Joyce Lourenco Pereira
A teacher looks on as four female students discuss a school project around a computer screen

At the Korea International School in Seoul where I teach high school design and innovation, one of my favorite learning experiences is to have students deconstruct current events to analyze the impact of our subject area within a given scenario.

This post models the deconstruction process applied to the February 2022 Olympics. But this exercise can be adapted for almost any current event, be it a cultural event, a social uprising or a world conflict. To illustrate the flexibility of this unit, I follow with a modified version looking at the current Ukraine-Russia conflict.

The Olympics and Paralympics are great opportunities for interdisciplinary learning as they can be deconstructed through the perspectives of multiple content areas. Host countries strive to share their unique history and cultural values in their opening ceremonies through carefully curated music and choreographed performances as well as through their logo, mascot and pictogram designs. This deconstruction exercise teaches students to analyze possible social impacts and ethical considerations surrounding current events.

I believe that the heartbeat of innovation is the continuous pursuit to creatively use available resources to meet human needs in ways that enhance or extend our experiences as users. This pulse has driven technological innovations for both athletes and spectators throughout Olympic history.

Setting the stage

These are the resources I created to frame the project. 

1. Teacher and student slide deck

I used the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics deck to guide our lesson, and students used the deck to document their learning journey. You can modify the slide deck to highlight and explore other events.

2. Social and Ethical analysis template

Students used this form to evaluate technical innovations in a particular sport.

3. Olympic and Paralympic pictograms

You can print and cut out these images from the official Olympic website and the Paralympic website.

Introducing the lesson

We begin by watching the official Olympic (2 minutes) and Paralympic (42 second) videos for inspiration. I then share our learning goal with the class: I can deconstruct the Olympics to analyze the impact of computer science (modify with your subject area) on athletes and spectators.

The learning goal is connected to ISTE Standard 1.1.2 Digital Citizen: Students recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical.

Comparing Olympic themes

I conduct a birds’-eye view by navigating the official Olympic and Paralympic websites with the students to observe the mascot, pictogram, Olympic torch and medal designs. I like to spend time comparing current and previous designs. This year, students noticed a major contrast between the sustainability theme of Tokyo 2020 and the more technological take of Beijing 2022. For example, Tokyo featured medals made from repurposed e-waste and cardboard beds in the Olympic Village while Beijing offered robotic cooks and smart beds.

Cultivating empathy

The very first step in the design thinking process is to build empathy. The Paralympics are discovering truly innovative ways to cultivate empathy by pushing the boundaries of technology through their RAW Emotions experiences. RAW Emotions invites us to “step into the hearts and minds of Paralympians” through an “experience that strives to change perceptions of disability through virtual reality and the immersive web.” There are currently five stories available to explore. I selected “Courage: Lex Gillette'' to view with my students.

Deconstructing the Olympics

Independently or in pairs, students deconstruct the Olympics using the Agency by Design thinking routine Parts, Purposes and Complexities. Parts consist of the identified technological innovations, purposes highlight how human needs are being met, and complexities focus on possible social impacts and ethical considerations that can emerge with the technological innovation.

Social impacts and ethical considerations

As a former IB DP Information Technology in a Global Society (ITGS) educator, I value and consistently reuse the IB curated list of social impacts and ethical considerations. Students complete a social and ethical analysis to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding in connecting social and ethical significance to technological innovations. Those I feel best align with this lesson, along with suggested starter questions, are as follows:

  1. 1.1 Reliability and Integrity
    What might the impact be if the technology does not function as intended?
  2. 1.3 Privacy and Anonymity
    When, how and to what extent is information about athletes shared with others?
    What might the psychological impacts be on athletes when anonymity is used for cyberbullying?
  3. 1.6 Digital Divide and Equality of Access
    What technological disparities might exist between countries with the most medals and those with the least within each sport?

Synthesize and share

Once students deconstruct their Olympic sport, they are invited to synthesize their understanding by reflecting on the following prompt: How has computer science impacted the Olympic experience for athletes and spectators?.. Students summarize their understanding in 140 characters or less and finalize this learning experience with shared stories. Students respond to their peers’ presentations using the thinking routine Connect, Extend, Challenge.

Possible extensions

Individual educators can adapt based on their unique perspectives. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Computing: Trace technology from earlier forms to identify benefits and limitations within each iteration.
  2. The arts: Analyze how the arts convey the historical and cultural values of representing and host countries.
  3. Individuals and societies: Uncover stories of athletes and examine athletic mental wellness.
  4. Sciences: Analyze athletic performance.
  5. Mathematics and engineering: Construct Olympic venues.
  6. Language and literature: Write as a journalist, reporting across cultures.

Current applications

My class recently deconstructed the Ukraine-Russia conflict, modifying our learning goal as follows: I can analyze the impact of computer science on relevant stakeholders within the Ukraine-Russia conflict. For synthesis, students were invited to make connections between this conflict and themselves, their community and the world. Students also explored and considered actions they and others might take using a combination of thinking routines The 3 Ys and The 4 Ifs:

  1. Why does the Ukraine-Russia conflict matter to me?
  2. Why does the Ukraine-Russia conflict matter to my community?
  3. Why does the Ukraine-Russia conflict matter to the world?
  4. If I took this issue seriously, what might the consequence be?
  5. If my community took this issue seriously, what might the consequence be?
  6. If the world took this issue seriously, what might the consequence be?
  7. If we do nothing, what might the consequence be? 

Light the flame!

Deconstructing historical and ongoing worldwide events is an enriching and timeless experience. This learning opportunity can be as simple or complex as your time and resources allow. You may teach this deconstruction as a single lesson, an interdisciplinary unit of study or an enrichment activity.

Need PBL ideas? Discover real-world projects for real-world classrooms. Read ISTE's book Reinventing Project-Based Learning.

Joyce Lourenco Pereira teaches high school design and innovation at Korea International School. She is an enthusiastic computer science educator with a passion for uncovering timeless throughlines in an ever-changing technological era. As a woman in the world of computer science, she intentionally looks for ways to creatively transform the complexity and perceived chaos of this subject into order and beauty that brings joy and benefit to herself and others within my circles of influence. She hopes to inspire all learners (both young and adult) to take action for impact by discovering innovative ways to meet human needs efficiently.