I remember from my days in New Hampshire that spring brought mud season, complete with bumpy frost heaves rippling across rural roads as the ground thawed. Then came black fly season that drifted into June, well beyond the last snows of May. As the bright blue skies of summer finally arrived, we were ready to worship the sun.
Whether schools in North America have plowed through the last pesky testing period, teachers can expect swarms of young people experiencing spring fever in their classrooms. At schools not on a year-round schedule, those spring weeks can be exhilarating for teachers, too, using lessons and activities that capture middle graders’ energy, stretch their minds and engage their attention. Below are ideas shared by educators to do just that.
Cossondra George, a veteran teacher at Newberry Middle School in Michigan, suggested in an Education Week Teacher post that teachers finish the school year not with a slow glide but with a strong climb. Her ideas for having students evaluate the year of learning through an anonymous online survey offers levels of complexity fitting different ages. George also shares planning for having students write letters to next year’s class, hosting an in-class awards presentation, working with students to create a memory book, online or on paper, and more.
Former teacher and neurologist Judy Willis considers Spring’s effects on the brain in “The science of spring: how a change of seasons can boost classroom learning,” noting renewed energy can help to build curiosity and the increasing hours of light can divert kids from learning.
In Bringing the School Year to a Strong Finish Mike Anderson homes in on the emotional impact students may experience as their year ends. Anderson, who spent 15 years teaching 3-5 graders and wrote this article for Responsive Classroom, provides a collection of activities to prepare students for the transition while keeping their learning on track. He concludes,
Our school days are so busy that slowing down to think about anything further away than the next week often seems impossible. But it’s exactly because we’re so busy that we need to think about ways to keep the focus on learning and community right through the end of the year. Otherwise, we risk losing valuable learning time. And we may deprive students of that wonderful feeling of bringing their work together to a fruitful conclusion.”
Responsive Classroom, which works with K-6 educators, provides lots more end-of-school blog posts here. See suggestions for continuing learning and Engaging our students to the end by Principal Carol Hunter at SmartBlog on Education.
Scholastic offers a lengthy collection, Wrapping Up the School Year, including several blog posts that look really helpful for middle grades teachers: Genia Connell’s post that provides two upper elementary lesson plans, Brent Vasicek’s detailed Your Closing-the-Classroom Checklist, Cate Sanazaro’s quick strategy for making next year’s first day fun and efficient, and Ruth Manna’s Saying Goodbye, suggestions for helping kids with their end-of the-year mixed feelings.
Year End Stress, Teacher Version
Of course teachers need to tend to their own stress as the year ends, too. Nearly 200 teachers commented on Elena Aguilar’s Edutopia post, How to Stay Charged During the Final Weeks of School. A teacher for 14 years, Aguilar is now a transformational leadership coach. In the post she offers specific tips, for example, introducing an engaging project while maintaining a familiar schedule, providing time for reflection for yourself as well as for your students, and more.
Aguilar concludes by outlining why students’ troubling summer expectations may cause them to act out and suggests ways to respond that help them and you as the last day nears. In another post Aguilar suggests ways to integrate the arts into the post-test weeks as a way to bring enthusiasm back into the classroom.
Find moments to relax and celebrate humanity with these videos and articles collected by Amy Erin Borovoy at Edutopia.
Writing about Six Engaging End-of-Year Projects for Edutopia, UCLA Graduate School of Education instructor Rebecca Alber remembers her former high school students’ post-test malaise and suggests remedies that can work for them and younger students. She points out, “They have to feel as if they aren’t actually doing work. (Yep, you have to trick them!) And whatever you do plan, three elements are essential: choices, creativity, and constructing.” She recommends involving students in “Show What You Know,” “On-Campus Field Trips,” “Craft a New Ending” and more, all with cognitive demands attached. Commenters offer ideas for middle graders as well as those older kids.
Projects take over in May for seventh and eighth graders at Marin Country Day School in Corte Madera, CA. In a 2012 MindShift article, Matt Levinson, then head of the school’s upper division, lists some of the children’s options. Eighth graders choose one project for the month. Seventh graders rotate among a range of options including one centered on service learning.
Find a how-to for planning and implementing a three-week service learning project for upper elementary students in Alycia Zimmerman’s ‘Tis the Season to Do Community Service. Writing in Scholastic’s Top Teaching blog in 2011, Zimmerman outlines a December project with logistics that could fit just as well in May or June. Along with a step-by-step guide, she provides links to Generationon.org and Learning to Give.
