After months and months of learning, it all comes down to this. The end of the semester project. How can your students encapsulate the most important parts of the semester to demonstrate learning?
At the end of the semester, it’s easy to slip into “review for the test” mode.
Projects let students take what they’ve learned, put it all together and show off a little of their own creativity and personality.
And maybe, just maybe, that project may spark a passion that may stick with them for the rest of their lives.
End-of-semester final projects are cumulative
These projects are, in many ways, summative assessments.
We aren’t checking for fact recall from the latest activity. These cumulative activities pull from lessons learned throughout the whole semester — or year.
Some ideas for making end-of-semester projects as effective as possible:
- Provide some thinking time. Let students probe their brains — and notes and other resources — for what stands out to them, what they remember. This is an assessment, after all. We want to see what stuck in their memories.
- Avoid lots of whole-class review. Re-teaching lots and lots of content from the semester will make many students turn their attention switches to “off”. If these are independent projects, let them do their own independent review.
- Give choice and personalization options. I’ve heard someone say that student projects where they all turn out exactly the same aren’t projects. They’re recipes. Giving students some choices in their projects — and letting their personalities shine through wherever possible — can be messy. But messy for you may be liberating for them. See this through the students’ eyes.
- Prioritization is key. These projects, believe it or not, are exercises in curation and brevity. Students can’t include everything from the semester in these projects. They’re choosing carefully. Help them find the right subset of what they’ve learned — or summarize and choose from their pool of learning wisely.
- Think about the audience. Who will get to see these projects? If the audience is larger than one person (the teacher), there’s a chance students’ motivation will be higher. Creating for an audience doesn’t mean sitting through an oral presentation by every student for three days. A digital gallery walk can be done in short order. Plus, not every student has to see every other student’s project.
- Think about a higher purpose. In his book Drive, Dan Pink says there are three main drivers of motivation, according to science. Purpose — doing something bigger than yourself — is one. As you and your students think about these projects, think about how they can be done to benefit others. Your students have developed knowledge and skills that can benefit others. Connect with an organization — or an underserved population in your community. Sometimes, it can be a simple shift, like creating the project with a specific group in mind.
10 end-of-semester final project ideas
So, how can we pull a semester’s worth of learning together in one project?
Here are some ideas to use — or to spark your own creative ideas!
1. Create a website.
Websites are easier to create than ever — and more attractive, too.
Websites are highly organizational tools. They help students pull information together in sub-pages with headings. By organizing information for their readers, they’re also organizing it and making sense of it for themselves.
2. Create a screencast video.
Screencast videos are an alternative to the traditional “talk in front of the class” presentations.
They’re efficient: students can create and view them independently.
They let students avoid the nerves of talking in front of the class and focus on presenting what they know and have learned.
(And if you want to go the “they have to get over their nerves and learn public speaking” route, that may be true, but also consider this. It’s likely NOT in your standards for kids to defeat their fears. And if their fears have an adverse effect on their grade despite being SOLID on their content knowledge, that may not be a fair way to assess.)
Screencast videos can take many forms:
Suggested tool: Screencastify (Google Chrome) and Screencast-O-Matic (web browser)
3. Make a single multimedia webpage.
Creating a website can be pretty comprehensive. If you want your students to summarize everything on a single, attractive, multimedia-rich page, then some of these single-page web design tools may be a great option.
You can add text, links, images, videos and more.
With many of these tools, they create fancy design features for you with no coding or web design experience necessary.
Suggested tool: Adobe Spark Page or Sway
4. Connect with a cause.
This plays back to the purpose tip at the top of this article. Can your student use the skills and information they’ve acquired to benefit others? It could be …
- People in your community
- Students at your school
- People in need around the world
- Those seeking information on the Internet
Some internet searching — or discussions with students and others — can reveal a cause. A video call with a representative of the cause or organization could shed new light for students and motivate them. You can use the Microsoft Educator Network database to find a free virtual guest speaker.
Doing something in service of others can get higher motivation and better results.
Resource: 10 tips for great class video calls
5. Create an infographic.
Infographics are very brain-friendly. They create a powerful verbal/visual mix that helps encode information in students’ long-term memory.
Plus, they can be fun to create! They can end up being these visually stimulating products of student learning … the kind that students want to share with others!
Pro tip: To keep students from spending inordinate amounts of time searching for the perfect icon, share a Google Drawings template for them to use where you’ve provided lots of icons. I’ve done this in these “icon boards” templates. Make something of your own — or copy one of mine and assign it to your students!
As mentioned earlier, end-of-semester final projects won’t include everything students have learned. Infographics force them to summarize, to be succinct, to curate and choose carefully.
6. Create a series of podcasts.
Podcasts are like on-demand radio shows you can download on your phone and listen to anywhere. The popularity and listenership of podcasts continues to grow. It’s an easy-to-access medium for information. You can consume podcasts while you exercise, garden, drive or commute.
Students can listen to podcasts. But they can also create them.
Many podcasts produce regular episodes on a schedule (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.). However, a special series of podcasts would be a great fit for an end-of-semester final project.
Students can plan the content. Divide it into episodes. Record episodes. Edit them to add sound effects and transition music. And, in some cases, produce the podcasts for the world to listen to.
Some tools (like Anchor) are made for broadcasting podcasts to the major platforms. Others (like Synth) are made for recording audio for classroom purposes — but can still be embedded in a class or student website. (Here’s an overview of how Synth works.)
7. Do a genius hour-style project
Genius hour — or 20 percent time — encourages students to spend 20 percent of their class time pursuing something they’re passionate about. Educators have given students free rein or asked them to find something within the confines of their content that they’re passionate about.
This is less a project type (what to make) and more a project topic (what to talk about).
Giving students choice within the confines of the class standards can give them some independence and help them see themselves in the content.
Ask yourself: How can I give my students some freedom of choice while still accomplishing our objectives?
Suggested tool: Any of the tools mentioned here (or others!)
8. Create an annotated collection.
Curation is defined as “the action or process of selecting, organizing, and looking after the items in a collection or exhibition.”
The Internet is ever-growing. Our problem isn’t a lack of information or access. It’s trying to choose carefully from more resources than we could ever consume.
In short: curation is a valuable tool for the future.
Instead of creating, students could curate. They can gather the best resources from the web that represent what they’ve learned.
And after gathering them, they can annotate — write short descriptions of why these are good resources, why they represent what they’ve learned, how what they’ve learned fits. Those annotations help add a layer of critical thinking.
9. Tell it as a story.
I really believe there is a story in anything. Our brains love stories. It’s how we passed information down through the generations in history.
Instead of relaying lots of facts, how can we put them into a story? Can we frame information through the story of someone who would use them? Can we tell the story of someone who went through what we just studied?
Storytelling techniques are powerful. Consider using vivid language. Pauses. Gestures. Quotes and dialogue.
Ask yourself: How can we use the powerful features of storytelling to make content compelling — or bring out the unique compelling parts of what we’re learning?
10. Make an explainer video.
Explainer videos are all over the Internet and YouTube. We love a good, short, clear explainer video.
Many of them include sketching and simple images.
Many of them aren’t more than a minute or two.
With some of the free explainer video tools out there, students can create short videos that demonstrate what they’ve learned. They can create voice-overs where they explain what’s being displayed on the screen.
If all the important topics are spread over all the students in class, your class can create a great set of explainer videos that every student can use to review at the end of the semester.