The Interplanetary Games: A Field Day Guide
by Joey Feith
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With this school year coming to an end, that means that Field Day season is upon us!
Organizing a Field Day for your school is one of those things that seem to go hand-in-hand with signing your elementary PE teaching contract. That being said, I know that organizing your first Field Day can be pretty intimidating, so I thought I could together a post to walk you through how I’ve successfully organized Field Day in the past.
Background & Context
Before we dive in here, I wanted to give some background and context for the Field Day plan that I’m about to present.
As I’ve mentioned before, I worked in day camps for most of my life. Working in camps was one of the best things I could have ever done in regard to preparing for a career as an educator. It was also an amazing way to prepare for organizing Field Day as – at least at the camps I worked at – I found myself organizing large-scale, festive play days for the entire camp.
My Field Day template is based on the model that we developed at McGill Sports Camp: my alma matter’s summer camp for kids and teenagers that I worked at for what felt like a billion years. Each year, our camp experience ended with “Olympic Day” which had the entire camp divided into different teams that would compete against each other throughout the day. Although the teams were composed of campers from every age group, campers only competed against their own “bunks” (i.e. campers in their age group). It was a fun way to bring the whole camp together while keeping things fair.
As for context, I’ve ran the Field Day format that I’m about to share with you at two different schools: Royal Charles School (where I taught for three years) and St. George’s School of Montreal (where I taught for seven years). Although the schools were very different in a lot of ways, they also had a few key things in common:
• Both were elementary schools (grades K-6)
• Both were smaller schools (between 150-190 students)
• Both schools had a school community that was very eager and involved.
Although I know that the Field Day format that I’m sharing here can be scaled up to meet the needs of larger schools, I wanted you to have this information up front before we get into things here.
Still with me? Amazing! Let me tell you about The Interplanetary Games.
The Interplanetary Games: An Overview
The theme for my Field Day format is “The Interplanetary Games”. If you know a little bit about me, you’ll know that I’m into space and like to fit space-themes into my work. Field Day was no exception.
Here is an overview of how The Interplanetary Games worked:
The whole school was divided into six teams: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune. Each team was assigned its own colour:
- Mercury: Grey
- Venus: Purple
- Mars: Red
- Jupiter: Orange
- Saturn: Yellow
- Neptune: Blue
Teams were composed of students from kindergarten to grade six. The physical education department would sit down together to divide the students from each grade into the six teams, doing our very best to keep teams balanced and fun.
On the day of the event, students would arrive to school wearing clothes of their team’s colour. If a student didn’t have anything of that colour to wear, the PE team would hook them up with a pine.
At the start of the day, all students would meet in the gymnasium and sit down with the rest of their Planet Teams to get to see who else was on their team from the other grades. That being said, as I mentioned earlier, students would only be competing against their grade-level classmates (e.g. grade one students would all travel and compete together, grade two would do the same, etc). At the end of the day, the teams would come back together to celebrate their hard work!
The Interplanetary Games School Cup
As you may have guessed, there was a competitive aspect to this Field Day: teams would be competing for The Interplanetary School Cup!
To win the cup, a team would have to end up with the best Space Points result out of all of the teams. Teams earn Space Points by competing in a variety of activities throughout the day.
At each activity station, an organizing teacher (which we referred to as the activity’s G.O.) would write down each student’s results in the activity on the appropriate scoresheet for that activity and grade.
As the organizers of The Interplanetary Games, the PE dept would go around to each activity throughout the day to collect the completed scoresheets.
Once a scoresheet was collected, I would look through it and identify the best student result for each team. Since there are six Planet Teams, this means that I would identify six total results.
Once the top result from each team was identified, I would rank those six results from first place to sixth place. Based on their final rank for the activity, each team scored a certain amount of points:
- First Place: 1 Space Point
- Second Place: 2 Space Points
- Third Place: 3 Space Points
- Fourth Place: 4 Space Points
- Fifth Place: 5 Space Points
- Sixth Place: 6 Space Points
As I mentioned, to win the Interplanetary Games School Cup, a team would have to end up with the best Space Points result. However, as you may have noticed, this did not mean earning the most Space Points. Instead, teams would strive to have the lowest Space Points total at the end of the day as this meant that they ended up with more favourable standings across all activities and grades. I invited students to think of this as golf: the lowest score wins meaning that you shot the best game.
I did it this way because it just because it made the tallying of the points as simple as possible. As results came in throughout the day, they all got entered into my Interplanetary Games spreadsheet, which automatically calculated each team’s Space Points total across all grades and updated the current team rankings.
