Sometimes I am tempted to close up shop early and start my mental vacation before the last day of school. When I have done that, I have sooooo regretted it. The last weeks of the year should be the icing on your cake, the whipped cream on your cocoa, the cherry on top of your sundae. Let’s make these the best weeks ever.
Tip 1: Finish strong by revisiting a skill or concept you want all of your students to master before leaving your classroom.
The curriculum timeline is always marching on and we often must move onto another topic before all of our students have mastered it. Sometimes we have a group of students who weren’t developmentally ready for a topic at the time of the year we taught it. Maybe it was long division. Perhaps it was expanded notation, simplifying fractions or the distributive property. Pick one…or two. The end of the year is the perfect time to go back and revisit that skill or concept without the pressure of a standardized test and with a few months more of brain development. Many students will be in a perfect position to master that concept which previously eluded them. For those who have already mastered it, give them more complex numbers or increase the number of digits to push their thinking farther.
What do most students need to motivate them? Competition! I love running tournaments with students. Students love to face off with one another and are motivated to learn in preparation for the big event. I try to differentiate so that every student has a chance. If I’m running a multiplication tournament I may have some students who are still trying to master 2-by-1 multiplication, while others are pushing on to 2-by-2, and maybe even a few on 3-by-2. In the picture above, one student divides and finds the remainder, while the other must add a decimal and zeros until a terminating decimal is found. The key is for every student to feel motivated to learn something new and believe that there is a chance to win.
Click HERE for a free bracket generator that I have used in the past.
Tip 2: Wipe out your teacher guilt by achieving a goal you dropped this year.
I always begin the school year with lofty goals, and I’m sure you do too. In August we dream of hands-on projects, teaching with manipulatives, collaborative grouping, engaging lessons with technology, consistent class meetings to build community. I could go on, but I don’t want to incur any more teacher guilt myself. Pick one thing that you wanted to do this year and didn’t get to…and do it for your last two weeks. Even a short amount of time can make a big impact with your students. Summer camp is only a week, yet it can be the most memorable week of the entire year. Make an impact (and erase your guilt for not doing it all year) by checking off a goal you had at the beginning of the year during the last few weeks of school. Last year, I collaborated with some teachers at my school to try some math literature lessons. Who doesn’t love Spaghetti and Meatballs for All by Marilyn Burns? Now is the time to read a great math literature book and actually do all of the fun activities listed in the back. After our final round of testing this year I’m going to use Google Classroom with one of my 5th grade small groups. I have no doubt that my students will be excited to try something new with me and I will feel a little better rolling into my summer with a Google Classroom lesson checked off.
Tip 3: Engage your students with a time-intensive creative project.
The year goes by too quickly. Let me rephrase that. The time we have to teach a topic passes more quickly than the creative ideas we have to explore in that topic.:) When I taught 4th grade I loved using literature circles. My last literature circle groups of the year wrote screenplays for their final book, created their own props, and performed for our class and other classes. It was so much fun!!! I wasn’t worried about following my daily schedule during the last 2 weeks of school and I could give my students large, workable blocks of time. How did I keep them working and not goofing off? I had rubrics that each student completed for him/herself and rubrics to complete for other group members. I also had students journal about their progress each day.
I love to explore math concepts through art. I must confess that I am obsessed with Ed Emberley’s book, “Picture Pie.” That man is an artistic genius! Students love creating fraction circle masterpieces and I love helping them find the math in their art.
Last year my 3rd grade team created “fish tanks” in their classrooms with fraction fish. Students had to add the value of the fraction pieces they used when their fish was complete. Our 4th and 5th graders have done similar projects using fraction pieces with different denominators. We have also ordered our art from least to greatest. I’m getting excited all over again about our end-of-the year art as I write this. When students are finished with their first piece of fraction art they always want to create more. Let them build their collection while they stay occupied for hours.
End your year strong! Revisit a skill. Achieve a beginning of the year goal. Engage in time-intensive projects.
Enjoy your students and keep them engaged with fun activities that tie into the curriculum you have taught all year.