Sunday, May 26, 2013

Exploring Interests... Planning for the End of the School Year

     On average, I try to blog at least twice a week, but this can reach up to four or five times a week depending on what is going on in my life. I also spend time each morning reading through various edu-blogs (my version of the morning paper) and try to keep up with Twitter throughout the day. This has become my routine and I feel like I have benefited ten-fold from the networking opportunities that my PLN has granted me.

     Last week, however, I found myself completely pull away from my computer and my iPhone was actually only being used as a phone instead of another internet source (imagine that). In fact, I've been online less and less as the month of May has progressed. I, alternatively, have turned to our personal library and immersed myself in some of my favourite books. I've always loved reading for pleasure and my fiance and I maintain a rather large personal library housing everything from historical fiction and fantasy to science fiction and celebrity biographies. Now I'm just not talking about starting a new book...
- I'm talking about spending up to 8 hours an evening reading
- I'm talking about finishing four 300+ page novels in five days
- I'm talking about ignoring my computer, ignoring my phone, ignoring
  my television, ignoring everything and just reading

books, reading

     Does this mean that I will no longer be online? Of course not. Will I go back to my regular schedule? Yes. It is simply that time of year where I wanted needed a change of routine. While I still enjoyed my schedule I needed a break in order to clear my mind and allow myself to actually get the most out of my actions.

     Is any of this beginning to sound vaguely familiar? Have our students been acting differently lately? Are regular routines, that have been working great all year, now not cutting it? Perhaps our students are no longer finishing their assignments as quickly (or at all). Perhaps our students are getting distracted more easily and are displaying behaviours that you never saw a few months ago. The end of the year can be one of the most challenging times for students and teachers. We are required to finish up our curriculum, prepare students for final exams (if applicable), get all student work in, assess student learning, squeeze in time for field trips and extracurriculars.... and manage 20+ students who are beginning to tune out.

day dreaming student, planning for the last month of school, planning for the last weeks of school, engagement in the last month of school

     It can be easy to remain on a "default setting" and attempt to carry on like you have been all year but, as you may know, the students (and most likely yourself) need something new. In the same way I needed to move away from my routine to explore something I have always been interested in, students also need to use this time to revisit material from throughout the year and explore their interests. In Manitoba, teachers are required to assess student's most recent learning so this can also be a great opportunity for students to showcase their most recent understanding and be reassessed.

     In these last few weeks of school students need to be provided with an opportunity to work on something that genuinely interests them. Allow your students to revisit their favourite lesson to explore further or perhaps research something completely new that wasn't able to be covered in class. The opportunities are truly endless and should be individualized for each student, but here are some activity suggestions to try:

- Allow students to revisit their favourite unit and create projects to 
  solve new/interesting questions. (ex) If you taught about the solar
  system, introduce the Mars One project and have students debate
  if sending four people to live alone until their death is ethical?

- Allow students to be the teacher and create a lesson for one of their
  favourite topics/subjects. This can be presented to the class for review
  opportunities or even to a younger grade as a mentoring activity.

- Create portfolios highlighting various work samples throughout the year.
  Have students reflect on their growth, where they struggled, where they
  excelled, etc. This can be hardcopy or digital.

- Have students create their own review options for their peers. Students
  can usually tell you what they find most interesting so by allowing them to
  create their own review options you can ensure that they will be engaged
  and it can give you great ideas for further use!

- Allow students to anonymously critique the course. What did they like, what
  did they not like, and (most importantly) why. By asking students "why" you are
  not only asking them to critique your teaching but encouraging metacognition;
  why did they like/not like that aspect?

- Plan some type of field trip (real or virtual). Sometimes during the year it can
  be hard to implement field trips due to time constraints, funds, weather, etc. At
  the end of the year you have a stronger sense of what budget is remaining and it
  can be easier to plan cross-curricular field trips. (ex) Maybe you couldn't justify
  visiting the art gallery in October just to showcase contrast in colours but by the
  end of the year you can discuss contrast in colours (art), uses of geometry (math),
  perspective of the artist (social studies), etc.

- Revisit favourite activities. Maybe there was an awesome hands-on activity
  that you created for your unit on ecosystems that students loved. Bring back that
  activity for review purposes or challenge students to create it so it is applicable
  to a different subject/topic.

- Allow students to create "Coles Notes" for a specific unit or the class
  as a whole. Students can put the information in their own words, including
  video clips and images that they found the most helpful/interesting. This can be
  a great review opportunity and some students will be really interested in knowing
  they are helping out future students. (Think of the resources you'd have over a few
  years!)

     The important thing to remember is that you want to end the school year on a positive note. Your students want to know that you enjoyed being a part of their lives and that you are wishing them the best in the future (even if you will be seeing them again in a few short months). If you realize that what you are currently doing will not allow this, then it is time to change it up. Make it relevant to their personal lives... make it meaningful for them.... allow them to explore their interests.

     What type of activities/projects do you introduce at the end of the year? I'd love to add new suggestions to this list!

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