I have always been a huge fan of the Olympics. I remember when I was able to attend the the summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. Those are memories that I will always cherish. I still look forward to and enjoy these events each time they take place. This is a time when countries come together to compete as nations and as teams. Meanwhile, it is also an event that reminds us of the common bond we all share with people from around the globe. It instills a sense of pride in one’s country, a spirit of teamwork and camaraderie, and it allows a space for countries to unite despite their differences. These are the qualities I love about the Olympics and precisely why I felt it was important to incorporate this into my classroom management.
Since my first year in the classroom, I had grouped my students together in groups of four to six students. For labs, students have a lab partner who they share a desk with. For group projects, the students work in groups of four to six students to complete projects as a team. In my classroom, I believe team-work and group-work is essential for students. Students must learn to interact with all personality types, people with different opinions, beliefs, cultures, talents, and abilities. It is through these interactions that they will take real-life skills with them that will be of paramount importance in their adult lives.
In 2016, I was entering my third year teaching–my second year teaching Life Science. As school started back from summer break, my students and I were abuzz about the summer Olympics. This was the first time in the games’ history that they had been hosted in South America. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is a place many of my students had never heard of or seen before the Olympic games. The games provided us with the opportunity to take pride in our country, to learn about other countries and cities around the world my students had never been exposed to. My students began to see these foreign places through a different lens and we bonded over the excitement. When the games ended, I decided that I wasn’t going to let the excitement escape from my classroom.
The following week, I worked to develop a way I could incorporate this magic back into our very own classroom and allow my students to “compete” and feel like an Olympian. I decided that I would have each table represent a country from one of the seven continents. I decided that each nine weeks (a grading period in our middle school), countries would compete for and accumulate points. I placed flags above each group and let them know they now were competing on as a team to accumulate points for their country. I offered many different ways individuals and teams could accumulate these points each week in class. I wanted to ensure that individuals at each table were motivated to be an active and supportive member of their team. I also wanted teams to be motivated and excited to excel as a group and work together.
I also wanted to recreate the magic of the medal ceremony and bring it into my classroom. I decided that each week, I would look for gold medalists in each class period and announce them on Monday. We discussed what it meant to be a gold medalist. We brainstormed qualities of an outstanding student and discussed the qualities that I would be looking for as their teacher. We included their academics, behavior, kindness, personal best efforts, ability to contribute to their teams, and other qualities we felt were important. Each week, I discussed the qualities of the student that I had chosen and built up the excitement of who would be named the gold medalist as the Olympics theme song played on the smart board in the background. I ordered gold medals (from Amazon) and called the student up for the medal ceremony in each class period. Students earned points for their country, a special reward on the day of the nine weeks reward, and the pride of a job well done.
One of my favorite parts of this activity is calling home to parents with positive news and bragging on each student. Parents often answer the phone worried that their teacher is calling home with something that has gone wrong or telling them that their student is in trouble. Sadly, this is because too often, we as teachers only report home when something IS going wrong. Going for the Gold allows me to change this and call home about what is going RIGHT. The best part is to share with them the qualities that caused me to choose their student for this award. Parents appreciate this call home and are so excited and radiate joy as I brag on their child. Students come into school the following day to let me know that their parents told them why I called home. I cannot express enough how important this part of Going for the Gold is.
At the end of the nine weeks, we have a movie rewards day for students with no missing assignments in our class and an A, B, or C class average for the nine weeks. Each gold medalist receives an extra special reward on the day of the reward day. The team with the highest amount of points (averaged by the amount of team-mates at each group) also receives an extra special reward on the movie day. It’s always a great end to the nine weeks and a special way to reward our students for all of their hard work, individually and as a team.
The great thing about this classroom management system is it is entirely adaptable. You can tailor this to meet the needs of your classroom, students, and classroom management style. My Teachers Pay Teachers product will give you more information about rewards, how students/teams can earn points, scoreboards, country flags, a gold medalist wall of fame, a motivational quote poster and much more. I have also adapted it for classrooms that have varying amounts of groups/teams and have included scoreboards for classrooms with anywhere from three to nine groups. Regardless of how you decide to incorporate this into your classroom, you and your students are going to have an amazing time. Let the games begin!