Summer school is a different world than regular school. In my 12 years of teaching middle school I have been involved in some sort of summer school program 11 times. I would described my experience as varied when it comes to summer school. We’ve run programs for students who need to make up classes, extra boost classes for ELL students, and camp types to help engage students during the summer. This year, for example, we’re running a 7th-8th grade Tech Camp where students get to use Virtual Reality, Breakout EDU, Club Invention, and Coding all while developing their math and problem solving skills.
The purpose of summer school programs may differ, but the one thing you can count on is that it’s summer. If you want the program to be success, you have to keep this in mind. Because it’s summer time, I find that things are just a little more relaxed than during the school year. Group sizes tend to be smaller, and the pacing is just different.
One great bonus to teaching summer school is that it’s the perfect place to experiment with new things. A few years ago I experimented with interactive notebooks during summer school, and now it’s something that I use in every unit in my 7th and 8th grade math classes. You never can guarantee what things will be hits and which will be misses, but summer school is a perfect testing ground.
In this post I’ll break down a few tips and tricks that have served me well in summer school programs:
- Have some fun activities, not all drills.
- Use a badge or token system.
- Have students reflect on their learning.
- Use math apps on iPad or computers.
- Incorporate interactive notebooks.
- Play games with the whole class to review.
- Stay structured.
- Watch videos to introduce or review topics.
- Hold a challenge with a prize.
- Experiment as a teacher with some new strategies.
Incorporate Fun Activities Like Mazes and Tic Tac Toe Games
If your summer school has an emphasis on remediation or make-up, that doesn’t mean it has to be drudgery or that it has to be boring. Disengaged students don’t need one more reason to dislike school. Summer school can be a chance for them to reengage with their education and actually enjoy learning. You may have pressure to make up a lot of standards or objectives with students, but don’t forget to have some fun. Adding some activities like mazes, cootie catchers, or tic tac toe games can really get students participating.
I love badges. Our technology integration specialist uses them with teachers to encourage us to try out tech tools in the classroom. She gives us a badge when we share how we used a new tech tool with students and it’s a great motivator. It’s also a physical representation of things we’re learning about. I think using badges is a great idea for summer school. Make a list of goals that you want students to accomplish during summer school and then make some stickers that they can earn. Then, when they meet the goal, whether it’s showing mastery or completing a task, they get to show off their shiny new badge. It’s a great way for students and teachers to see what type of progress students are making.
Here are some examples of badges you can make:
- Mastery of a standard
- Helping someone understand a concept
- Making a video of something they learned
- Being on time every day
- Trying something new
- Finishing a level on a computer program
I would have the put their badges in their notebook or folder that they have for summer school. You can use pre-printed stickers, or you can make the badges yourself with images printed on with printer labels (I use these whole sheet shipping labels and then cut them down). If you don’t want to mess with fancy sticker paper, you can even just print them on paper and glue them into a notebook.
Reflect on learning
Students need to reflect often on what they’re learning. Sometimes in a place like summer school we can forget to build in these opportunities for reflection. I find that it helps to have at least one time per day set aside for kids to reflect on their learning and progress. They can reflect in a journal, an exit ticket, or through technology. Some great apps for reflection are:
- Let’s ReCap– students make a video response in a very easy to use format.
- Google Forms- students can answer multiple choice question, answer on a scale (i.e. on a scale of 1- 5, how well do you understand this topic?), or answer open-ended questions.
- Padlet– students reflect on a collaborative board, using a virtual sticky note (see below).
If you have access to iPads on your campus, summer school is a great time to use them. Depending on your emphasis there are a lot of apps that you can use to help students practice math. There are programs like SumDog and Prodigy that give you access to lots of grade level standards. Then there are game apps like Ratio Rumble and DragonBox that practice specific skills. Whether you have iPads, chromebooks or another device, students like to use math apps and this can add some spice to your day. Read more about 8 apps for summer school in this post.
Interactive notebooks work well in summer school because they are easy to implement. You just need some type of notebook and print some foldables. They’re an interactive way to take notes and give students little bit of a background for the topics you’re reviewing or reteaching.
Whole class games
My favorite whole class games are Kahoot and Knockout games. You can find Kahoots games pre-made for you at getkahoot.com. This is a trivia style game where students get points for speed and accuracy. You can make your own or use one that another has made. For a step by step guide of how to use Kahoot, check out this post from Mrs. E. Teaches Math.
Knockout games are whole group games that I created for my classes, and my kids love them. You can use them to review or introduce a topic. I use them a lot to review right before a test and students engage more in this type of activity than normal review. The game board and all problems are projected on the board or screen. Then, all students need is a way to record their answers (there’s a reproducible work page with all my Knockout games, or I use whiteboards for them to show their answers). Check out all my pre-made Knockout games here for a variety of 7th and 8th Grade topics.
I would describe my teaching style as structured and fun. Personally, I need structure and so do most students. When I say structure I mean having assigned seats, having a schedule, creating procedures for working with partners, and just starting out on the right foot. There are areas that should be more relaxed during the summer, but don’t get too excited and lose all structure. Trust me- you’ll regret it. Structure is your friend. Make sure that expectations are clearly communicated with students on how the class will run and what you’re working to accomplish during your time together.
Watch videos to review
Videos are a great way to keep things lively during summer school. My favorite video sites to use to introduce or review topics are flocabulary, shmoop, and mash-up math. They each have different approaches. Flocabulary uses hip hop songs to teach math concepts. Schmoop videos are a little silly and use pop culture allusions to introduce a topic. Lastly, Mash-up Math uses a more traditional presentation style, but has a lot of visuals and examples to make it interesting. All three video sites can help to give your students a different view of the topic they’re learning. You can watch the videos as a class or have students watch them individually.
Hold a challenge
I personally love challenges. I’ve also seen many students get motivated with some type of challenge. Around Easter we had a schoolwide challenge where we hid eggs with math problems in them and had our own version of an Easter egg hunt. Some students who typically work slowly in class shocked us with how hard they tried to solve the math problems and win a little prize.
Summer school is a great time to give students a *special challenge* to work towards. You could hold an estimation challenge using the problems from Estimation 180 or you could use a challenge problem from Mash-Up Math.
You can give a prize to a winner or have multiple winners and draw a name from a hat. Prizes can range from little pieces of candy, to little toys, or even school supplies. Just taking math practice and turning it into a challenge is a great way to have some fun and make the most of your time in summer school.
Experiment with new strategies
If you’ve heard of new strategy that you have never tried before, summer school can be the perfect time to try it out. For example, Breakout EDU activities are a hot trend right now, an educational version similar to the Escape Rooms that people go to on Friday nights with friends. There’s even digital versions of these that can be done completely online here and here. This is something we’re experimenting with in our summer school program this year. It’s going to be a great testing ground and an opportunity to work through any kinks. Then, we’ll be able to implement it into our classrooms next year.
There’s so many things you could experiment with during summer school. You could try having a Makers Space for fast finishers. Maybe you’ve heard a lot about task cards but haven’t tried them yet. You could try out a discovery lab or gallery walk to mix things up. Take the opportunity to try new strategies in an environment that is a little more relaxed.
Try one thing…
So, there you have it. I hope that this list helps you in your planning for summer school and that you find these ideas helpful. Try a couple of them and let us know how they worked for you, or share your own suggestions in the comments below. Thanks for reading! Until next time 🙂
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