“How do athletes use their positions of power to make change?”
The fourth grade team had gotten to know their students in the prior semester, and they were a sporty and active bunch. The teachers designed a project to look at history through the lens of sports and to explore how sports build and shape communities.
Readings highlighted specific athletes, and these profiles were used to look at the historical contexts of the period. Topics ranged from the segregated baseball leagues, to women in sports, to the origins of American football in residential schools for Native Americans. Every two weeks, the group focused on a different aspect of identity, such as race, gender, or disability, so the students looked at multiple periods of history from different perspectives.
The team launched the project with a grade-wide (75 students) collaborative game. After the game, the whole group reflected on how sports can help build community. At one point during the project, students saw a Microsoft Superbowl advertisement for an adaptive game controller with the tag line, “when everyone plays, we all win.” Discussion of the tag line led the students to get the idea of an all-school Olympics Day.
Based on their interests, students divided themselves into committees: a refueling group wrote letters to local businesses to solicit donations of fruit and water; a design group created a logo and designed and screen printed T-shirts; a game design group planned games and tested them out with classmates (the whole grade voted on the final games); another group surveyed each teacher in the school and created multi-age teams that would work well together.
This project was featured in the 2021 book Changing the Subject: Twenty Years of Projects from High Tech High. You can learn more about the book and the projects within by visiting the official website.
Throughout the project, students wrote journal entries in response to readings, field work, and discussions. They visited and interviewed women’s basketball and soccer players at a local university, as well as a member of the USA Blind Hockey Team. They used their journal reflections as raw material to write an opinion essay and spoken word poem about an issue they felt strongly about.
In art class, fourth graders were studying how artists as well as athletes have used their voices to make social justice statements. They visited Chicano Park in San Diego and learned about the history of the murals there and the Chicano rights movement. They studied the origami murals of Mademoiselle Maurice, and created a similar style mural to be installed on the US/Mexico border. To choose the words for the installation “TU ERES MI OTRO YO,” the whole grade held a community meeting in which they reviewed the project and came to a consensus about their message.
Fourth graders planned the Olympics Day, in which the whole school and many parents participated. At the opening of the Olympics Day, students performed their spoken word poems. One of the stations was a sports museum, where students displayed their writing about the history they had studied. The large origami mural was installed on the US/Mexico border at Friendship Park in Tijuana.