Tuesday, 12 July 2016

A More Amazing Race

I have made use of The Amazing Race and The Amazing Race - Canada to help deliver the Grade 8 and Grade 4 Social Studies curriculum for over ten years. If you are unfamiliar, “The Amazing Race” is a television program where teams of two, with an existing relationships, race around the world (or Canada) trying to find a predetermined location or "pit-stop". Along the way, they must arrange transportation, find clues and complete multi-disciplinary challenges. The goal for each team on each episode, or leg of the race, is to avoid arriving last at the pit-stop - where they face probable elimination. On the last leg of the race, the remaining three teams strive to be the first pair to make it to a Final Pit-Stop and be declared the winners of The Race. They receive a prize of $1,000,000 or $500,000 on the Canadian Version.

For the last two years, when I was teaching Grade 4, the first season of the Canadian version was ideal for introducing our beautiful and diverse country to my students (more than half of whom are recent arrivals to this vast and splendid landscape). It was the perfect vehicle to explore the Political and Physical Regions of Canada from the Social Studies section of the Ontario Curriculum - see page 102. We were even lucky enough to have Season One participants Jet and Dave visit our classroom to answer questions about their experiences on the show.

Last year, I made the transition to Grade 5/6 and thought I would have to retire the unit. However, near the end of the year, my teaching colleague reminded me that he had attended my workshop in 2011 and had adapted my Grade 7/8 unit to fit the Grade 6 curriculum. Specifically, he used Season 10 as a jumping-off point to discussions about Canada's Interactions with the Global Community (Pg 124). Additionally, he reminded me of all the connections we could make to the Ontario Learning Skills (Pg. 17) - particularly Collaboration, Organization & Initiative.

Furthermore, Season 10 boasted a wonderfully diverse cast of participants which would allow for in-depth discussions of Stereotypes - an important element of this section of the Grade 6 Health Curriculum:

By the end of Grade 6, students will assess the effects of stereotypes, including homophobia and assumptions regarding gender roles and expectations, sexual orientation, gender expression, race, ethnicity or culture, mental health, and abilities, on an individual’s self-concept, social inclusion, and relationships with others, and propose appropriate ways of responding to and changing assumptions and stereotypes.

On Season 10, teams included:
  • Asian-American brothers
  • Devout Muslim friends
  • Beauty Pageant winners
  • A married gay couple from New York
  • A father and his gay daughter
  • A rural Kentucky couple
  • African-American, single mothers from Alabama
  • Two triatheletes - one of whom has an artificial leg
  • Friends who are recovering drug addicts
  • An Indian-American Couple

In their opening interviews, many team members emphasize that their goal (aside from winning the million dollar prize) is to help break the assumptions and stereotypes associated with their particular race, gender, culture, physical ability etc.

Our class discussion of the teams (following their introductions) provided us with a safe environment to discuss the stereotypes often associated with these varied individuals. As the show progressed, students had the opportunity to see many stereotypes broken. Mary, one of the Kentuckian participants, summed this experience up for many of my students when she stated; “I’ve never met Asians before, or any gay people...they’re really nice.”

Throughout the unit, engagement was high. We did not simply “watch” an episode...we interacted with it. We paused to discuss learning skills, debate sportsmanship, speculate on strategy or sympathize with the participants.  We kept a score sheet at the back of the room for each leg of the race and awarded teams with a variety of honours, including “most cooperative”, “most organized” or "best self-regulation" at the end of each episode.

Students were given an option of using a printed map or the Google My Maps application, to locate and mark the destinations to which the racers travelled. Additionally, a "Canadian Connections" chart (on paper or through Google Docs) provided students with a space to share things that they saw, they learned and they researched about each destination and Canada. (I had no idea we imported nearly 100 million dollars worth of goods from Madagascar! Thank you for the vanilla & coffee!

My teaching colleague and I arranged our schedules so that we could show the episodes simultaneously. This would prevent any spoilers leaking from one class to the next. At the end of the unit, his class prepared an Amazing Race day for our class with a dozen challenges from multiple areas of the curriculum (Phys. Ed., Math, Science, Art, Language, Dance and more). We returned the favour with our own version a few days later. I hope to write about that shortly. It was a wonderful success.


  1. Wow Marc. You are amazing...literally. Why was there not teachers like you when I was growing up in the public school system. Keep up the good work.

  2. Hey Unknown - I think there were teachers like me. I was inspired to be a teacher by a few awesome people who made learning an adventure for me. They did not have access to programs like "The Amazing Race". I like to think that, if they did, they would have used it. Thank you for your comment.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.