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  • Elizabeth Barrett-Zahn

Activities and Investigations for the End of the School Year

We are at the time of year when we may need a boost of energy or inspiration to help finish the school year. Testing and school concerts are done, and summer plans are on the horizon, yet with precious time still left in the school year, we search for ways to engage our students in meaningful learning.

I for one always had difficulties with the conclusion of the term and would often find myself creating space for large-scale investigations and in-depth activities where the students would be in the driver’s seat. We might start culturally-inspired gardens, take observation/reflection walks, or even launch school-wide sharing events inviting the community. As the school year wound down, I’d be energized to fill every learning moment with big plans.

Several years ago, I worked with a fourth-grade class to design and create math/science games for younger students. The games incorporated science and math concepts, included instructions to play, were tested by the intended audience, and were even marketed for sale. The games, conceived and constructed by students, followed guidelines and student-created rubrics for including science concepts and math skills. As the end of the school year neared, we held a Game Day Event, where teams of students played and reviewed the games. Awards were bestowed for creativity, attention to detail, clarity of instructions, and plain old-fashioned fun. In these moments, I became a problem-solver with the students. My role was to have teams analyze their design challenges, figure out stumbling blocks, and attend to revisions of design and instruction. I didn’t answer questions; instead, I connected student teams struggling with similar design or game structure problems and facilitated classroom discussions about how to solve problems.

This issue of Science and Children offers some entry points for delving into classroom investigations that would be meaningful and may help create that student-led atmosphere of curiosity and wonder. Articles shared include socio-scientific issues, social-emotional learning, health-related inquiries, and virtual camp experiences. Using physics, sound, or engineering as a starting point, students can evaluate movement, explore pitch and volume, and learn to value community funds of knowledge when solving real-world issues.

Let’s finish up the year with some engaging, student-inspired investigations and activities that will empower students to continue learning during the summer months. We know learning doesn’t end at the school’s door, so let’s enable students to continue learning beyond the classroom. Helping to equip students with a mindset to ask questions, ponder, create, and be immersed in sensemaking will prepare them for their next grade level.

And here’s some summer writing homework for you. Consider submitting a manuscript to Science and Children for one of our upcoming themes. Please see Consider sharing your classroom wealth of knowledge and experiences with Science and Children readers.

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