The school year is winding down and final grades are being entered. Field day is right around the corner, and students are starting to get more restless than usual. For teachers, this is a hard time of the year. Any teacher worth her salt wants to maximize learning for every minute of every day. At the same time, there is a limit to how much can actually be assessed accurately during these final few days.
To lend a helping hand, over the few weeks we’ll be featuring ideas and planning tips for making the end of the year fun, memorable, and engaging for students. Today let’s discuss problem-based learning (PBL), a student-centered pedagogy in which students learn about a subject through the experience of solving an open-ended problem. Via the PBL format, students absorb both thinking strategies and domain knowledge.
PBL Is Tops for End of Year (EOY)
There’s a number of reasons why the end of the year is a great time for PBL learning:
- You know your students very well by now, and can cater to their interests.
- You know which students work well in teams, and can arrange them accordingly.
- You have supplies that need to be used up, because they will be useless by the time the new school year begins.
- PBL projects can be worked on in small increments, to accommodate typical EOY interruptions like awards assemblies, field trips, and other fun events.
- A PBL project can be the culmination of all the learning for the year.
- As far as grades go, assessment isn’t exactly required. Use a student-created rubric and allow for authentic, higher level conversations about what makes a good project.
End the Year with a Bang
Here are some PBL ideas for engaging students and ensuring learning during the last few weeks of school.
- Apollo 13 style learning. Remember this scene from the movie? PD experts like to show the clip to teachers to get them thinking about solving problems instead of lamenting their lack of resources. Show the video to the students and then give them a box of items and a problem. These items can simply be a collection of odds and ends from around the room. The project is to put these random objects to practical use. The EOY timing allows the creation to go to the recycle bin after the students leave for the year.
- Show us what you know. Students of any age can use the final few days of the year to reflect on their learning from the entire year or semester. One great idea is to let students use a medium of their choice to present what they have learned to the class. This could be an iMovie about the Revolutionary War, a Claymation about the food chain, a song about the quadratic equation, or a Google Slides presentation about the periodic table. You could even give all the students a Labdisc and have them design and present their own experiment using the scientific method. This is about as authentic an assessment as anyone can get. If a student can teach something well, he has mastered the content.
- Mural on the wall. One of my favorite scenes in Ramona and Beezus comes toward the end (spoiler alert!), when Ramona unveils the large mural that she and her father have been working on. They hang it up in the classroom and the butcher paper is long enough to wrap around the room. Only in the movies, right? I think this would be a great year-end project for the class. It would require some teamwork and planning, but imagine ending the year with a wraparound, visual display of all the learning that has taken place since last fall!
- Food blitz. Your food service department probably has fruits and vegetables that need to be used up at the end of the year. No matter how good the planning is, there is always leftover produce. Since it would be going in the trash anyway, this is a great time to use it for some experiments. Try anything from simple starch and acid tests to school-wide taste tests and data collection. If you can stand the potential “gross” factor, the class could even track how quickly fruits decay in certain environments. There are loads of ideas for turning foods into science fun. If you’re really brave, go through the teacher’s lounge fridge and see what’s growing in there!
- Good citizen trash collection. Numerous NextGen Science Standards touch on ecology and environmental impact. The end of the year is a great time to do an outdoor research project on littering and trash. Classes could research the amount of debris in a specified area (and then collect it all). They could also sort it and weigh it, determining which type of litter is most common. This data can then be applied to a persuasive PSA campaign for the community about the impact of littering.
- All those classroom pictures. Remember all those shots you took this year? There’s probably an iPad in the classroom full of them. Consider creating a class scrapbook. Teams of students can pick out a particular month or event, create a page for it in MimioStudio™ software, and then share it with the entire class, highlighting what they learned and what was fun. This could be a digital scrapbook that can be referred to for years to come. It’s a wonderful way to remember the fun you had during the year, as well as the great learning that took place.
With engaging learning projects like these, you can send students into summer on a high note. What ideas can you come up with? Please share them with us. And stay tuned for more ways to make EOY the best time of year!
Our online MimioConnect™ educator community offers some great EOY review lessons and ideas, check it out.>>