Students could receive Space Points penalties for demonstrating poor sportsmanship or negative behaviour during the day. A penalty resulted in a single Space Point added to their total and – if I’m being super honest – were very rare. Still, it was something that students needed to know about going into the day.
One last thing: I kept track of the top result for each activity. We had started an unofficial Interplanetary Games Records Book at the school so that students could try to beat records from previous years if that was something that got them fired up!
The Interplanetary Games Activity Stations
The way that this Field Day is set up is that there are seven activity stations (one for each grade). Throughout the day, each grade would get a chance to visit each activity where they would compete for Space Points.
Grades would travel with their classroom teachers and/or any parent volunteers who wanted to help out. Each classroom teacher was provided an activity schedule – along with an activity map – so that they knew where they had to be and when.
When a grade would arrive at an activity station, they would be greeted by that activity’s G.O. The G.O. would walk the students through the activity’s rules and then start calling up students for their turn.
To help G.O.’s out here, I prepared a total of seven scoresheets for each activity (one for each grade). This way, when a grade arrived at a G.O.’s activity, the G.O. just had to pull up the scoresheet for that grade. On the scoresheet was a list of the students in that grade which made things super easy for the G.O. to know who had a turn and who was up next.
The goal here was for G.O.’s to call up as many students as possible at a time to avoid having students having to wait a long time for their turn. To help make this happen, the classroom teachers would play the role of scorekeepers at each station they would visit. Additionally, I assigned any extra parent volunteers that we had at stations where I knew things moved a little more slowly.
As students completed their activity, a scorekeeper kept track of their result and then shared it with the G.O. (who would then write it down on the scoresheet). As I said before, I would go around and collected the completed scoresheets so that I could enter the results in the Interplanetary Games spreadsheet.
If possible, I asked G.O.’s to help identify the best result per Planet Team, but they didn’t always get a chance to. This really wasn’t a big deal as we (the PE department) usually had ample time to do this work ourselves.
The Interplanetary Games Activities
Ok, let’s get into the activities.
So there were a couple of rules we had when selecting which activities to include in the Interplanetary Games:
- The activities had to be fun!
- The activities had to be safe.
- All students needed to be able to complete each of the activities.
- The activities needed to be simple to explain and quick to perform.
Over the years, the activity selection varied a bit. Sometimes we would change out an activity that wasn’t overly enjoyed (e.g. we did bench hops for two years and each year resulted in a lot of bruised shins) and other times we would switch things up just for fun (e.g. “Minute-To-Win-It got added in because it sounded awesome).
Honestly, the activity selection doesn’t really matter as long as you choose activities that meet those criteria. That said, here are the activities we rolled with:
The Line Sprints station had students in the gym. The G.O. would call up the first runners who would make their way to the baseline. On the G.O.’s signal, the runners would sprint the the center line, back to the baseline, then across the court to the opposite baseline, and – finally – back to the baseline they started at. Each student had a scorekeeper assigned to them who a) made sure their runner touched each of the lines and b) recorded how long it took the student to complete the run.
The Boot Toss was one of my favourite stations. I bought a couple of pairs of rubber boots a few years back. For this station, I filled each boot up with an equal amount of sand and then duct taped each boot’s opening closed.
The G.O. would call up the first throwers who would make their way to the throwing line where they found a boot. Without crossing the throwing line, the student had to throw the boot as far as possible. Scorekeepers/volunteers had sports field tape measures and would measure the distance from the throwing line to the part of the boot that was closest to the line. The G.O. would then write each result down on the scoresheet.
The Over/Under Hurdles had students out on the athletics field. Using a variety of equipment, several sets of hurdles were created. The G.O. would call up the first runners who would make their way to the start line, facing their set of hurdles. On the G.O.’s signal, the runners would sprint to the finish line on the opposite side of the field, making sure to alternate going over and under the hurdles they crossed. Each student had a scorekeeper assigned to them who a) made sure their runner didn’t knock down any hurdles (which resulted in a one second penalty) and b) recorded how long it took the student to complete the run.
Jump Rope Challenge
At the Jump Rope station, each student had a turn trying to complete as many individual jump rope jumps as possible in 60 seconds. Students waited until an available scorekeeper called their name before beginning their turn. At the end of their turn, the scorekeeper shared the result with the G.O. who then recorded it on the scoresheet.
Basketball Shooting Challenge
The basketball shooting challenge had students out on the outdoor basketball courts. On each side of the court, a set of five poly spots were set up:
- One on each side of the hoop.
- One on the free throw line
- One in the corner
- One at the three point line
Our outdoor court was really short, so none of these lines are regulation.
