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Using the Winter Olympics as a Learning Tool

Posted on January 28, 2014 by Alan Haskvitz

Winter olympics In 2014, the Winter Olympics start in early February and are being held in Russia. The Games offer a superb teachable moment to tie in lessons in a great many subject areas that meet the Common Core standards. And they provide possibilities for students to gain a better global perspective.

In addition to the lessons provided in the links below about the history of the games, character education, nutrition, geography, and physical education, students can acquire a better understanding of how various countries deal with similar events. I like to have kids read actual newspapers from those places. This sharpens their critical thinking skills and gives me a gateway to compare and contrast essays not readily available on such a scale. For example, I’ll ask: “If the Jamaica bobsled team qualifies, how do news stories written in Jamaica and the host country Russia differ from those in competing countries?”

To support the Common Core math standards, I ask students to research the times recorded at various events. Then I ask them to analyze the information and reach conclusions -- from how many miles an hour did that speed skater go, to comparing the times and converting them to decimals. I even have them create their own score cards.

I also let students do original research, such as checking the temperature at the Olympics and comparing it to that at the school. Then, they convert it to Celsius and graph the data.

I like to create a daily Olympic sponge activity, too. For example, I display flag(s) from various countries and have the students write about what they think the symbols and/or colors mean.  Then they do research to see how well they did.

I have also taken a flat board of about eight to ten inches in width and about three feet long and made a small indention in the center to create a ski jump hill.  Next, I place this board on an incline and have the students release various objects from marbles to tennis balls and mark how far each flies. This activity requires the students to measure and draw conclusions about which object went the furthest before touching down. Have the students make predictions before the objects compete.

Other ideas include: 

  • After giving the students a list of the major events, have them mime an event and see if the other students guess it.
  • Students research the length of the Alpine ski course and the fastest time to calculate the speed of the skier, and then, using this information, compare it to the speed skating data.

The bottom line is that the Olympic Games motivate students to read about the events and provide creative ways to express themselves. I’ve gathered the following excellent resources to help with everything from bulletin board design to writing ideas.

All National Flags 

Ancient Greek Olympics - A simulation and some general links

Ancient Greeks: The Olympic Games - A large listing of Olympic-related themes and lessons

Fractions of a second: For older students - "At the Olympics, the blink of an eye can be all that separates the gold medalist from the 10th-place finisher. In some events, this is obvious. But in others, with athletes racing one by one, the closeness of the race is harder to perceive." Listen to the differences on this site.

Gold Medal Lessons - A variety of lesson plans 

Nutrition Science and the Winter Olympics - Learn the nutritional requirements for each sport.

Official Olympic Site 

Olympics sports - List of Summer and Winter Olympic sports and events

US Special Olympics site 

US Olympics from NBC - Updates on latest events, people, schedules

Winter Games Lesson Plans - For lower grades from Australia

Winter Olympics for Kids - Crafts, activities and printables for younger students

Winter Olympics Home Site - The basic information is here.

Winter Olympics in the Gym - Physical Fitness Lessons to create a Winter Olympics at your school

Find out what other nations think of the Olympics by visiting newspapers around the world. You can translate these newspapers by using Free Online Translation.

World Newspaper Directory - See how other nations are dealing with the Olympics.

Newspapers U.S. and Worldwide- And see how newspapers in other states handle Olympic news.

Alan Haskvitz teaches at Suzanne Middle School in Walnut, Calif., and makes staff development presentations nationwide. He serves as an educational consultant, curriculum developer and author.

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