It’s the Friday before a holiday, and despite all your efforts, the students just don’t want to sit still and listen to your exciting lesson. Before I learned better, holiday seasons were the hardest times for me as a teacher. I had to exert extra energy and effort just to get students motivated enough to do any learning.
Because of the additional effort — and little return — it is no wonder that some teachers resort to showing movies and holding class parties the day before a long weekend or holiday. As much as we would like to succumb and relax like the students on the day before a holiday, the reality is that the incessant pressure to have our students achieve makes these sort of activities difficult to justify. This leaves us with the question, “How do I lower my frustration levels and at the same time keep students learning before the holidays?”
To answer this question, I believe that some creative planning can maintain the learning momentum by providing effective avenues for the students’ holiday energies and at the same time relieve the burden on teachers trying to force the students to learn. Certainly, under normal circumstances, nothing beats an effective and well thought out lesson plan for engaging students. But even the best lesson can be snowballed by the excitement of the upcoming holiday celebrations.
Embracing the activities of the holidays by weaving them into the themes and topics of study is one thing I have done that stretches the learning a bit longer. I am a fan of thematic instruction, and if you would indulge me, I will demonstrate how a theme can help students stay focused. Let’s take for example, snow. Below are some connections we can make with nearly every content area:
- The geometry of a snowflake
- The environmental conditions necessary to produce the ice crystal structures
- The weight of snow and how it affects the architecture and construction of houses and buildings
- The effect of snow accumulated in the winter on the community water levels year-round
- The physiological effect of cold snow on bare skin (hypothermia)
- The geographical locations that have the most snow and how they deal with it
- The insulating effect of snow in cold climates and the construction and use of igloos
- The volume of water as as compared to the volume of snow
- The customs, legends, and cultures of people that live in the snow
- The effect of winter and snow on the Revolutionary War and other wars
- Music, poetry, or literature that have been inspired by snow
You can probably think of more examples, but this gives you a starting point. Designing learning around a theme provides additional incentive for students to stay interested and engaged in learning. It also provides for cross-curricular learning opportunities and collaboration with our colleagues in joint learning activities.
Project-based learning is the ultimate student engagement tool. It has the capacity to wonderfully and miraculously shift the burden and responsibility of learning to the students. A well designed project can provide the incentive to students to be attentive and productive even on the day before a holiday. Given the same theme of snow, I can envision a creative social studies teacher designing a project in which groups of students will design systems to increase available water in developing countries.
In order to devise their solutions, the students would need to discover what areas of the world take advantage of snow run-off and then research the data in order to establish the relationship between snow pack and available water during the year.
Students could create a formula for predicting lean years and propose methods for warning the dependent communities. Their solutions could involve methods of retaining more snow run off, new community water use policies, or ways to reduce water loss due to evaporation. They can also design more efficient homes and buildings to catch and store water and snow for the lean summer months. Here are a few other project ideas:
- Create and then test mathematical predictions of various trajectories with snowballs launchers.
- Devise a way to create the largest snow crystals.
- Identify the effect that snowy weather has had on historical battles.
- Experiment with different types of snow to find out which is the fastest for skiing and tobogganing.
- Devise ways to predict and prevent avalanches.
- Design new forms of transportation on snow.
As with any project-based learning lesson, it’s important to carefully design the intellectual box in which the students will be learning. This box includes a specific time limit, available materials and resources, as well as clear expectations of the final project goals. In addition, it is essential to provide students with a well-crafted rubric that clearly illustrates what the differences are between a good project, an acceptable one, and a poor one. The other advantage of a good rubric is that it provides a teacher with an easy and fair way to grade the final projects. To grade a project or presentation, I only have to circle the corresponding rubric descriptions, and then add up the points.
Finally, the wise teacher will assign the presentations to be due on the day before a holiday. This effectively uses time that most likely would have been wasted, and it also encourages students to not extend their holidays by skipping out on the days before.
So, as you can see, projects designed to embrace holiday and seasonal themes — and timed to coincide with the holiday schedule — can relieve pressure on the teacher, enthuse students, and keep them learning and engaged up to the last moment.
