The school year is winding down for me, and for my students it marks the end of their junior high experience. I have a hard time with the end of the year. I get sad knowing that it’s the end of my time with these students. I’ve enjoyed getting to know them and seeing them grow over the year. I’ve loved our inside jokes and the silly idiosyncrasies that every class tends to have. I wish we had more time together- there’s always more I would have liked to have done. And yet, they’ve worked so hard this year and I know they’re ready for the next chapter in their schooling. And I’m ready for a break to recharge my batteries.
So if the school year is going to end, how can I make sure we go out in style? How can we close out the year in a way that honors the students’ learning time, celebrates our time together, and helps us all keep our sanity? For the end of this school year, I want to share my four main goals with you, some fun end of the year activities, and show you what the last few weeks looked like in my classroom.
Cement students’ learning
Students have worked hard all year to learn new math concepts. I wanted to make sure that during the end of the year weeks we really solidified the learning they’d done all year. Plus, after the state assessment they had two weeks to review before the district wide end of the year assessment. To make the most of this time I chose 12 key concepts we studied over the year. I created a daily review with each concept for ten days.
The daily review took about 25 minutes of class time each day for students to complete and then to review as a class. The time was well worth it! Each day they answered 12 questions about the same 12 concepts. The concepts we reviewed were rational and irrational numbers, linear and nonlinear equations, operations with scientific notation, solving multi-step equations, matching functions, finding missing angles in parallel lines cut by a transversal, properties of exponents, applying the pythagorean theorem, square and cube roots, two way tables, and approximating irrational numbers.
It was also important to be able to see how students were doing over time and by concept. They tracked their own practice on their own chart:
It was super easy for me to see problem areas for the class. One concept that jumped out to me early on was identifying cube roots for perfect cubes. When we studied cube roots at the beginning of the year, students were very fluent with them. I was surprised to see how much the class overall struggled now when completing their daily reviews. But the more I thought about it, I realized that they really hadn’t used cube roots for a while.
So I pulled out a sorting activity we’d used earlier in the year and spent a bit more time practicing with cube roots. The class immediately saw a huge improvement on the daily review questions for this topic. It was so easy to see what to spend a bit more time on and how to get more targeted practice by using this daily review. And that district assessment? Well, I was so proud of how well my students did!
Step away from multiple choice
I don’t know about you, but by this point in the school year my students have seen approximately 1,897,592,431 multiple choice questions (is that an exaggeration? Perhaps, but it actually feels about right). So I made a conscious decision that for the two weeks after our state assessment there would be no more multiple choice questions in our class. Not on the bellringers, not during any lessons or practice, and not even for the ticket out at the end of class. What are we doing instead?
For one thing, the daily math review I talked about above didn’t have a single multiple choice question on it. Instead, students responded in a variety of open-ended ways.
The bulk of class time we reviewed our math using interactive games, hands-on activities, and partner work. We spent one day focusing on each of the ten concepts from the daily review, going a bit deeper with each of them. One day, for example, we completed a match and paste sort to match functions with their graphs:
Another day, students labeled all of the missing angles they could:
Students did a variety of activities and tackled many different math problems. But not a single one of them had multiple choice answers. It was a nice break, and felt like a more authentic approach to problem solving in our classroom. And when they finally saw those multiple choice questions again on the district assessment, they did awesome!
Make it feel special
With the end of the year approaching, students need to stay productive or behavior goes off the rails and all heck breaks loose. At the same time, I wanted students to have some fun. I introduced activities into our room that we hadn’t done all year to bump up the novelty and fun factor. And what better way to do that then to encourage students to do the very things we’ve spent the whole year telling them not to do!
Texting! After telling students all year to put those phones away, we spent an entire class period on the “phone”. Well, kindof! Their task was to imagine a text conversation that highlights the differences between rational and irrational numbers. It was fun to see what they came up with!
After a year of telling students to not drop their trash on the ground, and certainly not to throw things in class, we embraced those “bad” behaviors with a snowball fight. To play, students worked to solve for x. We did 12 problems. Some of them they could work through with a partner, and others we did as a class. They also chose four problems- two to solve independently, and the other two to solve but make an intentional error.
Students crumbled up their papers with those four problems. Once everyone was ready we had a “snowball fight” where they threw papers and got them all mixed up until the time was up. Then, each student collected four papers from the ground and analyzed the problems and solutions they found. They had to check the work to see if it was correct, and identify the error if there was a mistake. It was a fun way to practice!
Allow yourself to experiment
Experimenting in the classroom is something that I do throughout the year. I would go crazy if I weren’t trying new things, but that’s just the mad scientist part of me! But at the end of the year I feel even more freedom to let myself try out new approaches. The end of the year is the perfect time for seeing how your
lab rats, errr, students respond to new strategies and materials. There have been many things that started as an end of the year experiment and became part of my regular teaching rotation during the next year.
What am I experimenting with during this end of the year???? GOOGLE CLASSROOM! And I’m loving it! My school went one to one with computers 6 years ago, long before Google Classroom existed. Oh how I wish we’d had it back then. With the freedom of the end of the year, I’m using Google Classroom to teach and practice math in a way I’ve never quite done before. And I’m loving it! The feedback I’m getting from the students is great. I’m so glad my students are such willing guinea pigs. They’ve been having a good time and have helped me add a powerful tool to my teaching toolkit.
Another experiment that was a home run in my classroom was using paper chains as a partner activity. I’ll be honest, the first few times I saw teachers doing this activity I thought to myself- why in the world would someone do that? It just didn’t make sense to me. But I was looking for some new activities to try. I came across this blog post from Scaffolded Math and Science about how she used paper chains to practice with quadratics and I thought- Why not!
So I tried using paper chains for a partner practice activity for multiplying with scientific notation and………. students loved it!
End of the year reflection
After a successful experiment with paper chains, I got the itch to find other ways to use this strategy. After hearing students ask if they could bring their scientific notation paper chains home, I thought this would be the perfect way to reflect on their year. So I created a year-end reflection paper chain for them. It was full of prompts about who they are now and how their 8th grade year has been. Then, after answering those questions on bright (of course!) strips of paper, students assembled them into their own chains.
They enjoyed making these chains and it has generated great conversations. With all the year end craziness and interruptions that tend to happen, this paper chain reflection has been a great sponge activity. And they’re sooooo excited to have it as a keepsake of their year.
I bundled up all of the review activities we’ve used to close out the year into one great pack (see below). I’ve also made the rational and irrational texting activity a freebie that I hope you’ll check out!
How about you?
How are you closing out the school year? I hope that you and your students are finding a great way to celebrate all that you’ve learned together this year, and that these experiences from my classroom help you to really end the school year in style!
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