What can I do on the last few days of school? This year (my first as a teacher), my exams were over, projects were completed, and my grades were turned in. But after that it was hard to keep the students focused.
—Angie, Salt Lake City, Utah.
Time is a precious commodity. It’s hard to understand why some teachers stop their class activities several days before the last day. Everything is packed up and put away, the bulletin boards are down, and students sit around in “study halls,” even though they don’t have anything to study. (Although sometimes packing up before the last day is necessary. When we were changing buildings for a renovation project, we had to have things packed up by the last week for the maintenance staff to move). It’s hard to justify to parents and students why students should come to school on the last days of the year, if all the students do is watch movies, do busywork, talk to each other, or roam the halls.
Here are some learning-related alternatives:
- You could ask them to work in groups to come up with a “guide” for next year’s class—something like The Top 10 Things You Need to Know About Chemistry Class or Physics Class FAQs (and Answers). You could make this open-ended or assign different topics to the groups (e.g., lab safety, study skills, lab procedures, difficult topics, or how to use a science notebook). You may need to model a few appropriate ideas before they start. The groups could share and debrief with each other. This could also be an informal evaluation survey, since you’ll get to see what they thought was essential or important enough to share. And be sure to share a composite list with your students next year on a bulletin board or via your website or blog.
- Try out a new technology tool with the students. For example, lino is a web-based communication system mimicking sticky-notes on a bulletin board. The instructor creates a board and shares the URL with students who can post notes on it. Students work in teams using a computer, and can see what others are posting in real time. Then you debrief as a class or in larger groups, with all of the notes visible on screen. TodaysMeet is a Twitter-like application that captures what people are thinking during an event (the backchannel). If you show a video, for example, students can add their questions and comments (140 characters) as they watch. Of course, you can monitor these conversations to follow along and to add your own ideas. Both have a basic free version that requires instructors to log in. I’m sure that students would catch on quickly, and you could decide if this is worth using next year.
- Vocabulary games, such as variations on Jeopardy or Pictionary. Some take a while to create, but a card sort or word splash is easy to put together. In charades, each team creates a pantomime of a vocabulary term or science process (it’s amazing what they can do with mitosis or Newton’s laws). Have a few prizes if you feel the need.
- Lab activities or online simulations you wanted to do during the year but didn’t have time.
- Some teachers give an end of year survey to students and debrief on the results.
Be cautious about having students assist with lab cleanup. You’ll have to supervise both those who are helping you and those who are not.
Keep the last day in mind as you start next year. Take photos or videos of activities and equipment during each unit, and have students write the captions at the end of the year. Prepare surveys and vocabulary activities in advance.
If grades are turned in, it may be hard to get students to participate especially if the whole year focused on points that “counted” for every activity. But I suspect that most students would rather have some sort of planned activity (even though they might grumble about it). In my school, the last day was a half-day to give out report cards and tie up loose ends. So I found the next-to-the last day was the more challenging one.