PRESQUE ISLE – The Biathlon World Cup’s Voyageur mascot won’t be the only one sporting a bright red cap during activities today in Fort Kent.
Some 100 seventh-graders, teachers and parents from Skyway Middle School in Presque Isle are donning the tasseled hats to show their biathlon spirit and to celebrate the history of the event.
Their visit today is the high point of an interdisciplinary unit on the biathlon – a unit in which even the hats the pupils are wearing are part of the learning experience.
The hats are a symbol of the voyageur, explorers-turned-legends who lived during the 17th, 18th and 19th century and who were famous for their storytelling and their ability to traverse along routes between Quebec City and Nova Scotia in as little as 15 days.
Teachers began planning for the unit in August, but wanted pupils to have more than just projects and posters as tangible samples of their learning.
“We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if all the kids could show their spirit and support at the event?'” Barb Bartlett, Skyway’s seventh-grade math teacher, said Thursday.
That’s when the idea for the red voyageur caps came up – combining spirit and education into one piece of outerwear.
Bartlett and her mom, Vicki McCrum, turned out 90 of the red fleece hats in just three hours during February break. The mother-daughter team also fashioned about a dozen more hats for teachers and parents.
Since the hats were distributed at school, most pupils have been wearing them nonstop.
But the hats were just one aspect of relating biathlon activities to the curriculum and making learning along the way fun, said Elaine Hendrickson, Skyway’s seventh-grade English teacher.
“As part of the curriculum, the students are learning about European countries this year,” she said. “What better way could there be to get acquainted with the countries of Europe, their customs and cultures, than this?”
Social studies classes have been learning about four countries from which some of the World Cup biathletes hail: Norway, Germany, France and Belarus.
In math class, pupils spent the period in the gym calculating how long it would take them to walk and run a kilometer – an exercise they completed by timing how long it took them to negotiate 10 meters. The exercise, which Bartlett took from a biathlon teacher’s guide, was created to illustrate to pupils how much a kilometer actually is, along with the realization that some biathletes can ski 10 of them in under 25 minutes.
In other classes, seventh-graders were practicing the name of their adopted biathlete, Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, whom they will cheer for today. They also have been using their laptop computers to complete a biathlon fact scavenger hunt, seek maps and pictures and research information on the voyageur.
This is the second time this year the teachers have used a local “current event” and integrated it into an interdisciplinary unit. Previously, they conducted a unit on the Mars Hill windmill project.
Pupils say they could get used to learning their basic subjects this way.
“I think it’s really fun,” seventh-grader Jessica Scott said Thursday. “It’s neat to learn about it on the news and then in school. This way it’s easier to learn.”
“It sparks our interest in learning and helps to increase our knowledge,” classmate David Philbrick said. “It’s no fun reading out of a book all the time, but something like the biathlon, it’s big and exciting. It makes kids want to learn more about Europe.”