Week at A Glance:
Monday, Dec 5th
Grade Level Spelling Bees (grades 3-8)
2nd Grade Sapp The Pines
Juli at DPI meeting
Carr at Huntersville Oaks
Tuesday, Dec 6th
Grade Level Spelling Bees (grades 3-8)
8:45 Love and Logic Parent Workshop®
4th Grade Performances-Carr and Garren
1st Grade James at The Laurels
Wednesday, Dec 7th
Tiffany Saborido Teacher Leader
K-7 Staff Meeting 9 Essential Skills Love and Logic®
HS Arts Night
Holiday Grab and Go Lunch Treat from Admin K-7
Thursday, Dec 8th
4th Grade Performances- Whitley and Posey
3rd Grade Westbrook/Sharp at Old Knox Commons
K Robinson at Huntersville Oaks
Friday, Dec 9th
Babysitting Night by Key Club
Dec 12th- Webb at Huntersville Oaks
Dec 14th – K7 Teacher Appreciation Grab and Go Luncheon
Dec 15th – Kindergarten Ginger Bread Houses
Dec 15ht – Holshouser at Huntersville Oaks
Dec 16th – 2nd Grade Art Gallery
Dec 16th – 3rd Grade Charlotte History Performance
Dec 16th – 5th Grade Barrier Island Performances
Dec 19th – Jan 2nd – Winter Break
Jan 3rd – Classes Resume
Jan 3rd – Parent Advisory at 7:30 at HS
Jan 4th – K7 Staff Meeting
Jan 5th – Final Spelling Bee (grades 3-8)
Jan 10th – K-7 Lottery Open House 9:15 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Jan 16th – MLK Day Holiday–NO School
Jan 19th – K-7 Lottery Open House 9:15 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Jan 25th – Fresh Take Day of Observation
Jan 26th – Teacher Workday; Fresh Take Parent Speaker
Jan 27th – Fresh Take Conference; No School for Students
Feb 1st – K-7 Staff Meeting 9 Essentials Love and Logic®
Feb 2nd – Groundhog Day
Feb 3rd – Elementary Spirit Friday
Please remember to keep all exterior doors locked and closed during the school day. Please check the doors before you leave the building as well. The front office door is locked at 4:00 p.m. The door should remained locked after that time.
We have noticed several carpet stains in the hallways. We will do a spot cleaning before the holiday break, but please help us in keeping our new carpet clean!
This showed up on Facebook last week and I thought is was fun to share! Let us know if you K-7 admin to come join you move! We have loved observing all the movement activities in your classrooms!
Walk into class and I know the teacher gets me
Thinking caps on and I know I’m learning quickly
Hey, hey, hey, hey
Ok, Ok, Let’s Get ready to learn
It’s going to be a good day (4x)
Learnings all we got
Hey- we’re smart
Hey- we’re smart
Everyone on your feet (4x)
Now do your dance, do your dance, do your dance, hey..
You your teacher’s pet
5 Simple Ways to Incorporate Movement into Every Lesson
It is so important to get students moving in the classroom! Movement increases student focus, energy, and motivation. Having an active and engaged class can make it much more fun for us teachers, too!
You can take any classic activity and put an active spin on it! Change a Think, Pair, Share activity to a Think, WALK, Pair, Share, where students walk to a new desk! Have students sitting at a table in groups? After several minutes, say “Rotate!” and have them move one seat to their right. A practice worksheet can become an activity involving movement, by getting students to find new partners to work with.
As you plan your lesson, look for natural breaks where students can get out of their seats. Really, any transition time would work for this. I use a Smart Board for almost all of my lessons. I add slides that say “Moving Time!” or “Brain Break!” I know if I don’t have these slides, I’ll get caught up in teaching and I won’t even think about the fact that students have been sitting for awhile. If you don’t use a projector, just add “Time to Move” into your plan for the lesson.
Don’t miss the little chances for students to get out of their seats! Instead of having them pass papers up to the front, have them get up to turn them in. Students can get their own supplies for activities, and put their own supplies away. I let students get out of their seats to sharpen pencils or throw things away, as long as they do so in a way that doesn’t disrupt class.
4. Task Cards, Scavenger Hunts, and Stations Activities!
There are so many awesome activities out there to keep our students active! Whether students are moving from desk to desk, or rotating every ten minutes to a new station, these are the easiest ways to get students out of their seats.
Assessments require the most focus, and yet that’s when we have the students sit silently for the longest period of time. If you have a short quiz, consider giving the students a blank sheet of paper and post the questions around the room. For a longer summative exam, like a 20-question test, you can make problem #10 read, “Stand Up and Stretch Silently”. You might want to include whether it does or does not count to save yourself from answering that question a million times.
If you’re nervous about the lack of control or the noise that goes along with getting kids moving, here are a few helpful hints to make things move smoothly (see what I did there?):
- Start out small – take it one task card activity at a time!
- Noise is okay – as long as students are completing the task at hand.
- Set guidelines and go over them often – discuss how to be a responsible, active participant in groups and during movement activities
- Practice with a timer – give students 60 seconds to get to a new spot and practice. Can you make it faster next time?
- Be consistent – if rotating around the room, always move in the same direction!
- Give students a reason to move – tell students this helps them focus! Encourage movement in other classes as well!