End of the Year THRIVE-al (Not Survival) Guide


The end of the school year is a unique animal: extra time, review time, not enough time, etc. Here are some ideas and tools to help you thrive. (Public domain image via Pixabay.com)

As I write this, my kids have a little less than three weeks left of school yet. It’s the time of year when attention spans get shorter and countdowns start appearing on white boards in classrooms.

There’s this saying in education that I love AND despise (depending on the day):

Don’t count down the days. Make the days count.

On some days I’ll think, “At this time of year, the best thing for everyone is just to be done.”

And on other days, I’ll think, “I only have a couple weeks left to make an impact. Let’s put the pedal to the metal and end this year with a bang!”

Looking for some ideas on how to thrive at the end of the year instead of survive? Here are some ideas and tools that can help.

PLUS, let’s make a collection of thoughts, strategies, websites, apps and suggestions in the comments at the end of the post! What gets your students excited in these final days of the school year? What are you interested in trying? What has worked well for you? Please think about that as you read, and add it in a comment below!

The “time to kill” file

At this time of year, for me, I’ve always had students with extra time on their hands. They’ll get done with final projects earlier than others. They’ll finish their final exam in a fraction of the time I expected.

Instead of saying, “You’re done, so you can just be done,” I like to refer them to my “time to kill” file. These are my go-to sites and activities that will (hopefully) be interesting to them and at least somewhat academic in nature. (Plus, it sure beats turning them loose on cell phone games!)

In this post — “10 stimulating after-final-exam sites for students” — I list these choices for the “time to kill” file (click through to the post for a link and summary for each):

  • Free Rice
  • Duolingo
  • TED Talks
  • Smithsonian Institution’s Virtual Exhibitions
  • BBC Science: Human Body and Mind
  • NBC Learn’s Science of Sports
  • New York Times’s 1 in 8 Million project
  • Magic Tree House
  • The Blood Typing Game
  • Darfur is Dying

Here are some others to add to that list:

iCivics (iCivics.org) (Screenshot from iCivics.org)

iCivics (iCivics.org) (Screenshot from iCivics.org)

iCivics (www.icivics.org): With the U.S. presidential elections entering the home stretch, this site provides great resources for teachers and students to understand governmental practices and their civic duties. There are LOTS of interactive games. A favorite of mine is “Win the White House,” where you manage campaigning, fundraising, statistics and electoral college votes in a virtual presidential race. I played it myself the other night and an hour breezed by without my realizing it. iCivics is backed by U.S. Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor, is correlated to state standards and provides teacher files for incorporating it into lessons.

Build With Chrome (www.buildwithchrome.com) (Screenshot from buildwithchrome.com)

Build With Chrome (www.buildwithchrome.com) (Screenshot from buildwithchrome.com)

Build With Chrome (www.buildwithchrome.com): Legos are a focal point for many in the makerspace movement and have encouraged kids to imagine and create for decades. If you don’t have a set available for students, a digital version can serve as an adequate replacement. In Build With Chrome, students can build with different-shaped, different-colored blocks. They can share their creations with others. Plus, they can join the Build Academy, where they engage in challenges to become a Master Builder.

Geoguessr (geoguessr.com): Have you ever seen a movie or TV show where someone gets a black bag thrown over his/her head and is taken in an unmarked van to a secret place? Geoguessr is a little like that! Geoguessr uses Google Maps Street View, an immersive 3D experience taken by panoramic cameras from the road all over the world. It drops you in a random location and, based on clues from your surroundings, it’s your job to guess where you are. It’s a great use of using context clues, problem solving, geography and even teamwork. You can create your own Geoguessr games at geosettr.com.

The “end of year inspiration” file

For me, TED Talks deliver a quick, meaningful dose of inspiration. They’re these 15-minute-or-less keynote speeches by experts in different fields. The premise: the speaker gives the talk of his/her life about his/her life’s passion. Connect these talks (linked from the TED website) with class content, or just show them for the sheer sake of inspiration.

Why believe in others (Viktor Frankl): In a clip from 1972, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl talks about the human search for meaning. For students, as they slowly evolve into adults, they’re constantly searching for who they are and how they fit in the world. This video may really speak to them.

Kids, take charge (Kiran Bir Sethi): Riverside School in India’s focuses on what it calls life’s most valuable lesson: “I can.” In a school culture where many students assume a “do only what the teacher tells me to do” mentality, this can help liberate them to think for themselves.

Do schools kill creativity? (Ken Robinson): This is the most-watched TED Talk of all time. Ken Robinson advocates for a school system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity. It can create a fascinating discussion afterward on the education system and your own school.

Your body language shapes who you are (Amy Cuddy): The second-most-watched TED Talk of all time and one of my personal favorites. Amy Cuddy reveals secrets of how to get confidence even when we don’t feel confident. Plus, she discusses a traumatic time in her life and how she regained her confidence.

If those don’t resonate with you, here’s a playlist of the top 20 TED Talks of all time.

The “classroom atmosphere” file

If there’s seated work to be done — reading, reviewing, writing, etc. — too much quiet may be as distracting to some as too much noise. Adding the right kind of background noise can actually improve the classroom climate (and mitigate how distracting a dropped pencil, blown nose or other noise may become).

Depending on the kind of work, I’ve experimented with different stations on Pandora, including those focused on studying and concentration. I’ll use the Beats for Studying Radio station when I’m working by myself at home. Spotify, Apple Music and others could work as well.

For non-musical ambient noise, check out Noisli. It’s website and an extension for the Google Chrome browser. In either form, it has several white noise selections that will make the classroom less quiet but equally focused. Using white noise in the background has been known to improve memory and attention.

Noisli’s white noise options include:

  • Rain
  • Wind
  • Thunderstorm
  • Forest (with LOTS of birds)
  • Rustling leaves
  • Running water
  • Ocean waves
  • Crackling fire
  • Nighttime with crickets
  • Busy coffee shop (MY favorite!)
  • Train cars clacking on a track

Other files

4 survival tools for your end-of-the-year toolbelt: Various resources to help students and teachers thrive at the end of the year. A favorite from that list is Vicki Davis’s post, “Laugh and Love but don’t lament: Teach well until the last day”. 

Digitally-rich ideas for end-of-semester projects: These include whiteboard animations, shared embedded Google presentations, and screencast promotional videos.

End the school year with Epic Review Olympics: This post includes ideas, review games and templates you can use to create a fun, epic review experience with your students.

[reminder]What do you do to keep your students — and yourself! — focused and engaged until the last day? What strategies, tools and tips to you suggest?[/reminder]

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