Much is being written this month as we celebrate the first anniversary of hosting the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. From tourism to the economy to amateur athletics, various sectors are examining the impact of the Games.
It is also worth considering the effects the Games have had on education in B.C. I have written about my own participation connected to the 2010 Winter Olympics, and shared some of that in my TEDxUBC presentation. Looking back, here are some of my reflections of their effect on education:
1. To make broad-stroke generalizations across the province would be impossible. Communities that hosted sporting events (Richmond, Vancouver, West Vancouver, Whistler) clearly had more opportunity for engagement in the Games. The Board’s decision to close schools in West Vancouver during the Games is also seen, in retrospect, as a very wise decision — it was almost universally praised by staff and families. One of the legacies in adjusting the 2010 Spring Vacation calendar is that it has stimulated more discussion over the validity and suitability of non-traditional breaks in school calendars.
2. The Games linked social media and schools. While projects like Students Live were overt in their use of social media, all media outlets leveraged Facebook, Twitter and other social tools. For many schools in BC, the Olympics were the first event they had ever tracked through social media. While some classes have used social media to follow world events in Iran, Haiti and elsewhere, the Olympics brought social media into classes — and, in many places, it has stuck.
3. The Games created interest and curiosity around sports beyond hockey, soccer, baseball, and basketball. There is a range of winter sports available that were highlighted during the Games, and schools embraced these with field trips and “school-versions” of them. Primary students think about participating in luge, speed-skating and snowboard cross now – sports very few kids knew existed two years ago.
4. As much as the Olympics had an impact on education, I would suggest the Paralympics had a greater impact. Give the Canadian Paralympic Committee and the organizers of the Paralympic Games credit — they did an amazing job of getting their message to schools in advance of the Games and engaging students. Thousands of students were able to attend Paralympic events, and the Paralympic School visits leading up to the Games were powerful learning opportunities. Students had the opportunity to test-drive Paralympic events, and hear from athletes. As a result of the Games, young people in many communities have a new understanding of the word “disabilities” and they now recognize that people should not be defined by them.
5. The Games forged new relationships. In West Vancouver, they provided an opportunity for students from both public and private schools to work together toward making the Games relevant for all. That same spirit has students from public and private schools working together again this spring, on a community-wide event for youth. The Games also created a showcase for student talent — a district choir that came together for the Torch Relay has been replicated, in a slightly different form, for other events in West Vancouver. The Games brought people together, who would not normally have had the opportunity to connect, and some of those relationships and partnerships have continued on to build to new opportunities. With the Centennial approaching for the District of West Vancouver and the School District, many are looking to the Olympic experience as a model for engagement and celebration.
6. The Games tested the notion of teaching without a binder or textbook. In some ways, the technology and overall readiness were not prepared for the vision. One of the criticisms of the 2010 Olympic Education program was that there was no binder like with the 1988 Calgary Games. The vision was forward thinking – it provided learning resources, lesson ideas, content, and allowed teachers to craft and construct learning with students, and to make meaning of it for themselves. This happened in some places, and elsewhere, it fell flat. We are clearly moving into an era of fewer text books and more digital content, and I think the model will work better in five years than it did last year. That said, many districts, with the support of the Canadian Olympic Committee (with excellent resources) and VANOC, created some great learning experiences in class.
7. For many students, teachers and classes, Olympic learning is now an ongoing part of what they do. Whether it is exposure to a range of winter sports, the use of Olympic athletes as motivational speakers, or the inclusion of resources available from many sources — including the Canadian Olympic Committee — teachers and schools have, in many cases, not treated the Games as a one-time event, but have found ways to weave the lessons and values learned though the Games into their ongoing practice.
8. At a time when we are often looking to find connections between subjects to promote deeper learning, the 2010 Games modeled that topics including arts, sports, culture, politics and sustainability could all be part of the same conversation.
There was a definite concern the Games would go through our community, but that the schools and young people might miss out on the potential opportunities. One year out, not only do people reflect fondly on the experiences of the Games, there are clearly a number of legacies that continue to play out in our schools.