We are quickly approaching the end of the school year. Advanced Placement Exams start in two weeks, effectively the end of AP classes (although I do a lot of projects with my AP students after their exam) and senior finals start the end of May. The student's last day of school is June 19th, but exams are finished on the 15th. Teachers finish on June 19th. I teach 95% seniors, so I have to finish up everything by May 29th when Senior finals begin.
As I was looking over the schedule and working on my lesson plans for next month, I was trying to decide what I would do with my students. I use web quests, videos and activities from Discovery Education, and projects to keep my students learning during a time of distraction. I also use the videos from Discovery Education to share topics that we normally don't cover or don't have time to go over as a full unit. The videos are great for that, explaining topics with demonstrations and examples in 40 minutes or less.
Senior Prom, Junior Ring Dance, end of the year, Spring Fever, Senioritis. They all affect schools around this time. So, I use the projects. Think of projects related to your curriculum that would be great to do at the end of the year and use that instead of lectures, problem sets, or standard labs.
The rockets project is my favorite and my students favorite. They look foward to it all year. The web quest incorporates elements from NASA's web site. The students are applying multiple areas of physics during this project: energy, chemical reactions, fluid dynamics, forces, Newton's Laws, and more. They get to work in a group and do something hands-on and creative (they get to decorate the rockets any way they want and they are also able to do different fin designs). The best part is launch day. The students get to go outside and launch rockets. I handle the actual launching so that I can ensure safety, but the students love the countdown and watching the launch. They also have to chase down rockets that drift in the wind. Who wouldn't want to be outside launching rockets on a beautiful Spring day?. The students do calculations ahead of time to predict the altitude their rocket will go, and then we measure the actual altitude with trackers and trigonometry. They learn some great physics topics while having a lot of fun.
Another thing I start doing around this time is to reflect on the past year. What worked? What went right? What went wrong? How did I handle classroom management issues? How well did my students learn? Lots of questions to answer and get ready for next year. I do this throughout the year too, but this is the point where I can really plan and make changes for the following year.
One thing I do to as an evaluation of the year is to have my students fill out a survey about the class and their experience. It asks them to rate things such as was the classroom and equipment (labs and projects) adequate, was enough time given for demonstrations and review, how well did the teacher answer student questions, and their thoughts on assignments and work given. It also asks about me: did I set a climate that was conducive to learning, did I effectively communicate with students, did I address their needs and issues, and were the teaching methods effective. I also have space for them to write comments about what they liked about the class and what they think should be improved. They can put their name on it or it can be anonymous.
I do take the surveys with a grain of salt. Some students write all "4" (highest score) and some complain that everything was too hard. But I do get a lot of great feedback and ideas. Some times I am surprised by the level of sophistication that I my students have and how insightful they are about their classes. (I've also used this model with pre-service teachers).
After I've read through all of the surveys and taken notes, I sit and think about the whole year. I try to be critical of things so that I can really evaluate how things went. I am going to implement some of the things I've come up with and some of the things my students noted, but I am also going to keep my lessons flexible so that I can modify them once I've met my students next year and see what they are like and what they need. I believe in constantly assessing how I am doing as an educator and how well my students are learning and changing and modifying things as needed throughout the year. The end of the year and summer are great times to come up with lots of different ideas so that I have a collection of ideas to use next year.
This year I've been using the classroom blogs and Google Forms to get more feedback from the students throughout the year. I also use a Google Form instead of paper for the final class evaluation, and student information forms.
As I write this, I keep having thoughts about issues I've had and how to change them next year. I'm also thinking about the type of teacher I am and what I can do to improve my attitude and persona to make me better. I think one of the things I'm going to do this summer is to actually relax a bit instead of working to much to recharge myself. I will be attending a few conferences and will keep active with my PLN (Personal Learning Network) to share ideas, thoughts, and resources. I want to come back to school next year enthusiastic, motivated, and ready to have some fun while educating.
So, let's hear from you:
What do you do in your classroom at the end of the year to keep students focused and engaged?
How do you evaluate teaching and learning in your classroom?
What do you do at the end of the year and summer to prep for the next year?
Rockets - a great project for the end of the year for any class