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Students Hold Their Own Olympics, STEM-Style

Launching Skiers and Skaters with Wikki Stix


If you were a child, wouldn’t it be fun to make your own Olympic athletes out of stick-on pipe-cleaner thingies? Yes it would — just ask these Godfrey-Lee fourth-graders.

Like athletes at the starting line, Godfrey Elementary fourth-graders faced the challenge ahead: Make a Winter Olympics-event themed pictogram using Wikki Stix to create the picture. Do not cut the sticks. Use only three colors, with the main body form in black. Imagine if the Olympics were in Wyoming, Michigan. How can your picture reflect your community?

Now, go!

First-grader Joceline Nunez waves flag of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Following parameters set by Sarah Wood, district technology and media integration specialist, Godfrey Elementary students blazed through the Quickfire activity, busily twisting, molding and bending Wikki Stix into skiers, skaters, lugers and bobsledders to create their own “official” Olympic pictograms.

Districtwide, teachers took the Olympic theme and ran with it, with an opening ceremony, torch-lighting event (with a paper torch), curling in the gymnasium with teachers and students riding wheeled carts as the stone, ice skating and other events.

Teacher Allison Diaz’s fourth-grade students used the theme during a medal-worthy science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) activity. Wood challenges students each week to complete an activity within set constraints and time periods, such as 30 minutes for the pictogram activity. Wood uses Quickfire at the high school level as well, adding connections with careers and occupations.

After learning about PyeongChang 2018 pictograms, which are based on Korean script, groups of students busily twisted, molded and bent their Wikki Stix into skiers, skaters, lugers and bobsledders. Their Olympic pictograms showed images of how they envision athletes in their local parks and recreational areas. It took brainstorming, quick thinking, collaboration, and a little research on events through links provided by Wood.

First-grader Videl Martinez holds up a Jamaican flag during the Early Childhood Center Olympics Day opening ceremonies

Think Fast

While many STEM activities are open-ended and allow for trial and error, Quickfire differs because it challenges students to go with their gut instincts. The time limit does not always allow for a full planning, design, redesign and explanation,Wood said.

Limiting tools adds difficulty.

“It’s hard at first because they want everything,” Wood said. “(It’s asking,)’If you take some things away, what can you do with as little as possible and still create something amazing?’ … It’s amazing some of the things they come up with.”

The district is embedding the 6C framework defined in the book, “Becoming Brilliant” into the curriculum, and Quickfire fits into development of those skills, Wood said. “It really gets to that critical thinking.”

Julian Perez and his group added a “W M” for Wyoming, Michigan, to reflect the community in their pictogram

Said Diaz, the fourth-grade teacher, “They are working together toward a common goal, building community and respecting each other’s thoughts that may be coming from different places, and using that to work toward a common vision or theme.”

Fourth-graders Isabela Deleon-Magana and Arianna Escribano created a biathlete, combining cross-country skiing and rifle shooting into their pictogram. They said they are always nervous at the beginning of Quickfires, but are soon working at lightning speed.

“For me, it’s kind of hard. When we work in a group and get good ideas, that’s when it becomes easier,” Isabela said.

Added Arianna, “We work together and create something cool. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we fail.”

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My Ed Tech World

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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