education, ITRT

Olympic Makerspace – Part 1

One of my favorite things about being a technology integrator is collaborating with teachers as they stretch themselves out of their comfort zones to try something new. A few weeks ago I was chatting with our school librarian, Ms. Banton, who was swirling with some ideas about an Olympic-themed research project.

“How about we have the students do something with the research they learn? Could they use their research to make something better?” I asked.

That’s all it took.

Two sentences and lots of brainstorming later, we settled on a three week project to help fifth grade students students dive into the Olympics and take their research to the next level.

Setting the Stage

We introduced our unit by focusing on the power of “I Wonder” questions. The lesson began with the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics trailer to build anticipation and awareness of the various sports that compete at the Olympics. We also showed another video that highlighted the moment where the flag was passed from the prior country to the new, with more footage of the events.

What I love most about these videos is the way you are pulled in by the music. One student heard the opening strains and looked at me perplexed, asking “Is this supposed to be a sad video? Does something happen to him?” Then, as the music rises and the other instruments join in, the tone changes and students discover what the video truly represents: anticipation, preparation, exhilaration. It’s The Mozart Hook at it’s finest, capturing your attention and pulling you along for the ride. (For those of you wondering, “What’s the Mozart Hook?” check out p. 97 in Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess!)

I Wonder

Once we’ve set the stage for engagement, it’s time to empower the students to own the lesson. We displayed images for each sport and read the words aloud so they would know which sport went with the videos they had just seen. That’s when the magic of the moment began.

“What do you wonder about these sports? Think about the way they use their bodies. Their equipment. What does the setting look like? How does that contribute to making them safer? Faster? Better? What do you wonder?”

I would like to say that all students immediately put lead to paper and frantically scrawled out their ways to change the world, but they needed time to think.

See, we all need a bit of time to ponder.

Time to think.

Time to grapple.

Time to grow.

The magic is in the pondering.

We gave them an “I Wonder” sheet to jot down their questions and encouraged them to chat with others at their table. We know the power of collaboration and how one idea sparks another, so we wanted to provide students an opportunity to enhance their questions. After several minutes, we opened the discussion to the entire class, choosing a few ideas to add to our class recording sheet, which sparked even more pondering by others.


Their questions made us ponder, too!

  • I wonder how can we design the luge track to be safer?
  • I wonder why girl ice skaters wear skirts and how we can design a costume for girls who don’t like dresses?
  • I wonder why one sport wears goggles and another sport doesn’t?
  • I wonder how people stay in a bobsled?
Refine and Research

On the back of the page, students were asked to choose one of their “I Wonder” questions and create a research focus that would drive the creation of a product that could improve something already made or doesn’t exist yet.

Ms. Banton and I walked around the room, helping students refine their research question which we noted on their papers. Then students were given an opportunity to peruse and check out books for the remainder of class.

After repeating this lesson for each of the fifth grade classes in our school, it’s exciting to see all the different student interests related to the Winter Olympics. Next week we dive deep into research using print and electronic resources, then in Week 3, students will use materials from our Innovation Lab’s makerspace to design and create their innovations to share with the world!

How do YOU use passion projects and makerspace lessons in your curriculum? Do you have any projects you are working on for the Olympics? Share your ideas below so we can learn from one another!


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