Gold Medal Learning

Faster, Higher, Smarter

Teachers are finding that the Olympics can help teach everything from values to velocity.

by Suzanne Blake, OCT

There are valuable lessons to be learned from the Olympic Games. And that’s where the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC), the Canadian Paralympic Committee and their education programs can help.

When Vancouver was awarded the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, teacher Cory Randell, OCT, immediately went to the Olympic School web site.

“I was surprised at how much was there for students, including sports footage and interviews,” she says.

Randell is a Special Education teacher at Richmond Green SS in Richmond Hill. She has used Olympic curriculum material in the past, but “this time, I’m really going whole hog, probably because the games are at home. The program is just so good. Everything’s there – timelines, the origins of the games, science and fair play – really a wealth of information. And the media library brings everything to life.”

Bruce Deacon, Manager of Education and Community Relations for the COC, would be pleased to hear it.

“The program is developed by and for teachers,” says Deacon. “COC has educators on staff, and we consult frequently with teachers and schools to keep abreast of their needs. We look at learning outcomes and curriculum expectations nationwide to decide which elements will be covered.”

Randell especially likes the financial literacy projects. She finds that the real-world applications engage her students. She has used the Olympic-related scenarios, asking students to create a budget for their trip to the games or how they would spend $600 to cover three days of food and accommodation in Whistler.

Randell finds the Olympics an easy sell. “It’s a theme students enjoy, whether they’re athletes or not. We also follow along in the newspaper every day, and it gives the kids something to talk about.”

For the COC, the objective of the school program is to engage students and teachers in the Olympic movement, create fans and inspire youth with the magic of the games.

Elementary teacher Nicole Paradis, OCT, finds this a winning combination. Paradis, who teaches French, social studies and physical education at Carl A. Nesbitt PS in Sudbury, says she has been using Olympics program materials since the 2006 Winter Games. She’s found the math activities, reading and physical education materials incredibly helpful.

“It’s a theme students enjoy, whether they’re athletes or not.”

Paradis enthuses, “They have all kinds of lesson plans – information about the sports, stories about the athletes – and it’s available in French!”

Paradis has created a cross-curricular program. Her students write newspaper articles, design medals, create scrapbooks and keep track of Canadian medals won. The COC provides more than fact sheets and reading comprehension material. Paradis says the higher-order thinking that’s incorporated has kept her going back to the web site for more.

She’s had great feedback from students, staff and administration alike. “Seeing the program in action has made people want to get on board,” says Paradis. “It’s fantastic. I’ve used it every year in some way. It purposefully meets curriculum expectations and is easily adaptable.”

At école élémentaire publique L’Odyssée, which offers a French-language Primary program in Ottawa, the Olympics permeate almost every aspect of school life, with many of the projects and ideas coming from the COC web site.

“At the beginning of the school year, we had an Olympic torch relay,” says Catherine Dicaire-Desjardins, OCT, a physical education teacher who is co-ordinating the school’s Olympic program. “We’ve held our own Olympics, ordered posters from the web site that we put up all over the school and built an inukshuk – the symbol of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics – in front of the school. And now our principal is making a little inukshuk for each student!”

The school is sponsoring a Paralympian, Jean Labonté, captain of the national sledge hockey team. In addition, each class has been assigned a specific Olympic sport and classroom doors are decorated with relevant pictures. Students use French-language materials found on the école olympique web site. Earlier grades might do arts and crafts projects, while older students turn to profiles of Olympians such as Alexandre Despatie and Nathalie Lambert when working on reading comprehension.

Dicaire-Desjardins says the école olympique web site is a real source of inspiration. “As a teaching tool, it has a lot of information. It’s a good place to start, and we’ve adapted the lessons to meet the needs of our students.”

The web site continues to improve. Last year, the stories of Aboriginal Olympians were added. Considering the significant role that First Nations are playing in the upcoming Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, highlighting the accomplishments of Aboriginal Olympians is particularly timely.

The stories feature Olympians like runner Angela Chalmers, Waneek Horn-Miller, who competed in water polo, canoeist and kayaker Alwyn Morris and long-distance runner, the late Tom Longboat. They are available in English, French, Cree, Mohawk and Hul’qumi’num and are paired with learning activities that meet many of the language arts and social studies learning outcomes.

For teachers like Paradis, these are invaluable. “Our school board, the Rainbow DSB, has a mandate to support our native students. So for me, this is perfect.”

Paradis continues to look for ways to improve on her Olympic lessons. This year she’s planning a school-wide Olympic-style event.

“It won’t be limited to physical education activities,” she says. “We want to bring in math and literacy too.” She’s found that everyone gets caught up when the subject is the Olympic Games. It’s exciting and it definitely gets your boys interested.”

Then she adds in a tone of wonder, “Kids who I thought wouldn’t follow the games come up to me and say, ‘Madam, something happened at the Olympics and I have to tell you about it.’”

It’s not just the sporting community that gets involved. There’s a spirit of supporting your country.

Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics, would be impressed. He knew then what teachers like Paradis are just discovering: that the Olympic Games – with their sense of competition, suspense and excitement, played out on a world stage – have a way of encouraging curiosity, driving debate and engaging students of all ages.inspiration for the students from école élémentaire publique L’Odyssée in Ottawa.

Gold medal program

A number of national Olympic committees – including those of the US and Australia – have education programs. But Canada’s program is unique, with specially designed lesson plans and values-based Olympian stories designed to revitalize the vision of building “a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport.”

Given that there are over 22,000 users from almost 60 countries enrolled in the Olympic School Program, it seems the program is of interest to educators around the world.

The Calgary organizing committee inaugurated the Olympic School Program in 1988, when Canada hosted the Winter Games. The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) took up the legacy and began to provide education resources for subsequent Olympic Games. Then, in 2007, the program expanded to offer Olympic-themed resources in non-Olympic years.

“The Vancouver 2010 Winter Games gave us the awesome potential to expand the program,” says Bruce Deacon, the Manager of Education and Community Relations for the COC. “Both the COC and our sponsor, RBC, made significant investments to grow the program.”

Nicole Paradis uses COC lesson plans to create a cross-curricular program at Carl A. Nesbitt PS in Sudbury; students write articles, design medals, create scrapbooks and more.

Traditionally aimed at teachers of Grades 4 to 6, the program now serves kindergarten to Grade 12 and includes material aimed at students and parents. The program’s web site provides polls, contests and interactive components in the student area, while teachers can access lesson plans, stories and learning projects. At the elementary level there is a focus on language arts learning outcomes, as these are quite similar in all of the provinces and territories.

Elementary students learn about values – fairness, excellence and respect. And through the stories of athletes like long-track speed skaters Nathalie Lambert and Gaétan Boucher, cross-country skier Beckie Scott and figure-skating pair Jamie Salé and David Pelletier, they learn about physical activity and sustainability.

Stories are offered for different reading levels – bronze for Grades 2 and 3, silver for Grades 4 and 5 and gold for Grades 6 and 7. At the secondary level learning outcomes and resources are listed by province and grade, and lesson plans are linked to specific learning expectations. For example, secondary students may have to solve real-life Olympic problems in their learning projects, using financial literacy combined with math theory and skills.

School programs are accessible online at, and

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