“OK guys line up, eyes on me ... pay attention, I’m only going through this once.”
A group of fourth-graders from Westside Elementary School dutifully line up, backs against the tennis court nets on a beautiful morning earlier this month.
The instructors for this portion of the day’s activities are all business, as they know they have a lot to go through in a relatively short period of time. Twenty minutes can seem like an eternity if you’re anxiously awaiting the end of a school day, but when you’re trying to teach something new to a group of kids, the time goes by in an instant.
That said, the instructors are also patient, offering encouragement and praise when needed (and even when it isn’t). After all, just a few months ago, they were learning this stuff themselves, so it pleases them that they are able to share it, even if it’s with a somewhat captive audience.
Today’s lesson? The finer points of cricket, a sport with origins in Great Britain but with a strong European and Australian following.
The instructors? Members of Luke Robertson’s fifth-grade PE class, tasked earlier this year with choosing a sport unique to another country or culture, researching the history of that sport and learning how to play it.
Part of a yearly event he prepares with his older students, Robertson said the project is the culmination of months of hard work on the part of everyone involved.
“I think we’ve been doing it for six or seven years now,” Robertson said. “Basically, it was the end of the year [the first year], and I was just looking for some kind of culminating event for the fifth-graders to do before they went into middle school.”
Robertson and his fellow teachers kicked around ideas, finally settling on having students explore a topic unfamiliar to them, and learning to share it with others.
“We start off by picking what they want to do and getting them into their groups,” Robertson said. “Then Ms. [Jennisen] Lucas takes them in the library, and she really focuses on that research aspect. Then they do all the research on the sport, learn about the culture, learn about the history, the tradition, notable athletes, all those types of things. Then they take that knowledge and bring it into the gym.”
Students even create a website that corresponds with their sport as a means of sharing what they’ve learned.
“It kind of evolved over time — originally I was going to have them create a PowerPoint presentation,” Robertson said. “But when I talked to the librarian, she said, ‘Oh, they could create a web page!’ So that’s what we did.”
Once a working knowledge of the sport has been attained, the students become the teachers, imparting their wisdom on a group of unsuspecting but enthusiastic fourth-graders.
“We start out in January with the kids working with us to go through the research process,” said Lucas, who serves as the librarian for Powell’s elementary schools. “We go over what kind of questions might you ask about this, [and] what kind of things do you need to know about the history. We spend several weeks just going in and doing research — reading books, looking at websites, watching videos.”
An entire morning was set aside in early May for the fifth-graders to share what they’ve learned, with hands-on instruction for each sport, both in the gymnasium and on the grounds outside.
This year’s event featured a total of 15 sports, from polo and fencing to rugby and lacrosse. Sports popular in the United States were also represented, as the younger students learned about their favorite track and field events, as well as table tennis and golf. Riding the wave of Team USA’s gold medal performance at this year’s Winter Olympics, curling also made an appearance.
Fourth-graders spent 20 minutes at each sports “station,” with 5-10 minutes spent on the origins of the sport, followed by practical application and instruction.
“It’s very exciting, because I don’t always get to see this part of what they do, because it happens mostly in PE,” Lucas said of the hands-on instruction of the various sports. “It’s collaborative in that we know what’s going on the whole time, but it’s also parallel. So getting to see it all together is really exciting ... that’s a big part of the research process is that sharing, putting it out there to an authentic audience.”
“I think the kids really enjoy it, and it’s neat because the fourth-graders get to watch, so that when they come up next year, they go, ‘Well, when do we get to do that?’” Robertson said. “They’re usually pretty excited about it.”
At the lacrosse station, instructor Brittney Wambeke said her group chose the sport based on two of the group’s members having played it before.
“My friends Quincy and Colin had already played lacrosse, and thought it was really fun,” Wambeke said. “I wanted to learn something new. I really like catching because you can move a lot more, and when you’re throwing it, it’s a little harder to move.”
As for teaching the sport, Wambeke likens the experience to hanging out with her little sister.
“I love it, it really makes me feel happy to teach others, because I teach my sister a lot,” she said.
While it all may seem like nothing more than fun and games (and really, what’s wrong with that?), the teaching aspect of the project is also very important. For many fifth-graders, this is their first experience with sharing something they’ve learned with others in a classroom setting, an important step as they move into middle school and beyond.
“We talk about teaching pedagogy, how you keep a learner’s attention,” Robertson said. “How do you pose questions to kids? How do you give feedback? All of that is an important part of the process.”
Robertson said the event wouldn’t be possible without the help of volunteers, many of whom are parents and/or fellow faculty and staff, taking a morning off work to assist in the proceedings.
“The volunteers are tremendous, and on a beautiful day like today, it makes it all worth it,” Robertson said. “And the parents love it — I usually get really good feedback.”