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Punt, pass and pick: fourth-graders learn geography from the NFL

Comstock Park — “So Carolina is playing against Detroit,” fourth-grade teacher Wendy Hawes informed her class about an upcoming Lions game against the Panthers. “What direction is Carolina heading?”

After some debate, the class responded: northwest.

“Is that a cardinal direction?” Hawes asked, referring to the four main compass points.

“No,” students answered.

On this and every other Friday, Hawes’ students participate in “Football Friday,” where they learn about geography by following the 32 teams of the National Football League. 

“The kids just love it,” Hawes said. “It is a great way for them to learn things about the U.S. using the NFL teams.”

‘Across the Pond’ and Other Phrases

Football Friday was developed about nine years ago by former Comstock Park teacher Jeremy Palmitier, now an elementary principal in Kelloggsville Public Schools. Palmitier’s idea was to use where the teams are playing each Sunday as the basis for a geography lesson. 

“So we talk about regions, time zones, land formations such as the Rockies, the Mississippi River and the Ohio River, and directions, whether a team is going north, south, east or west,” Hawes explained. 

Sometimes the teams go farther afield than that. In early October, she students were quick to notice that the Jacksonville Jaguars would be playing two games in an unusual location: London. 

Olivia Cinder raises her hand to answer one of the geography questions

“So we had to figure out what time they would be playing because London is before us,” said Raylynn Westbrook. “It was 9:30 a.m.”

The students also learn unique things about the specific states, such as their capitals and city nicknames: Motown refers to Detroit, The Big Apple is New York City, etc. In fact, during a recent lesson, several students noted that people say “across the pond” when referring to traveling over the Atlantic Ocean.

Eventually, students also will learn about climate, such as why the Miami Dolphins may not be too excited about going to Minnesota in January. 

“When we started, the students did not have any idea what ‘border’ meant,” Hawes said. During the Oct. 6 lesson, when asked if two teams such as the Detroit Lions and the Carolina Panthers border each other, students were quick to respond “no.”

When the Super Bowl happens – it’s Feb. 11 next year — the students have a party. Hawes also tests the students on what they have learned.

“We do have a standard geography lesson but the cool thing is that by the time we get to it, the students are already familiar with the terms and information,” Hawes said. 

‘It is a great way for them to learn things about the U.S. using the NFL teams.’

— fourth-grade teacher Wendy Hawes

And to the Winner Goes the Football!

The activity starts with a video, “Tour the States,” by Renald Francouer, which goes through the state capitals with drawing and music. The students do not hesitate to sing along.

Each student has a sheet listing the teams playing on a given Sunday along with six questions. As a group, the students go through the questions, then each student guesses which teams will win their matchups.

On game day, Hawes tabulates who guessed correctly. Monday, the students have a huddle, where Hawes reveals who got the most correct teams, with the winners receiving a small football.

Raylynn Westbrook completes her geography questions

“I have actually won twice,” Brekin Reese said as he was making his picks. “It is all guessing.”

However, Aiden Greenlee was taking it a little more seriously, placing his hands on his head as he considered his picks. His tablemate, Olivia Cinder, just circled names on the sheet.

“It makes social studies fun and about football,” said Olivia — although, she admitted, she’s not a big football fan.

Read more from Comstock Park: 
Taking the plunge
Region I emergency coordinator now on the job

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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma is a reporter covering Kent ISD, Godwin Heights, Kelloggsville, Forest Hills and Comstock Park. The salutatorian for the Hartland Public Schools class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism. Joanne moved to the Grand Rapids area in 1989, where she started her journalism career at the Advance Newspapers. She later became the editor for On-the-Town magazine, a local arts and entertainment publication. Her eldest daughter is a nurse, working in Holland, and her youngest attends Oakland University. Both are graduates from Byron Center High School. She is a volunteer for the Van Singel Fine Arts Advisory Board and the Kent District Library. In her free time, Joanne enjoys spending time with her family, checking out local theater and keeping up with all the exchange students they have hosted through the years. Read Joanne's full bio


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