What To Do After The TESTING!The testing will soon be completed. The pressure relieved. The “aftermath” is about to ensue. Whoo Hoo! Summer vacay is in sight! No late night grading. No early morning rush out the door to get there early and set up for the day.
May also brings the rising of the sap and restlessness in students that may stir up all sorts of unwanted behaviors. You may hear colleagues discussing this in the teacher’s lunchroom. Some will admit that they just "write kids up -- the ones they know to be “ring leaders” of disruption. Some may gloat over their last day packets of worksheets to keep good worker kids busy and bad lazy kids home. And still others may plan to pull out Disney videos and games to keep their kids occupied. They used to warn me to don more serious warlike gear than my usual loosey goosey cooperative learning garb I'd been sporting all year.
Can you believe I listened to them? I did.
Oh, I thought about it at great length. I didn’t want to write kids up or catch them being bad. I didn’t want to waste their time with videos and games either. Did I want them to waste time on worksheets? I rationalized that the packet thing would be good review of what we covered that year. Maybe I could even throw in some pages to get a jump start on the next year! Ok, it was on. Me, my purple master copy books, and the “ditto machine.” (We’re talkn’ back in the day here.)
Well, I found out the only thing that students liked about the ditto sheets was the smell when they were fresh off the press. Quicker than the sheets could dry, the interest in completing them faded away. So there I was with grumpy, whiny, antsy students who were burned out on worksheets, written practice and testing. One student flatly refused pointing out, “If we already know this and took the test, why are we doing it again?” I knew I needed a plan B.
Plan B started out as a String Art Unit that incorporated all the concepts we had recently learned in geometry. Each year I created more units until I had enough to let students choose two or three to complete during the month of May. The idea was not to give up teaching math, but to extend and enrich understanding of selected major concepts through a project that required creative problem solving. I called them May Math Mini Units. They became totally engaging. Students skipping other classes would wander in from the video and packet classrooms and beg to be a part of our mini units. Students would enter my class in the fall and ask me if I was the teacher that did the mini units and what mini units would they get to do this year.
Why were they so successful? I think it had largely to do with the fact that they all incorporated five components that engage students with math.
Projects allow students to create a product and take away something tangible that they associate with the application of math. Don’t forget to keep some samples to display next year as examples of how math is used! Projects can also produce an event or a much needed improvement in the community or environment.
Design projects in which students have the chance to make choices based on their own preferences. Choose the color of string you want, choose your design, choose 2 dimensional or 3 dimensional. Choose whether to make a game or dictionary to demonstrate the geometry terms. Students are more likely to be engaged by a project or activity of their own choosing that fits their learning style.
Anything outside of the intense test practice they have been going through is bound to be fun. However, make your unit include the things you know your students like to do. Outdoors, food, games, teams, chances to win prizes, etc.
The projects you undertake here should be of relevance to your content as well as relevant to your students. Take into consideration the time of the year, what is happening in your school and community, and in the news. What are major concerns of your students? What do they like to do? With whom do they like to spend their time? What kind of music do they listen to? What do they watch on TV? How involved are they with technology?
If students are going to feel antsy and the weather makes them want to be outside, work it! Plan activities in your unit that involve physical activity and outdoor time, perhaps a culminating activity that involves some type of games outdoors or away from school.
Some ideas for Mini Units
You can get great ideas for mini units from the internet or teacher magazines. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when you are first getting started. Here are just a few topic ideas that I have used over the years.
Paper Flying Machines (AIMS is a good resources for this)
Toothpick Bridges (Books and internet ideas on this)
Math Games Tournaments
String Art 2 and 3 Dimensional
Community Service Projects
Summer Business Plan
Last Day Celebration and Feast
Create a Wacky Invention
If you like these ideas, watch for next week’s newsletter.
I’ll choose one or two and give detailed directions that you can use to make a mini unit happen for your class this year. Just think, you’ll be waving goodbye on that last day thinking, “Why didn’t I do this earlier?”