One school's experience in teaching math and science through Olympic Games competition
Leigh A. Brasier
(Reprinted with permission from the 2004 September 02 issue of Marco Island (Florida) Sun Times.)
The Olympic rings signify the five major regions of the world. But at Marco Island Charter Middle School, those rings represent each eighth-grade homeroom class, who were battling for gold, silver and bronze last Friday at the eighth-grade Olympic day. We're using the Olympics as a focal point to teach math and science, really all of the disciplines," said Robert A. Eder, social studies and video and technology teacher.
Every student from each homeroom class wore a T-shirt bearing one color of the Olympic rings: blue, yellow, black, green or red. Students competed in various individual, relay and team events, but all games incorporated the metric system.
"It's a valuable system to learn," said Dawn Snyder, eighth-grade science teacher, pointing out that's how the Olympic games are scored. "All the other countries are on the metric system."
During the first part of the games, individual students competed in the Mini-Metric Olympics. There were six games: paper plate discus, paper straw javelin, cotton ball shot put, right-handed marble grab, left-handed sponge squeeze and the big foot contest. They were asked to estimate the distance or amount by using the metric system and then perform the event. The difference between the estimation and the actual result determined the winner.
"It's a friendly competition,"said Tod Toth, eighth-grade math teacher. "It builds team spirit between the students."
Because the Olympics is a topic of current interest, the eighth grade teachers felt it was a perfect opportunity to incorporate a fun activity into the school day. The teachers did so by integrating the Olympics into other subjects. There was the study of the Olympics, old versus new games, commercialism, the politics of the games, the misuse of performance enhancing drugs and the camaraderie between participating countries, just to name a few.
"We're still learning but it's more fun than being in class," said participating student Katy Melchiorre.
This isn't the first Olympic day, one was held four years ago. But it was expanded this year to include more athletic events, like the standing long jump. Other non-traditional games like the three-legged race and a softball throw were also added to the roster.
"We picked games that most kids were exposed to," said Snyder, who along with the other teachers met in the summer to begin preparation for this activity. "It's a chance for the athletic kids to shine."
All events were scored, and gold, silver or bronze medals (actually spray-painted CDs) were awarded to the students during the medal ceremony. Dressed in togas, Toth, Snyder, Eder and band teacher Martie Miller, passed out the awards.
For the team competition, the homeroom class with the most medal winners won a pizza party. It was Toth's homeroom.
"Healthy competition is good," said Toth, a self-proclaimed competitor.
"It wasn't just homeroom versus homeroom, it was more a competition against themselves," said Snyder.
The day went off without a hitch except some of the relay race games were omitted because time ran out. According to Toth, it was a big risk for the teachers to plan such a large activity during the first weeks of school since routines are still being established. But the kids handled it well, Toth said.
"We want to do fun things throughout the year," said Toth.
The students also spent the afternoon watching the movie Running Brave, a true story about an Olympian who ran in the 1964 games.
Note: Details on the activities described in this article are available in the book Math + Science: A Solution from the AIMS Education Foundation.
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