A beanbag was placed on each poly spot. The G.O. would call up two full teams (e.g. Mars, Mercury, etc) at a time. Teams would line up in relay lines near centre court with each team facing the half of the court they would be playing at.
On the G.O. signal, the first player in line on each team would dribble a basketball to a spot of their choosing on their side of the court and attempt to score from there. If they did, they got to collect the beanbag before getting their rebound, dribbling back to their team’s line, and passing the ball to the next player (who would then have their turn). If they missed, they did the same thing but left the beanbag there.
The goal here was to collect all of your team’s beanbags in as little time as possible. As soon as a team hit their last shot, their scorekeeper would stop the stopwatch and report their time to the G.O. (who would then record it on the scoresheet). A few notes:
- We had different equipment for the different grade-levels:
- Grades 5-6 played with a junior basketball
- Grade 3-4 played with a featherlight junior basketball
- Grade K-2 played with a foam ball (no dribbling)
- The spots were also adjusted for the different grade-levels. This was up to the G.O.’s discretion.
- There was a maximum amount of time that a team could complete the challenge in (I think it was three minutes). This was to ensure that every team had a chance to go through the activity twice. If a team didn’t complete the activity in the amount of time given, the G.O. did record how many beanbags they collected so that I could break a tie if need be.
The Beanbag Toss had students at the outdoor amphitheatre (which is at the school’s entrance). At the station, each team lined up behind the cone that was assigned to their team. In front of them was a series of targets: a hoop on the first step, a poly spot on the second, and a bucket on the third (and highest) step.
On the G.O.’s signal, the first player from each team steps up to the throwing line with four beanbags in hand. That player throws their beanbags in an attempt to score as many points as possible:
- A beanbag in your hoop is worth 1 point,
- A beanbag on your spot is worth 2 point,
- A beanbag in your bucket is worth 3 points.
Once all of the beanbags have been thrown, the players go collect their beanbags and the next players in the lines get to throw. Scorekeepers report each student’s score to the G.O. who keeps a running tally of each team’s score on the scoresheet.
A team’s total points at the end of the round represents their score.
So the Spaceship Construction activity was a very different one:
The idea here was that each Planet Team would get to build something together. That means that grades K-6 would all have to play a role in the creation of the team’s spaceship. Here’s how it worked:
At the station, there were six desks. Each desk had the same collection of art materials on it. The goal here was to work together across all grades to build a spaceship that would represent your Space Team.
The schedule had each grade visit this station in reverse order (e.g. grade six, grade five, grade four, etc). Each grade was assigned a specific task for the activity:
- Grade Six was responsible for creating a vision for the spaceship. Once agreed upon, the students recorded a video in which they shared the vision they had come up with.
- Grade Five was responsible for creating a blueprint for the construction of the spaceship based on the grade six vision and the available materials.
- Grade Four was responsible for preparing the construction materials for the spaceship. This meant preparing any cutting, bending, twisting, or laying out of materials that were detailed in the grade five blueprint.
- Grade Three was responsible for beginning the assembly of the spaceship. They would use the grade six vision and grade five blueprint to guide their work and make use of the materials prepared by grade four to get started.
- Grade Two was responsible for finishing the assembly of the spaceship. Again, referring to the vision and blueprint materials and figuring out what the grade threes didn’t get around to.
- Grade One was responsible for starting the decoration of the spaceship. This meant painting, colouring, glittering so as to create the details outlined in the vision and blueprint (as well as any additional ones they felt were needed).
- Finally, Kindergarten was responsible for finishing the decoration of the spaceship. By this point, most of the work was done so the kindergarten students just go to have some fun with the spaceship and launchpad design.
At the closing ceremonies, all grades returned to the gym and rejoin their Planet Teams. This is when the students got their first look at the completed spaceships. For the grade six students, they would be able to see how the other grades interpreted their vision (which usually led to a lot of awe and laughs).
A panel of “expert spaceship judges” (e.g. teachers) then went around and scored each ship based on:
- Use of Materials
- Build Quality
Once the judges’ scores were all tallied, the Spaceships got ranked 1-6 and each team earned points accordingly.
So those were the activities we rolled with for The Interplanetary Games. Although the students had fun with them, I always felt that the activities were always the weakest part of this Field Day (the strongest part was how organized everything ran). How I’d like to change things in the future:
- Make sure all activities are as inclusive as possible. No activity should make kids feel that they are unable to perform it (e.g. a few students really struggled at the jump rope station).
- Keep redesigning the activities to ensure that a maximum amount of students can participate at a time. Although we got better at this year-over-year, some stations did have students waiting around for their turn. We took advantage of this by delivering recess snacks to waiting students, but I’d still like to see everyone being way more active at all times. This would also help each student feel as though there were fewer eyes on them as they performed.
