By Teachers, For Teachers
The end of the school year is a time when both students and teachers alike are distracted by thoughts of vacation, sleeping in, and no deadlines. For many, this means, during the last few weeks of school, learning limps to a grinding halt; but increasingly, teachers use this time productively to introduce curricular- and standards-aligned activities that "Color outside the lines" -- step away from the textbook to blend learning with dynamic activities that remind students why they want to be life-long learners. Many of these educators use this time to teach what they "Just don't have time for," even though they align well with broad goals of preparing students for college and career. If you're looking for meaningful classroom activities to wrap up your school year, here are my top picks:
Common Sense Media’s award-winning Digital Passport is the gold standard in teaching digital citizenship to grades 3-5 (or middle school). This free-to-schools online program mixes videos, games, quizzes, and the challenge of earning badges to teach students the concepts behind digital citizenship:
It includes certificates of achievement, badges at the completion of units, and a classroom tracking poster to show how students are progressing.
Teachers create a class account. Students log in – no email required. Content is age-appropriate, user-friendly, and ad-free. The website is easy to navigate and the variety of material keeps students engaged for hours (really -- I'm serious).
Here's how to use it in your classroom:
Have students read digital books and write reviews that can be added to the school library website. From there, they are attached to the book so future readers can see classmates' thoughts on a book they are considering, in words they understand. If you ever read Amazon reviews, you understand how powerful these reviews can be when making a selection. Give students one day a week (or more, or less, but a set amount of time) to read their book. When they are ready to write the review, provide a book review guideline that asks them to include book essentials (such as title, age group, author, and copyright), a three-sentence summary, and a recommendation. It may include a picture that the reviewer feels sums up the book and would excite potential readers. The review should be able to be read in about a minute and not include the book's ending.
This update to the traditional book report isn't just about reading. It's about writing, communicating, sharing, perspective-taking, and collaboration.
Here's how to use this for end-of-year activities:
Many schools no longer teaching keyboarding, adopting the attitude that students will learn what they need to know when they need it. If you have students who still hunt-and-peck, who fall behind on homework because they're searching for the F key (or any of the other 25 letter keys), or try to "Thumb" the keyboard as they do a mobile device, you know this often doesn't work (see this article from the Washington Post on keyboarding in the classroom). Many students need help to learn the right way to keyboard and how to type with speed and accuracy. Teaching a three-week course in keyboarding at the end of the school year, where class time is used to teach typing skills while completing an authentic project, will excite students who thought they had to slog through another unit in American History or Calculus.
Depending upon the skill level of your students, you will want to do one of the following:
Whichever works for you, spend only 15 minutes per class on the program and then move on to academic content. Students will look forward to this warm-up and may even use it at home.
Cyberbullying is a critical topic that most schools try to cover with a one-and-done sort of approach. That isn't the best way to do it. In fact, anecdotal evidence shows that cyberbullying, like play yard bullying, is a topic best taught by returning to it over and over throughout the school year. Many students think they don't cyberbully until they find out what that word means. Many more think the insults they share online don't hurt because they aren't face-to-face.
The end of school is your chance to scaffold what students know in time for summer -- when many will spend (way too much) time on the Internet, talking to friends and strangers.
Start with videos that educate students about cyberbullying. If you Google "Cyberbully movies," you will get a long list, or find some here to get started. Preview all materials before giving students access. Some are heartbreaking and might emotionally be more than your students can take on. Others are intended for older students. When you've narrowed your list down, devote at least a class period to watching the videos and a class period to debriefing students on what they watched. That last could be the most important part, giving students a chance to share their thoughts and organize their thinking as they move forward and integrate it into their knowledge base of interpersonal communications.
Here's how to roll this out in your classroom:
Take as much time as you have available -- anywhere from a short video to a full-length movie to show how cyberbullying starts, what the victim feels, and the damage that can occur from this "Innocent" joshing.
This is a free technology curriculum for middle/high school and adults from Google. It has 18 units that blend tech knowledge into the real world. Topics include If-Then Adventure Stories; Research and Develop a Topic; Technology, Ethics, and Security; Plan an Event; Technology's Role in Current Events; Plan and Budget; and 11 more. You can sign in as a teacher or student. As a teacher, you have the ability to add classes, manage workflow, and collect data on student progress.
Learning technology is one of those topics that many schools -- especially middle and high school -- teach as an elective. That means lots of students don't “Elect” it and then don't learn the basics required to use technology for classwork and life. Often, schools wrap it around a topic such as Coding or Image Editing. What often is skipped is the basics, under the misguided assumption that students already know this. Google's Applied Digital Skills ensures that all students get those basics in an entertaining and inclusive way.
Here are ways to use this in your end-of-year lessons:
The end of a school year is a rare time when the pressure to complete classwork slams into the brick wall of brain fatigue. No matter how much you wish students would stay on task, they are as eager for summer as you are. Use that need for change to engage learning that isn't part of the granular curriculum but no less important. I'd love to hear how you spice up your end-of-year classroom activities to better-engage students.
Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 25 years. She is the editor/author of more than 100 ed-tech resources, including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in ed-tech, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice reviewer, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on ed-tech topics, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning. Read Jacqui’s tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days.