Posts Tagged ‘VANOC’

You can’t open up Facebook or Instagram right now without locals posting their memories of the 2010 Olympic Games.

I was particularly lucky working in West Vancouver during the 2010 Games. Prior to my arrival in 2006 the Board had already decided it would adjust their vacation times and close for the Games.  And West Vancouver Schools fully embraced the Games.  There was a core group of passionate teachers who were committed to ensuring all our students had experiences connected to the Games.  They worked with the Canadian Olympic Committee on lesson plans, reached out to the Vancouver Olympic Committee and others for support and ensured our students visited venues, tried various sports, created Olympic pins, performed at Olympic events and otherwise were hooked into the Games. I wrote previously (HERE) about the education legacy of the Games on their one year anniversary in 2011 – and my takeaways still stand today.

As amazing as this all was, for me, this period around the Games was professionally transformative.  I knew it was special, but now ten years later, my experiences around the Games were defining to my thinking about learning and the future of schooling.  All the ideas that were buzzing around in 2010 – personalized learning, a changing role for teachers, the possibilities of technology – we had the chance to implement with our Students Live! Games Program.   Here are some comments I made about the experience at the time:

The Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games were an amazing experience in our city, province and country.

With the Games coming to our city, many in education worried the Games would come through our city and it would be a missed opportunity to engage our students. Along with my colleagues, Audrey Hobbs-Johnston and Gary Kern, and with the support of Christina Adams and the Vancouver Olympic Committee, we created Students Live!

Students Live! was the opportunity for 25 students to be student reporters for the Olympics and Paralympics. Describing the program as a student reporter program does not do justice to what it really was for the students, and for the adults it was an absolutely transformational experience. It was starting with a blank slate and creating from that.

So, it was an absolutely amazing experience. The students attended events on an almost daily basis, participated side-by-side with international journalists, and experienced the Games in a way that was the envy of all their friends. And this was all great.

What we learned were lessons that transcended a sporting event, or a moment in time. It started with a competition to select the students. This is not surprising, but as students opted in, there was much greater buy-in. We know when we have an application on a course, the numbers interested usually increases. Students were asked to write a blog post, create a photo journal, or otherwise use web 2.0 to show how and why they would be good reporters for the Olympics.

For most of the close to 80 applicants – this was a new experience. While we often talk about how well-versed students are in technology, in this activity, which targeted those with the greatest technology skills – the act of writing a blog, or otherwise creating digital content for a public audience – was largely new.

What we saw in selecting students, and throughout the entire process, was that good writing and strong communication skills still matter. The tools have changed, but the best writers who captured the biggest audiences, and quickly built huge followings, were those who could communicate, while the weaker writers – no matter how adept they were with the technology struggled. Much is made of technology, and how our text messaging generation sees writing as less important – I actually have never been part of something where it was so evident how important good writing is.

The first day we met with the students we focused on the social media we would use and how we would engage the community with it. A quick survey of the room showed every student had Facebook, with little evidence of any other tool; some had YouTube and Twitter, but not much else. It also became clear that while the students were quite good with technology, they had absolutely no idea how they could leverage technology to build an audience.

While students had friends and connections, they didn’t have a clue on how to turn these friends into an audience, and then how to grow their audience into influence – they had never contemplated using the tools in this way. This is key – while the students may have been native to technology, many had no idea on how to really use it to build community. Of course, we created what was then called a “Fan Page” – so, this was mid-day on a school day and we challenged them to get 1000 followers.

They were able to do this within hours – all during a school day – you want to believe students are not really on Facebook during the school day.

What the students learned, was how they could get Facebook to work for them – when combined with Twitter and their blog, they had a megaphone to their network.

About face-to-face meetings – we could never have done what we did virtually, if we had not first built community face-to-face. I am more convinced now than ever, online is absolutely best among people who have the context of face-to-face relationships.

So once we started – what happened:

First, it was like an “Ah-ha” moment – mobile technology was a game changer. Those with smartphones had a huge advantage. They could take photos, post to Twitter and Facebook, and just simply connect in real time. The less ability students had to perform all of these functions in the moment, the more they were challenged. And yes, it was reporting, so real time was really key to the project, but what we saw was more than that. Amazingly evident was just how key it was to be able to publish live. Students who had to wait to find wireless internet access fell behind. The other key was video.

