Susan Sliwoski has brought the excitement, the drama and the spirit of the Sochi Olympic Games to her physical education students in Community Unit District 300.
As part of Sliwoski's Olympics unit at Meadowdale Elementary School in Carpentersville and Dundee Highlands Elementary School in West Dundee, students march into the gymnasium to the grandeur of the Olympics theme song, learn about a winter sport and its technique on YouTube, then cheer each other on while they perform the sport to dance music.
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"It's a way to bring awareness to physical education," said the Bartlett resident, who debuted the unit during the 2010 Vancouver Games. "Teamwork in sportsmanship is universal. There could be horrible things going on in the world but for approximately two weeks, most of the world stops and fairly competes."
Friday at Meadowdale, the sport du jour was skeleton, in which the rider lies facedown on a sled that hurls through a frozen track at high speeds.
Sliwoski's version of skeleton featured the kids riding facedown on four-legged scooters and navigating an obstacle course she created with cones to mark boundaries and with tables that doubled as tunnels.
After the "gold medal" race, the kids saluted the American flag with their hands on their hearts as the Olympic theme played in the background.
"It's great that she's combining real-life experiences with physical education," Meadowdale Principal Jack Melfi said of Sliwoski's unit. "She's showing them you can do Olympic-style exercises in a P.E. class."
At Meadowdale, where Sliwoski is the primary physical education teacher at the kindergarten through fourth-grade school, she also assigns Olympic-related homework assignments in which students either watch 10 minutes of an Olympic event, the sports report on televised news, or read a newspaper, magazine or computer article about the Olympics.
The kids have the option of writing a paragraph that describes what they saw on television, drawing a picture or turning in the actual article. Sliwoski collects the information from her students and displays them on the "Olympic wall" in the gymnasium.
This element not only helps the kids learn about the Olympics, but it also gives them a chance to shine and see what their classmates are doing.
"Everybody has a gift, and so by choosing the ways that they can prove to me that they've done their homework, the students, the school and their classmates are saying, 'Wow,' " Sliwoski said.
Discussions about some of the athletes have led to larger life lessons about hard work, dedication and responsibility.
Among others, the kids have talked about Noelle Pikus-Pace, the American mother of two who took silver in the ladies skeleton and Erin Blair, a health teacher at Lakewood School now refereeing women's hockey in Sochi.
"These are real people, but this was their goal, this is what they want to do in life," Sliwoski said. "Do you think they just put on skates and you know, took a plane to get out there? No."
Next week, the final week of the unit, the kids will learn about cross-country skiing.
When one of her first-graders asked what that was, Sliwoski told him to look it up and report to her Monday what he discovers.