student that had me frozen in my tracks… smiling a big smile she said quite innocently: “what are the Olympics?”

    That was it for me… while I know that while not all students ate up the learning and asked for seconds it seemed like I was doing everyone, including myself a disservice, if we didn’t at least have the conversation and investigate these learnings in the classroom.

    I am proud to say I learnt TONS …being open to investigating, asking questions, and wondering out loud really brought the idea of true inquiry to life in the class.

    Food for thought.

    • Thanks for the comment, Jana! What you share here is a great example of inquiry learning about the Olympics, which aligns a lot to what Lori and Kristi shared as well. Maybe it’s less about the topic itself and more about how we present/teach/facilitate the learning around it. If we provide enough entry points and enough opportunities for student driven instruction, then it sounds as though any topic can be engaging for all students (or at least a portion of it can be). Lots to think about …


      • That is the power of inquiring isn’t it?

        More and more it is less about the destination & more about the journey:)

        Appreciate your good thinking this am as we fight another day with -42C in the wind:)

        • So well said, Jana! Looking at the Olympics through an inquiry lens changes things. I think I have another blog post coming on. 🙂

          And brrrr … I hope it warms up there for you today! -6 sounds tropical in comparison! 🙂


  11. Well, to my mind the Olympics are more than sports. Aside from the history (Ancient vs Modern) which is ripe with material for student questions, the MST; math sci, technology involved (scoring and how close; decimals, hundredths, Probability, Trend analysis of data, the engineering, science, cooperation).
    But what got me most as M>S> Teacher Librarian was the personal narratives and how it engaged their thinking.
    Bilodeau’s story in 2010 (just one of many) got to my Gr 6,7,8’s just as it did to the adults in our building. It’s a rich learning opportunity, full of teachable moments.
    National pride, identity, and place in this global village means we need to give and in fact are required to take part in our country’s history.
    If kids don’t like sports, ….well, that covers one aspect of the Olympic spirit. How can anyone not be engaged in a cooperative world event such as this: spirit, sportsmanship, winning, losing, honesty, inclusivity, diversity…The politics, geography, history, and character involved are too rich to pass up.
    Kids who say they’re not interested in sports…therefore not engaged in Canada’s contributions (their country) where is the pride? Where is the ‘charter of Rights and Freedoms” , what it means to be a Canadian? Rights, privileges, responsibilities?
    Gr. 5 S. S. unit on heritage & citizenship comes to mind.
    I’m sorry that you didn’t take time to be part of a truly inspirational moment for our country, one that all proud Canadians were able to share and cherish and take with them…And one that new Canadians should have. How can we not celebrate our heroes?
    As teachers, it’s our job to make the big connections for our learners. Sometimes choice needs some guidance.
    I have always cherished the Olympics as a moment in time and have used the content to inspire, engage, and promote questioning in my community of learners. And, we, my students & I have learned so much from each other. This is a priceless moment in time. We ARE Canada!

    • Nancy, I read this comment earlier today, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how to respond. I was going to write a longer note here, but instead, I think that I’m going to write another blog post. You make some wonderful points here, and my thoughts continue to evolve with each new comment on this post. I promise the post is coming tonight! 🙂


      P.S. Here’s the link to the new blog post: http://adunsiger.com/2014/02/24/my-evolving-perspective/

  12. I was glad to see someone post and open up a conversation about this topic. Thank you, Aviva – very brave of you. I often feel it is best if I stay quiet about the questions and concerns I have about the Olympics. The excitement and energy around the events seemed amplified with social media as well, and so it can be difficult to interject if one feels less enthusiastic or has questions. If I, as an adult, struggle with what to voice or question, I wondered about students and other families. Thank you for being sensitive and honest about this as well. I have enjoyed catching the dialogue and contributions to your post. I have had good discussions within my own family as well. I was going to ask if you or others had feedback or input from families, but I see mention of that in the comments now. Thanks again to you and others who shared viewpoints on this.

    • Thanks for your comment, Sheila! It’s been great to read the various viewpoints on this post. It’s given me a lot to think about. I’m starting to think that it’s less about the topic (the Olympics) and more about the approach. The use of inquiry and multiple entry points really helps give a different perspective to the Olympics … even if people aren’t as interested in sports.

      I continue to be interested in what people have to say about this!

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