I took a risk with developing a project based on the Winter Olympics. Right before the Olympics there was so much bad press about Gay Rights, Animal Abuse and other political firestorms. Fifth graders really aren't ready to discuss those issues with full understanding. But I went ahead and designed it and I couldn't be happier.
Each set of 3 or 4 students worked on a "country project" I assigned each group one of the last 6 top winning countries from 2010. As a group they had to produce a puppet of the country's leader (you have to see the most awesome Vladimir Putin sock puppet!), a homemade freestanding flag, A poster which included; a medal tracker to engage with during the olympics, a map, a chart or graph reflecting culture (race or religion) . Their predictions (and justifications) of the top three sports and a list and of the top 10 athletes from that country. Each day we do a "medal ceremony" and update the posters.
They also had a partner from a different group. Their responsibility was to prepare a "news desk" report. They were to explain the sport fully, using video and diagrams. They have to be prepared with latest updates of stories from their sport, and predictions of what they think will happen.
And finally they each got an individual athlete to "follow" and portray. (not from their assigned country or assigned sport) They have a one page report due at the end of the month, but in the meantime they have to be prepared to be interviewed at the news desk.
Each day I pick two sports to focus on.. The interviewers do their "report" and then call on individual athletes to "interview them" These interviews have been fantastic. I have heard things like "I have a disabled brother and I was so happy when he helped me celebrate my repeat gold medal." or I expected to win at the snowboard half pipe and didn't, but I've won so many other competitions and there is always next time." One girl said " I had a tough childhood and I really don't want to discuss my father, but my mother has been my biggest fan and helped me so much." We have heard about devastating injuries and triumphant comebacks. They know when and how they started their sports, what their hometowns are like, and just how much time, sacrifice and effort these pursuits take.
I have three classes doing the project so the hallways are filled with... "Hey who are you ? How did you do ? How is your country doing? You are my teammate! Did you see that race ? run? event?
There have been so many wonderful human interest stories and they have gained a lot of perspective about the world. They are listening, speaking, researching, predicting, and interacting.. pretty hard "CORE" stuff.
I love the Olympics!