As I yelled out the final goal, my middle school students jumped up from their bleacher seats and rushed onto the gym floor, cheering for their classmates. Today, I wasn’t just their 6th-grade science teacher — I was an Olympic coach, presiding over a well-deserved win.
Hockey is not a normal part of my academic curriculum, but after two months of snow days and late starts, I needed a way to keep my students on track and motivated. A little friendly Olympic competition was the answer. Every on-track student had the chance to get their game on, every week.
Progress Slowed Down by Snow Days
South Floyd Middle School, located in rural western Kentucky, was hit with the worst winter we’ve seen in decades. Six weeks into 2018 and my students had not had a single five-day school week because of blizzards and icy roads.
Snow days start to lose their charm after a while, even to middle school students. While I knew we would make up the days at the end of the school year, I worried about losing the momentum I’d seen in the fall and winter.
“Going Green” on the Summit Learning Platform
This year, I’ve built my classroom around the Summit Learning Program, a personalized learning approach where students are encouraged to take charge of their own learning. Students spend their class time working on projects such as analyzing plant growth and collaborating with their peers to learn content. They can move forward in subjects — or Focus Areas, as they’re called — at their own pace, going deeper in subjects that interest or challenge them.
My students love seeing a Focus Area “turn green” on the Summit Learning Platform as they completed all of their work. It’s a visual indication that they can move ahead. But with so many interruptions to the school year, they were frustrated at their stalled progress after the holiday break.
The Summit Olympics
To motivate my students through these short weeks and school closures I created the “Summit Olympics,” a weekly competition where students who had passed Focus Areas competed in fun activities every Friday as a reward. I patterned all of the Summit Olympic games after winter Olympic sports that my students had never done before, such as hockey and bobsledding. I would keep the plans for each Friday a surprise, so my students had no idea what “sport” they would be doing the next day.
My students were more excited to compete than I had anticipated! I started seeing a different caliber of work from my students.
I had students who normally didn’t do homework texting me at 11:30 at night, asking for help to pass their Focus Areas so they could compete in the Summit Olympics that week.
For our hockey game, we had to do a little improvising in our gym, since there’s currently an absence of frozen ice rinks at South Floyd. Instead, my students “skated” around the gym floor with their feet on pieces of paper and used brooms for hockey sticks. They loved it!
As a teacher, it was a challenge in creativity and resourcefulness to bring winter sports to Kentucky. But even more rewarding than presiding over South Floyd’s first-ever Summit Olympics or seeing my first ever live hockey game was watching my students get so excited about learning. Seeing my students so motivated by competition, I’ve decided to keep the momentum going. This month’s competition will likely be Summit March Madness!