By Zach Rondot and Grayson McKinney
Some blog posts come like flashes of inspiration - lightning fast. Others are slower, sometimes months in the making. When we started thinking about the end of this particular school year, we were knee-deep in Michigan snow. June was just a glimmer in our eyes. We jotted down the blog title, “Finish Out the Year with a BANG (not a fizzle) on our calendars, and thought to ourselves, “Wouldn’t it be great to share with readers some tips and tricks that we use to end the classroom year strong?” How dewy-eyed we were... How naive... How wet behind the ears... Okay, you get it. We didn’t see what was coming. Who could have?
So here we are, sixty-one days into quarantine, sixty-one days into emergency stay-at-home-learning with 4th- and 5th-graders. Have we been forced to eat our words? Has the world beaten us down enough over the last sixty-one days (who’s counting?) that we, Zach Rondot and Grayson McKinney, have to end our school year with a fizzle and not a bang? Well… that remains to be determined. Just writing this is making us feel all the emotions. The last day of school is always such an emotional and bittersweet day for all. So how can we make the end of this year not feel so anticlimactic? Well we’ve never done this before so, we don’t have all the answers but here are sixty-one ideas to end your year on a high note with your students (just kidding, we narrowed it down to our top five!)
1. Get the Popcorn (and Tissues) Ready
One thing I (Zach) have always done at the end of the year is edit together all the pictures and videos from the class into an end-of-year movie (well not all - that would be a looooong montage!) I put together highlights of the exciting things we have done from the year into one end of the year memory video. I think with all of the sad news coming in from around the world, it’s easy to forget how much awesomeness happened in every classroom before the closures and putting together a memory video can help students remember and reminisce on all the good times. It always helps to put some sappy music in the background. Hint: Friends Forever by Vitamin C, Best Day of my Life by American Authors (I use the Kidz Bop version), Count On Me by Bruno Mars, My Wish by Rascal Flatts, or I Will Remember You by Sara McLachlan are all guaranteed to get the waterworks going. To surprise your students with a video of well-wishes from family members or other staff, check out the sites VidDay.com or VidHug.com. These sites provide an easy way to gather short video messages from many people and put it together into an easily shareable format.
2. Keep USPS Alive
Do you get excited to hear your email notification go off 352 times a day? Yeah, me either. But you know that feeling when you get a handwritten letter in the mail? It’s magical! Snail mail has become a lost art but we plan to send our students each a handwritten note via the post office. Postcards work great too! If you live somewhere picturesque, you could find cards with beautiful pictures of your hometown or state. If you don’t, you could order postcards with pictures of places you’ve studied throughout the year. Teach Spanish? Order postcards from Cancun or Machu Picchu. Teach Michigan’s history? Sleeping bear dunes and the Mackinac Bridge! You get the idea… As an extra bonus credit gold star challenge, you could order customized postcards with pictures of your class from sites like Moo.com or VistaPrint. Bonus idea: Add the video you make into a QR Code and send that in the mail for students!
3. Spice Up Your Zoom Meetings
By now, everyone is aware of the Zoom fatigue that’s been setting in around the world from the overload of video conferencing sessions. Spice up your final weeks of class meetings by making them fun! The social-emotional well being of our students as we send them off to a summer unlike any other is of utmost importance. Ways to spice up your class meeting could involve something as simple as letting students share their favorite memories of the year. But they could also involve a little bit of planning ahead. My (Grayson) son’s librarian teacher recently held their regularly scheduled Zoom meeting for media class but made it a “Bring Your Pet or Favorite Stuffed Animal to Class Day”. This was something for him to look forward to and a way to get to know his classmates better despite the distance.
