4 Tips to Help Teachers Finish the School Year Strong

By Rachelle Dené Poth,

As we wind down the school year, educators may be looking for some new ideas to boost student engagement, spark some curiosity for learning, or perhaps just take some new risks with new methods and tools in their classrooms. I think this time of year presents a perfect opportunity for doing this as it gives us some fresh ideas to explore and learn with our students. It also provides us with an opportunity over the summer to reflect on how our school year went and in particular, what the impact was of any of these new methods or tools that we brought into our classrooms as the year winds down.

It’s important that we continue to push ourselves to grow personally and professionally and that we embrace risk-taking in our classrooms. Even more important is that we do this in collaboration with our students because it serves as a good model for them in preparation for the future. With so much changing in the world when it comes to the technology that we have available and the capabilities that it provides, we have to make sure that we are providing more opportunities for our students to understand how these technologies work, to be able to navigate any challenges that might arise, and how to access and process so much information.

To best prepare students for the future, we know that they need to develop skills that are transferable to any line of work. According to the World Economic Forum, a few of the top skills sought by employers are critical thinking, problem-solving, teamwork, and creativity. There are a variety of methods and tools available to educators that will help students develop these skills and more, that will enable them to be flexible as the world of work changes and which may also spark curiosity for and interest in STEM-related fields, which are greatly in demand. 

Especially as the year winds down, this is the time to take some risks and promote more student-driven learning which can also help to build SEL skills of self-awareness and self-management. Whether we bring methods like a genius hour or PBL into our classes and provide students with the chance to explore a topic of interest or to work with a peer and find a problem to solve, there are many benefits to providing more authentic, meaningful, real-world experiences for students. Especially as the end of the school year brings a lot of challenges with standardized testing and final exams, adding in some choices and trying a few new digital tools can help to boost engagement and finish strong.

Here are four options for the end of the year. Try one or all of them. Be sure to ask students for feedback and then use their responses to help you reflect over the summer and as you plan for the new school year.

4 Ideas to End the School Year Strong: 

  • Immerse in Augmented and Virtual Reality:   Regardless of grade level or content area, there are a lot of options and benefits for bringing in AR and VR. Three options to get started with quickly are CoSpaces, Devar and Nearpod. With CoSpaces EDU students can collaborate on the same project whether in person or virtual. It can be great for global collaboration and to build SEL and digital citizenship skills.  Create with CoSpaces to retell a story, design a VR book summary, portray a historical setting, and so much more Devar is a fun app that would be great for storytelling in AR. There are characters to choose from and then students can record a story, perfect for language classes too! Nearpod is a great option for VR since it has ready-to-run lessons available and offers an interactive multimedia learning platform with content and activities available to create a lesson quickly. 
  • Build Coding Skills: There is an increasing need for coding skills and it is important that we provide students in all grade levels with opportunities to explore coding and create. With so many choices, it is easy to find something to meet specific age groups or content areas. For example, have students use Scratch Jr. or Scratch to create a program that represents what they have learned in a class. Some examples would be writing a story, creating a review game, explain a process through a program. Another option is Blackbird Code which has levels of lessons for students to work through at their own pace and they can even design their own projects. Students can also challenge themselves by using any of the lessons as a warm-up activity to practice their skills.
  • Explore Artificial Intelligence: There is an increase in the amount of AI being used in the world every single day. Students need to develop their skills in AI and have a solid understanding of what it is, how it works, and the impact it has now and will have in the future. Teachers in all grade levels can teach about AI without having to be an expert. Providing time for students to explore Google Experiments and create their own experiments or explore the AI experiments available is a good option for any grade level or content area. Also available to educators are four curriculum guides made possible by ISTE’s AI and STEM Explorations Network. These classroom guides are available for download from ISTE and GM and have lessons for elementary, middle, and high school, electives, and computer science courses. For a variety of options for younger students, AIClub has a variety of activities for students to interact with AI and explore how AI works.  There are resources for educators and parents as well as a book to guide with teaching AI in the classroom.
  • Implement PBL and Genius Hour: If you have not implemented PBL or genius hour, these are wonderful options for not only promoting student choice and voice in learning but for building SEL skills. It is important to provide students with some options of how they will capture and share their learning. Using some of the different digital tools available where students can include audio or video, images, and text and also collaborate with a peer would be beneficial. An option like Spaces would not only help students to build the essential SEL skills as they track their progress and can reflect on their growth but also provide the benefits of a digital portfolio to curate their work over time. Providing feedback to students is essential and using Mote would be a great way to respond to student questions, provide meaningful and personalized feedback directly to students, or explain some concepts or provide support. For creating rubrics for assessments or for having students provide peer feedback, BookWidgets is a tool that I started to use recently. In addition to rubrics, it has more than 40 templates for activities, checklists, webquests, planning guides, and more.
Where to begin

A recommendation I often make for educators is to think of a specific topic you cover and the methods and tools that you have been using and instead, try to amplify it by using an innovative method or new digital tool. For many years I always felt like I had to be the expert before trying something new however, I’ve learned that it is important to embrace some risk-taking in our classrooms. Embrace new challenges and mistakes that are made and involve students because it is a good model for them and it shows that we value their input. Especially as we look to boost student engagement and keep up the momentum through the end of what has not been a typical school year, offering a variety of activities where students can explore new technologies, engage in some purposeful learning and have fun in the process as they build essential SEL skills, will be highly beneficial.


Author

Rachelle Dené Poth is a Foreign Language and STEAM Educator at Riverview High School in Oakmont, PA. She is also an Attorney, Edtech Consultant and Speaker. Rachelle is the author of seven books about education and edtech and a blogger. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @Rdene915

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