The last days of the school year

I’m looking for suggestions for what to do during the last week of school, after final exams are over. I teach high school chemistry.  —T., Maryland

It’s hard to justify students (and parents) why students should come to school on the last days of the year, if all they do is watch videos, do busywork, talk to or text each other, have one study hall after another, or roam the halls. The last few days of the school year can be a gift of time for explorations and enrichment activities.

But the end of the year is a busy time for you, too. Your after-school time is probably spent on grading exams, evaluating projects, finalizing inventories, or preparing final grades. So the last thing you need is planning additional activities to keep students busy.

Here are some learning-related alternatives that won’t require a lot of preparation:

  • My students enjoyed vocabulary games, such as variations on Jeopardy or A card sort or word splash is easy to put together. In science charades, each team creates a pantomime of a vocabulary term or science process for other students to figure out (it’s amazing what they can do with mitosis or Newton’s laws).
  • Dig out those lab activities or online simulations you wanted to do during the year but didn’t have time.
  • You could ask them to work in groups to come up with a “guide” for next year’s class –something like The Top 10 Things You Need to Know About Chemistry Class or Chemistry Class FAQs (and Answers). You could make this open-ended or you could give different topics to the groups (e.g., lab safety, study skills, lab procedures, difficult topics, or how to use a science notebook. You may need to model a few appropriate ideas before they start. The groups could share and debrief with each other, perhaps as a gallery walk. This could also be an informal evaluation survey, since you’ll get to see what they thought was essential or important enough to share. And be sure to share a composite list with your students at the beginning of next year.
  • Have students try out a new technology tool or app. Assign an app to each group and ask them to demonstrate it and describe how it would (or would not) be useful for students in your class next year. You can be part of the audience.

I would be cautious about having students assist with lab cleanup or inventories. You would need to supervise both those who are helping you and those who are not. The liability may not be worth the extra help.

If grades are turned in, it may be hard to get students to participate in any activities, especially if students expected points that “counted” for every activity and they know that grades are calculated. You might also hear “But Mr. B gave us a study hall.” Be persistent. I suspect that most students would rather have a planned enjoyable activity to do (even though they might grumble about it).

A wise teacher once advised me to start planning for the last week during the first week of school. Take photos or videos of activities and equipment during each unit, and have students write captions for them at the end of the year. Prepare vocabulary lists ahead of time, or (better yet) have students make the lists in their notebooks.

Time is a precious commodity. We never have enough, so let’s not waste any of it.

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4 Responses to The last days of the school year

  1. Jeanette Thomas says:

    Challenge students to create games or art projects (board games, strategy games, card games, etc.) using elements of the periodic table?

  2. Paula Young says:

    Do a “Chemistry Olympics” with several event stations around the room, or a “Forensic Science” day–have an outline of a body on the floor, and set up stations for gathering evidence about the “murder”–such stations might include a viscosity station to compare soil particles (from dirt on a shoe), coffee hot out of the pot, at room temperature, and somewhere in between for students to collect data and set up a cooling curve to determine the approximate time of the murder, a chromatography station to compare ink samples to that of a note left at the scene, etc. Make it fun, test skills students have learned during the year, and have fun!
    Paula Young

  3. Sandra L Kelly says:

    Have them do the teaching…I am having them prepare presentations on topics we didn’t cover yet (AP Chem students). Make a “How To” video for techniques that are needed in lab.

  4. Diana Skiles says:

    Create “Safety Training” videos for next year’s class.

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