My other favorite thing to do in my own Zoom meetings is to play games as a class. Again, these can range in complexity from something as simple as playing Would You Rather? or I Spy, which is actually surprisingly fun because it makes kids pay close attention to the stuff in their classmates’ backgrounds, to more complex games that involve actual game materials. My favorite one of these has been the game Disney Codenames, which forces kids to work together to guess which 5 out of 25 characters are their team’s secret codenames. Another game that has worked really well over Zoom has been Imagine If... where students have to vote on what their peers would be given a few options. Imagine if Zach were an extreme sport… would he be Bungee Jumping, Hang Gliding, Roller Derby, or a Rodeo Clown? Kids vote on what they see their friend as and then Zach reveals that he would, in fact, be Roller Derby and his name would be “Hermione Danger”.
4. Goodbye, For Now…
We love using Flipgrid and Seesaw and can’t imagine this new way of doing school without them. Flipgrid is especially great for students to leave short video messages to their classmates. Another idea to wrap up the year in a feel-good way would be to have students record and post a virtual goodbye message to each other on Flipgrid or Seesaw. Throughout this time, I (Zach) have had a grid called “Check-In” This is just a way for students to post videos of their pets and share what they have been doing (without clogging our Seesaw Feed.) Other students comment back and it (almost) feels like they are talking to each other! The goodbye grid could be opened to an entire grade-level. Students have likely seen their peers from their own class via Zoom meetings by this point but probably haven’t seen their friends from other classes. This is like the virtual version of signing each other's yearbook in the last week of school!
Bonus: This would be good to keep open and active over the summer too. Kids won’t be headed off to summer camp and vacations like they normally would, so they could use the extra line of connectivity to their friends.
5. Keep the Creativity Flowing
I (Grayson) recently attended a virtual webinar on New Pedagogies for Deep Learning (NPDL) put on through our intermediate school district, and the biggest thing I took away from it was the importance of emphasizing creativity with our students. After all, as Sir Ken Robinson says, “Imagination is the source of all human achievement.” If we as a species were ever in need of some creative human achievement, it’s now. Try a creative STEM-based challenge to keep kids on their toes. I (Grayson) have been finding creative inspiration from the book, How to Be an Explorer of the World: A Portable Life Museum, written by Keri Smith (https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/303309/how-to-be-an-explorer-of-the-world-by-keri-smith/). Every page offers quotes about seeing the world through a different lens and poses challenges to the reader to try out the various creative exercises. For example, one of my students’ favorite “Explorations” has been to explore the previously undiscovered corners of their homes. Hidden panels, strange-looking pipes, unfinished basement stairs, and hooks under an awning all inspired kids to think and wonder about the purpose and function of things they might have ordinarily overlooked. Another simple activity we’ve tried was to “upcycle” found objects in the home to create a sculpture. While these activities aren’t anything so miraculous that they will inspire the discovery of a cure to Covid-19, they do help train kids to think differently and to see things with a creative eye. Perfect for developing the skills of observation and critical thinking that is required in science, social studies, and so many other areas of life. At-home learning can become quite tedious if you simply teach reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic day after day. So make sure you infuse some opportunities for thinking and creating, creatively!
So, as what’s likely to be the strangest school year yet comes to an end, we challenge you to not let the end-of-year excitement fizzle out, but to instead go out with a bang!
What have you tried that has made at-home learning fun? What are you planning for your own students? We’d love to hear your ideas or feedback on how these have gone. Connect with us and let us know.
About the Authors:
Grayson McKinney (@GMcKinney2) is a 5th-Grade Teacher in Michigan, an innovative educator who uses new pedagogies to deepen learning, enhance creativity, and create opportunities for students that would not be possible without taking a few risks.
Zach Rondot (@MrRondot) is a passionate 4th-Grade teacher in Michigan, a frequent blogger and conference presenter. Zach was recently named 2019 Elementary Teacher of the Year for Troy School District and Oakland County.
Zach and Grayson’s upcoming book, The Expert Effect, will expound upon a three-part system of how to get students to:
Learn from experts outside the classroom,
Become experts through project-based learning &
Teach like experts to an authentic audience.