Field Trip Fun and Learning
Imagine yourself surrounded by a busload of middle graders: a never ending nightmare or a memorable spring day filled with learning? You decide (assuming field trip funding is still a reality in your school district.) Get down-to-earth specifics for creating a day of academic fun from Amanda Wall’s MiddleWeb guest article, Learning on Field Trips. Wall, a former teacher, is now an assistant professor at Georgia Southern University concentrating on middle school education. Find out how Mobile Apps Make Field Trips More Interactive in an Education Week post by Sarah D. Sparks. Laura Devaney at eSchool News offers a collection of sites providing virtual field trips.
The Cultural Calendar
Brighten spring learning with help from the calendar. Consider exploring Mexican culture through observing Cinco de Mayo, with Scholastic resources for younger students and a visit to History.com for older kids where the introductory essay and video are helpful but other resources are irrelevant. May’s Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month is another option. In addition to learning the history and contributions of Asian and Pacific Islanders in America from a Library of Congress collection of federal resources, students can see their impact on modern day America with help from a US Census factsheet. Scholastic provides additional activities.
Social Studies Dates to Remember
Teachers may want to take a look at Law Day. After President Eisenhower’s 1958 proclamation of May I as Law Day, in 1961 the US Congress declared May 1 to be the nation’s day to celebrate the rule of law. Today the American Bar Association offers varied Law Day resources which in 2015 focus on the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, providing a free guide and packet as well as an online video that provides a brief history of the document and an explanation of its importance to the United States.
A more somber American observance arrives on May 25: Memorial Day. The US Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, supplies an overview of America’s day to remember citizens who died serving the country. The document follows the development of Memorial Day with its beginning after the Civil War when many referred to it as Decoration Day as people decorated military graves. The VA mentions Confederate Memorial Day and notes that after World War I the national day began to commemorate all military who had died for the nation. In 1971 Veterans Day was declared a national holiday.
More recently Congress created the National Moment of Remembrance which encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who died serving the nation. The VA website hosts a video featuring actor Joe Mantegna, a recurrent host of the annual Memorial Day concert, speaking about the observance. More videos as well as an overview of the day are available from History.com. Also find lesson plans at Read Write Think and an infographic posted by Richard Byrne. (May 25, 2015: The Washington Post’s Valerie Stauss compares Memorial Day to Veterans Day here.)
Teachers whose school year runs into June or year round may want to celebrate Juneteenth, the holiday that commemorates June 19, 1865 when American slaves in Texas learned, with the arrival of federal troops, that they were free following the end of most hostilities with General Lee’s surrender in April. TIME provides an overview. Read Write Think offers links and an activity to compare June 19 and July 4 using an online Venn diagram.
Find lots more links to historical and cultural events – everything from Stonewall Jackson’s death to Nelson Mandela’s election as South Africa’s president – on Awesome Stories’ interactive monthly calendar.
Celebrate the Solstice
The Summer Solstice provides learning opportunities for both science and social studies classes. Arriving on June 21 this year, the solstice marks the year’s longest day in the Northern Hemisphere. The AAAS’s Science Netlinks hosts a quick audio explanation of why our planet’s 23.5% tilt developed during the period of frequent celestial collisions and how it impacts seasons. An accompanying post explains why more huge direct hits from space debris are unlikely. Science Netlinks also provides lessons. National Geographic hosts an enlargeable graphic showing Earth’s revolution around the Sun. Visit TimeandDate.com for a look at solstice traditions in Northern Hemisphere. EarthSky.org provides a 2012 post on viewing Stonehenge on the summer solstice.
Lots to Read
Relaxed, post-test reading takes on an organized flavor in Spring. Read Write Think provides resources to help students dive into books, especially during National Children’s Book Week May 4-10, 2015 (its 96th anniversary!) Kids can vote in the Children’s & Teen Choice Book Awards through May 3 and hear the favorites announced as Book Week begins. The Children’s Book Council and Every Child A Reader originated the awards in 2008 so that youngsters could share their opinions about books written for them. Teachers and librarians can find Book Week resources here.
Over at the Nerdy Book Club, you’ll find Michele L. Haiken‘s idea about how middle schoolers can spend some time near the end of school “paying it forward” by reading to younger kids. In her case the journey to the elementary classrooms “is part of an authentic assessment in my Speech and Debate class.” Works either way!
More Suggestions, from Larry Ferlazzo
You can prepare for the grand finale by referring to Larry Ferlazzo’s helpful suggestions for closing out the year, gleaned from his own classroom and from his readers. At his Classroom Q&A blog, Larry has posted Ways to Use Class Time During the Last Two Weeks Of School featuring ideas from Roxanna Elden, Donalyn Miller, Alice Mercer and Bill Ivey, along with reader suggestions.