- Keep working to ensure that the activity selection rewards a variety of skills and ability levels. This is also something that we improved on over the years, but the goal is to have a collection of activities that doesn’t always accommodate the same students (i.e. it’s not always the same kids who “win” at them).
Organizing It All: The Guidebook
There’s obviously a lot of work that goes into planning a Field Day for a school and The Interplanetary Games were no exception.
To help with organizing all of this and ensuring that everyone was on the same page, I created The Interplanetary Games Guidebook.
Think of the Guidebook as a cookbook for the event: in it was everything anyone would need to just pick up and run with the planning. The Guidebook was composed of the following:
- Cover Page
- Event Overview
- Event Schedule (with station rotation sheet)
- Even Site Map (with activity locations)
- Activity Info Sheets
- Planet Team Rosters
- Activity Scoresheets
When I sent the guidebook out to the team at school, I had also created a short, animated video for any visual learners out there. Although I wanted to put as much information into people’s hands as possible, not everybody wants to read a multi-page PDF to know what’s going on for Field Day. Here’s the video I had made a few years back:
Putting the initial guidebook together was a bunch of work but it provided us with a template that we got to reuse each year. All we had to do was update the Planet Team Rosters and make any changes to the Activity Sheets if we switched out or modified any of the activities.
Having the guidebook was great and everyone loved how detailed it was. That being said, it needed to be presented in the right light in order for people to find it useful.
Let me show you how we broke everything down into a timeline/action plan in order to ensure that The Interplanetary Games were a success!
Organizing It All: The Interplanetary Games Timeline
To create this timeline, I used a backwards design approach to make sure that everything got done on schedule. Here’s what that looks like:
Day Zero: Event Day
- 7:00 – 7:45 AM: Arrive to school early. Distribute and set up equipment at each station. Set up Planet Team stations in gym for opening ceremonies.
- 7:45 – 8:30 AM: Meet with G.O.’s & parent volunteers. Ensure that they have their scoresheets and have visited their activity site. Check in to see if they have any questions/concerns. Invite grades to start making their way to the gym.
- 8:30 – 8:50 AM: Host opening ceremonies in gym. Send Planet Teams off to their first stations.
- 8:50 – 11:05 AM: Make sure everyone is having a blast. Gather completed scoresheets. Enter results in spreadsheet. Distribute snacks. Sound megaphone horn at the end of each rotation cycle. Put out any fires.
- 11:05 – 11:30 AM: Bring completed spaceships to gymnasium. Host closing ceremonies. Announce new school records (if any). Announce final standings. Send grade-levels off to their classrooms for lunch.
- 11:30 – 12:00 AM: Send feedback survey to classroom teachers (asking for feedback/suggestions on how to make the event better). Sit down with PE department and come up with ideas on how to make things better next year.
Day One: Interplanetary Games Eve
- Prepare activity station equipment.
- Ensure that classroom teachers have informed students/parents which Planet Team they are on.
- Print out and distribute Event Schedule & Event Site Map to each classroom teacher & front desk.
- Double-check Interplanetary Games Google Sheets document.
- Print out Activity Station descriptions and scoresheets. Put everything into bundles for G.O.’s
Day Two: Interplanetary Games Eve Eve
- Ask classroom teachers to inform students/parents which Planet Team they are on.
- Purchase/locate materials for Spaceship Construction activity.
- Reassign G.O.’s if need be (e.g. G.O. isn’t comfortable with their activity.
Five Days Out
- Contact G.O.’s and parent volunteers with Activity Station information.
- Send Planet Team Rosters to classroom teachers (ask to see if they notice any issues).
One Week Out
- Send Interplanetary Games Overview to school conference.
- Create Planet Team Rosters.
Two Weeks Out
- Review Interplanetary Games feedback/ideas from previous years.
- Make changes to activity selection and/or schedule if need be.
- Begin creating updated Interplanetary Games Guidebook.
In the days following Field Day, I’ll talk to some of the students about their experiences during The Interplanetary Games. This event is for them, so it only makes sense that they have a say in shaping its future. That being said, this is also an area in which I wish I had done a better job. An anonymous survey – similar to the one I do with my graduating students in order to collect feedback on my teaching – would probably provide better/more honest feedback and insight. There’s always room to grow, folks!
So that is how I organized and ran The Interplanetary Games at my school! It’s probably not anything revolutionary to most of you, but I hope this post helps out those of you trying to get started with planning your first Field Day!
If you found value in this post, feel free to share it with others!
🥳 Thanks for reading and Happy Teaching!
August 29, 2021
August 16, 2021