Thursday, May 31, 2012

End of Days - Where's the Learning?

My 11th grade daughter just finished her last day of school today.  Guess that actually makes her a senior now.  Yikes!  Anyway, she had exams the last two days, which she didn't have to take because of her grades, yet...she had to show up and be there or she would fail.  So, she sat for 4 hours each day doing not much. Not a great use of time, but that I sort of understand.  Sort of.  (Though, in schools I taught at, if you were exempted from an exam you did not have to actually show up...different state, different rules I guess).

What I really was concerned about was the last two weeks of school, particularly the last week.  My daughter watched more movies in that time than she has all year.  State tests were over, only thing left to do was kill time apparently. She was able to view the entire Star Wars saga in Astronomy (at least there was some far-fetched content relationship there).  But I find it hard to explain Finding Nemo in English. Math did continue to do work - review worksheets and problems for the upcoming exam which my daughter was not taking.  But - at least there was some actual content work going on.

I am not saying that these final weeks of school shouldn't be fun - I get it.  The year is ending, things are closing down. I was a teacher, so I know exactly what the end of school is like. But - it is possible to continue learning and doing content related things that are fun and relevant, versus resorting to watching movies. It worries me, especially when districts are 'adding time to the school year to increase student achievement'.  If that time results in things like watching movies or playing cards (yes...that happened too), then I am not seeing the increase in student achievement. Increased time for student achievement only works if it is being used for learning - not watching time-filler movies.

Some Ideas:
  • Instead of drill-and-kill review worksheets, how about the students identify the areas they want to review, then assign small groups specific areas to create a review summary and present it to the class? Gets them talking and working together.  Or - have each group create a review game from the key areas and then swap games.  I've done this in math classes and it was a hoot!

  • If you are going to watch a movie, pick a movie that is relevant to the content you teach, identify key concepts you want them to identify while watching the movie, and then have them write up a summary of how those key concepts played out in the movie. For me, I always showed "Donald Duck in Mathemagic Land" and then we would do math activities related to things in the movie (usually with Sketchpad) - so The Golden Ratio, or pool-table simulations, or fraction instruments. 
  • Use technology - i.e. a software tool you never got around to using with your students, creating a class video, using some type of social media tool (blog, wiki, Twitter, etc.).  Let the students explore or create a project using technology that ties together what they have learned.  In my math classes, students use to do an end of year Sketchpad project, where they created dynamic sketches showing the concepts they had learned (there were specific concepts focused on or maybe these were the concepts they wanted to review for the exam.  Often times it included student choice of 10-12 concepts.)
  • Playing cards - I admit - I did this with my students.  HOWEVER - we also collected data, used Fathom to determine the probability (and now you could use TinkerPlots as well by creating a sampler) and guessed the probability of winning certain games, of drawing specific hands, etc. It was fun, but we were doing mathematics.  
These are just a few ideas - be creative.  Don't forget, you have a captive audience in your students so use that time to learn and have fun - it is possible to do both.  End of days should not be wasted, mindless time-kill.

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