Try This - Curing Spring Fever
How can you keep kids learning when summer’s around the corner?
By Alain Jehlen
Spring is sprung,
The grass is riz.
I wonder where that kid’s mind is?
Probably not on schoolwork. More likely on summer camp, or the birds flying by the window.
But school’s still in session and your kids need to be learning. So we asked members to send us their strategies for keeping students engaged during those last few weeks before vacation.
Go with gravity
Cover the hardest work near the start of the semester and plan creative activities near the end. When the students are beginning to relax, relax with them—better than trying to fight gravity. This is the time to show them you, too, know how to have fun learning.
High school English teacher
San Francisco, California
Use summer activities as teaching material. Figure the cost of a day at an amusement park for math; read novels with summer themes; write about the perfect summer vacation; build replicas of roller coasters and test them to investigate inertia; plan healthy picnic food using the food pyramid. Invite someone in to teach bicycle, water, and campfire safety, and have the students create a poster to present to another class.
Lori Nesselrodt Ellison
Intervention resource teacher
Give them fresh air
My school does not have a gymnasium or outside recess—or any kind of recess, for that matter—and our classroom is down in the basement where it gets extremely hot. I take advantage of the better weather and take my class outside for lessons.
Thei Johnson Cherry
The Bronx, New York
Bring on the ladybugs
I teach first grade, and the spring weather brings so much excitement of things to come! I keep kids engaged by using the outdoors in my curriculum.
For example, the students are excited to catch ladybugs (and want to bring them in from recess), so I use ladybugs in our science study on plants or in my literature selections. The students do real “field work” by keeping records of their observations in their journals, and they write stories about ladybugs. Other hot topics include swimming and the beach, gardening, and kite flying.
Deborah Klein Harvey
Something for everyone
Lots of diet cola and chocolate for me, lots of group activities for my third-graders!
Katie Steuri Cox
Give them choices
Change it up! Ask students to submit suggestions for homework assignments.
Michelle Wise Capen
Lenoir, North Carolina
I keep students engaged by capitalizing on their interests. They love to do something artistic or with technology, but I don’t often slow down in my teaching of reading and writing to let them express their creativity. So at the end of the year, I offer choices. I let them pick the subject (a particular novel or topic) and offer a choice of activities. My favorite was a mini-unit called the ABCs of Mount Everest. My students became experts on everything from altitude sickness to the zopkio.
Lynn E. Flood
Seventh-grade social studies teacher
Garner, North Carolina
Tell a cliff-hanger
One thing I do to keep students interested is to read aloud from an exciting book. Each day, I stop at a point where they can’t wait to hear what is going to happen next.
Preview next year
In our middle school, after the state test is over, teachers start previewing the curriculum for the upcoming grade. My sixth-graders get such a kick out of taking a seventh-grade test and realizing that they already know a lot of the material.
A time to be active, a time to reflect
The last few weeks before vacation are a special time of year we refer to as “after the test.” Having those state assessments out of the way gives us time to do fun activities we’ve had to put aside during the weeks of test prep. I choose a book that students will find interesting, and we do a class project. For example, Crispin: The Cross of Lead is set in medieval times. One year I had a classroom full of boys who read the book and built a huge medieval fortress out of Legos.
Also, this is the time for reflection. My students complete a survey that asks them how they felt about each unit or activity. Their feedback helps me plan for next year.
Finally, I close the year by talking to each student, one by one, in front of the entire class. I tell them about my first memory of them from the beginning of the year. I tell them their strengths, what I’d like them to work on, and what I think they’ll grow up to be. This is my favorite activity of the year.
Efland, North Carolina
Learning through parody
Learning through parody—from left, Kayleigha Holten, Christopher Wassman, Molly Susee, Brandi Groce, and Dylan Hanwright.
Photo: Ellen banner
After the AP test, our students create a video that parodies five works they have studied. It’s a creative collaboration completed in student-selected small groups. They write a story summary with a fully developed humorous plot and characters. Then they write a script which they stage and film, complete with settings, music, and costumes. This three-week project culminates with viewing day, when we eat popcorn and watch. It is always insightful to see which quotes, scenes, and class jokes are memorable enough to be immortalized in film. (See one example below.)
Molly Susee and Brandi Groce