The best writers stood out, and photos were great – but those blogs building community all included video. What a great lesson for the classroom and the need to build video into our work.

It was also clear students loved to look at each other’s work – not in the “mine is better than yours” way – but “yours can help make mine better”. It was amazingly non-competitive, but students commented afterwards the biggest impact on improving the quality of their work, was their ability to see other students – other models of what could be done. Everyone commented their work improved because 1) it was public and 2) they could read and learn from each other.

The students also loved publishing for a public audience – they had never really contemplated viewers before. What they knew was about was writing for a teacher – now they were writing for an audience, and the better they wrote, and the more interesting their topic, the larger the audience. There were students who had up to 100 comments on a blog post. They combined excellent writing, with leveraging their network, and with a savvy use of social media. In our debrief, students said it was actually frustrating going back to school because they had seen what was possible with real-world learning, publishing for a public audience, building community and they had to return to what school has always been – it felt less relevant than ever.

While it is true the Olympic Games were a unique experience, and it will be difficult to duplicate the experience with less exciting events, the lessons transcend the Games – mobile technology can change learning, good writing still matters, using social media needs to be taught and should not be assumed, networks are essential, and once students get the taste of the real world, it is addictive and they will want to go forward, not back.

The entire experience was also profound for the adults involved. For all of us, the experience felt more like what we have often thought of as a team, and less as a class. Maybe it was because we didn’t have rows of desks, and because we asked more questions than giving answers, or because when the students were stuck we asked one of them to be the project leader and to get a team to solve the problem. It absolutely felt like learning, and it felt like everything we hoped school could and should be – but often it didn’t feel like class – it felt like we were in the flow.

It reinforced students will build their own networks. Sure, we guide them, support them and stand beside them – but they can build their own networks. They can get 1000 members in a Facebook Group and then figure out how to turn these members into a network, and they can ask “the real world” to assist them, instead of just playing in a simulated world in schools.

I was exhausted! Just because I was not at the front-of-the-room teaching did not mean that it was easy; teaching is still hard. Sometimes as a large group, sometimes as a small group, sometimes one-on-one, all hours of the day and night – we were learning and working together. It was a fundamental change of the role of teacher and student. We were their supports, their adult mentors – but didn’t have the answers. The students found teachers in this project, not blocked out as in a schedule, were more important and necessary.
Adults are amazing. There is a world full of adults who want to help students in all professions, just waiting to be asked.

In reflecting on this, I was reminded of the recent TED Talks by Sugata Mitra, who spoke of the network of grannies waiting to assist. Right now, we have only really engaged a small number of students through work experience in this real-world mentorship, but have found in this project every adult asked was willing to help. Yes, it was the Olympics – but there is an untapped resource waiting for us to engage them.

Finally – the adults were reminded that we need to trust the process. We always want to jump in and solve problems – we are good at that. Sometimes you need to let students work through situations, skin their knee and be there beside them to offer support.

Working with the other teachers and the 25 students was the greatest teaching experience of my life. I saw what I wanted for my kids, and for all kids – real-world learning that takes advantage of the latest in technology – but is not about the technology at all.

In the end, what the students liked the most was they had the permission to play. Actually, this is also what the adults liked to – we would often ask, “Can we do this?” – like we have been trained to always find a way and a reason not to try, not to experiment. We all also loved the freedom, choice and responsibility. While students and adults spent much of our time in the virtual world during the project, these bonds have flowed over into the face-to-face world – and we are all still connected.

Ten years later there are still connections with those who participated.  Now in their mid-twenties it is so interesting to see how many of the students used the skills that they learned during the Games in future schooling and careers.  And for me, I was reminded that this is not just all theoretical about learning and schooling.  It can be different.  Ten years later the lessons of the experience still hold.

Here is a TEDx Talk I gave after the Games that shares some more details on the experience:


You never really know what will be the defining moments of your career.  Ten years later, I know my participation in the education programs of the 2010 Winter Olympics was one of those experiences for me.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »