The end of the school year is full of mixed emotions for me. I’m excited for summer and at the same time I start to have separation anxiety from my students. My classes are usually small because I teach math lab classes and I really get attached to my kids. It’s awesome that there are no more tests to prepare for, but at the same time I don’t want to just have unstructured activities for my students for 3 weeks.
Recently, I was listening to Jennifer Gonzalez’s podcast about 30 activities for Lame Duck days. It inspired us here at Math Idea Galaxy to think about what we do in the middle school math class during the last few weeks and days of school. We want to make it meaningful and fun for students all at the same time.
So, we came up with a list of ideas of activities that you can do with your math classes as the school year is coming to a close. Some of them take a few days to complete and some of them take a few minutes to complete. We all know that near the end of the year you have to be ready for anything. Sometimes they send you back early from the school assembly, or they may schedule you to be with your homeroom class for 2 hours on a special party day. The following list is an arsenal for you to have ready during the last couple of weeks in your math classroom. This blog post is packed with links that can help you get out of jam.
Paper Chain Reflection
Math Ted Talks and Ted Ed Videos
End of the Year Reflection Book
Stained Glass Window Project and Graphing Your Initials Activity
Estimation 180 with GoFormative
Math Based TV Shows
Tiny House Project
Review Knockout Games
Paper Chain Reflection
This activity is one that I made for my class last year. It was inspired by something similar that I did when I was in 8th grade and that I had recently rediscovered. My teacher gave me a paper to record my interests and likes from that specific part of my life. Looking back on it brings a flood of memories and emotions from that time period. I wanted to give my students a similar experience.
Also, I got intrigued with paper chains at about the same time, so it seemed like a perfect marriage. I created a paper chain activity for my students a series of 30 questions that range from reflecting on the year, looking to the future, and some random questions that junior high kids love. It was such a hit in my classroom that I wanted to share it with others. You can grab it here. This download includes an additional blank paper that will give your students the opportunity to write their own questions.
Students love doing this project. It gives them a chance to reflect on the school year and it sparks some fun conversations. I love the structure and the freedom that this activity gives to students. Plus, it’s a flexible activity perfect for the end of the school year. Students can continue working on it either over a long period of time, or a bunch of smaller chunks of time.
When they finish answering the questions then they will make it into a paper chain. Some students left the paper chain behind and others took it home with them. I copied each different page of question on a different color of paper which made it feel just a bit more fancy.
Math Ted Talks and TedEd Videos
The amount of videos and Ted Talks out there is overwhelming and when used at the right time in class they can push kids to think. This list includes some of my favorites to watch with kids. They engage kids and some of them will make kids laugh. My personal favorite is the “The Shared Experience of Absurdity”. It has a way of making you take life a little less serious.
You can use video clips to springboard conversations with students that take what you’ve been learning all day in school and connect it to “the real world” life outside of school. For example, the “Try Something New for 30 Days” could be used as a challenge for kids to do some new things over the summer. You can brainstorm some ideas with students and have each student choose one thing that they will try for 30 days.
Also, these kinds of videos are great for those little chunks of time that you have between other things or you could plan an entire lesson around them. The possibilities are endless.
Mathemagican by Arthur Benjamin (15 min)
Rajiv Maheswaran: The math behind basketball’s wildest moves (12 min)
Try Something New for 30 Days (3 min)
The Shared Experience of Absurdidty (12 min)
Marco Tempest: The magic of truth and lies (and iPods) (5 min)
If you haven’t tried SumDog with your students I would strongly encourage you to try it. My 7th and 8th graders love it. Some of them played it in earlier grades and when I said we were going to try it they told me it was cool. I have one student who is particularly negative about everything and of course when I mentioned we were going to play on SumDog he said it was stupid. So that confirms it! It seems like everyone in my classes like this game.
SumDog has a series of games where students are answering math questions at the same time. It measures where they need help, the teacher can assign topics, and students can work on their math facts. If you get a free month trial, then you can use it for the last month of school. I think you will find it to the be the perfect sponge activity. The games are a little random and the kids get to have virtual house that they decorate with the points they earn.
Also, there are contests to join. For example, we are competing in a contest for our county and students can win bonus prizes to add to their own virtual houses. Give it a try and use it when you have little bits of free time or for fast finishers on your other activities.
End of the Year Reflection Book
This fun book with get your students excited and give them a structured activity during the last few days of school. I made this book because we have an awesome yearbook at our school, but many of the students cannot afford to buy one. This book gives them a chance to share some memories and something that they can look back on later in their life.
It’s simple and has a few different ways for them to reminisce about the year and keep track of some of their favorite things from this time in their lives. With junior high kids their favorite movie or food can change from day to day. I am someone who desperately needs closure during the last few days of school and I wanted to give an opportunity for my students to have some closure as well.
You kids will really love this one!
Survey in Google Forms
I like to get the opinions of my students to help me know what to do the same or different next year. Surveys show you what students liked or didn’t like. With Google Forms, making a survey is easy. Here are some topics and ideas that you might want to include on your survey:
Favorite activity of the year
Favorite type of activity
Most difficult topic
In addition, you can have students give suggestions of what they would do differently. You will want to coach them on making their responses purposeful and not offensive. One great way to do this is to ask, “What do you wish we’d done more of in this class? What do you wish we’d done less of?” In addition to being a good end of the year activity, the information you get from a survey can also help your future students.
Stained Glass Window Project or Initials Coordinate Graphing Project
Incorporating artsy projects is perfect during this time of year. Hayley Cain has a great stained glass window project reviewing linear equations in slope intercept form which can be found here. We used this version and both my colleague and I loved it for our 8th graders. It took a couple of class periods to finish, but it gave students a lot of repetition with this important concept. The best part of all the practice is that students were making something cool. Some of the students beamed with pride when they finished their stained glass. You can find other similar projects on Pinterest.
With my 7th graders I did a different graphing project. They each drew their initials on a coordinate graph. I showed them how I did it and walked them through it in detail. Then, they each created their own initial design. They did pretty well at this part, but then came the difficult part. They had to make a list of all of the coordinate points in their drawing and do it in an order than someone else could follow. Then, they gave me their coordinates and I gave them someone else’s coordinates. Now it was their turn to try and follow someone else’s directions.
I absolutely loved this activity. They got to practice with coordinate points and they had to figure something out with not a lot of pressure. They saw it more as an activity than an assignment and many of them had their guard down which meant they were free to make mistakes.
Estimation 180 and Go Formative
The Estimation 180 website is chock full of estimation activities. Actually, the name doesn’t do it justice because there are more than 180 activities. I started out with the activities related to estimating and bacon. In my class there seems to be a lot of references to bacon, so I thought it was only appropriate.
You’ll learn really fast if students have a background in the topic and they have fun talking about their estimations. The variety of activities is endless with this website, so you could complete one every day for the last few weeks of school or you could use one at a time for short windows of time.
You can have students complete activities on the Estimation 180 website or you can combine it with something like GoFormative. I combined it with GoFormative, so that I could see what my students did in real time. You can follow the steps below to see GoFormative in action.
Math “Related” TV Shows
Watching movies during school seems like a long time for students to just be sitting there. I don’t like them to be talking and just have the movie on in the background, so I have an alternative. Sometimes we watch t.v. shows that have applied math concepts in them. My favorite for this is Shark Tank. Understanding the numbers behind business is very relevant to a real world situation. Many of my students have parents that are entrepreneurs and the show spawns great discussion.
Another excellent show for seeing math in action is a game show called The Wall. Contestants answer random trivia questions and get chance to drop a ball down a wall. This show is a living example of probability. You can show kids the difference between experimental and theoretical probability. Once again the discussion are priceless.
Tiny House Project
This tiny house project takes multiple days to finish and is a great hands-on application for geometry concepts studied in middle school math. I started this project off by watching an episode of Tiny House Hunters with my students. The show is only 21 minutes long and it gave us all a shared experience and understanding of what tiny house are. I spent a lot of time showing them how the square footage discussed in the show related to our classroom. Watching the show was great. One of my classes couldn’t stop talking about it. They had so many opinions for the family that was looking for a new house, and they all thought they had made the wrong choice in the end.
For the next step in this project students I had students create a blueprint of the tiny house prototype that they would make. Now, for this part of the project they had to understand scale and three-dimensions. My students struggled a little with scale and a lot with dimensions. Overall, they thought about about how things relate to each other and they created scaled blueprints.
In the end, they created a tiny house model out of paper. Their creative juices really got going in this project and they all created tiny houses that fit their unique needs and interests. I love doing projects like this because students can share both their math knowledge and creativity.
Review Knockout Games and 20 Questions
We play a lot of whole class games in my classroom. I like to use that time to informally assess students’ understanding and help fix misconceptions. Kids like to play my knockout games on the screen in front of the room. One great thing about these games is that there’s NO PREP. You just turn them on and go.
Using whole class games at the end of the year is fun because the students stay focused and you can review topics from the year. This can help students get some cyclical review that will support their learning in the next grade level. A similar game we played in my 8th grade class was a 20 Questions Review game. In this game, students had to answer a variety of questions from topics studied throughout the year. Each time the class solves a problem, they can ask a question (or choose one of the questions given as help) to try to figure out the “mystery picture” for this game.
My 7th and 8th graders love playing Kahoot. I don’t know if I really get why they love it so much, but just about every kid is engaged the whole time we are playing. Kahoot is a whole class multiple choice game where students get points for answering quickly and accurately. It has a couple of drawbacks. Sometimes students answer really quickly and guess because of the pressure to get the answer right quickly. Also, there can be some poor sportsmanship because it is a competition. You just have to make sure that you are encouraging positive talk and growth mindset during the game.
Here are links to 3 Kahoots I like to use near the end of the year:
What activities will you choose for the last week of school? We’d love to hear how they work for your students! Pro tip- It’s important to remember that students always sense our energy level and they can smell any lack of enthusiasm. So, let’s hang tough and let ourselves enjoy the last few school days of the year. Then, we’ll remember that summer vacation is really for the teachers (don’t let the students in on that secret!) and make sure that we take some time to recharge our batteries.
Thanks for reading! Until next time!
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