Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Learning All Summer Long

“I’m booooooored!”  It’s the sound of the gains made by this year’s students slowly slipping away as they veg out in front of one kind of a screen or another.  Movies and video games will keep our kids entertained and…quiet, but there is no mental challenge to maintain the learning from the school year.  We all need a break, and summer vacation is the perfect time to enjoy some much-deserved relaxation.  A good goal for teachers as summer approaches is to help students and parents find intriguing, fun, and memorable ways to work out their brains all summer long.  Summer should be relaxing, fun, and engaging…not boring at all.

Summer learning does not have to depend on expensive summer schools or camps.  Growing up, I did a summer project at home every year.  It was a neat thing our family did each summer, and it took very little prep time from my parents.  Some years involved the study of different animals (zoo trips!), and another year was the circus (hey…it’s research).  One year we were traveling in California, and we stopped to check out the windmills to help us learn about alternate energy sources.  I decided to study classical composers once and family history another time.  I got to sew myself costumes and learn to play classical songs on the piano.  I also learned the important lesson that if you are going to try to make your long hair stick to your face to look like a beard, tape is a much better option than sticky tac.  (Trust me on that one!)

I looked forward to these self-directed projects because I could pick any topic I was interested in, I often got to do fun things in the name of “research,” and I got to be creative with how I presented my learning.  My final projects were videos, dioramas, posters, scrapbooks, travel logs, and more.  I loved being in charge of my own learning!  (And not stressing about turning it in for a grade was nice, too.)

This was authentic learning at its’ best, learning for the sake of learning.  I had the chance to discover the answers to things I was curious about in the world.  It is unfortunate that all of our students aren’t getting some kind of enrichment like this over the summer.  As teachers, we can be very influential by putting the seeds of ideas like this into parents’ minds.  Coming up with ideas can often be the hardest part of keeping kids engaged, so arming your kids and their parents with lots of ideas is very helpful.  Turning on the TV is easy…coming up with fun summer ideas should be easy, too.

How can we plant these ideas for parents?  Joann suggested introducing resources to parents through a newsletter you send home at the end of the school year.  If you are connected to your students and parents in other ways like a class website or wiki, email list, Facebook group, or class Twitter account, you will have the advantage of staying connected to your students and parents throughout the summer so you can continue to introduce project ideas and feedback.  Either way you distribute the information, you will be providing a useful toolbox for students and parents to plug that “brain drain” and help them make the summer a fun time for authentic exploration and learning.

Summer boredom buster lists can be found in just about every parenting magazine on newsstands right now.  There are also some valuable resources online that will help you find quality educational activities to present to your students.  You know the areas your students need to work on this summer.  Search the Gateway for activities and online games that will help make it fun. This year, Reading Rockets put together a nice list of ideas for parents and teachers.  You can check out their ideas here.  If your students like to use technology, you might want to check out this list from a professor at Iowa State University.  I found a fun tool called Google Lit Trips.  Even if a family can’t afford to travel this summer, they can use Google Lit Trips with Google Earth to take a virtual trip into the settings of the books they read.   Another fun, quick idea is Project NEED’s Great American Energy Scavenger Hunt, where students can send in pictures of energy that they find during the summer.

Kids like to undertake projects they choose themselves.  If they are given options and they can think of a topic that truly interests them, the learning will be fun.  If they want to build a fort, help them research the best tools and designs.  If they want to see Justin Bieber in concert, maybe they can study the history of young pop stars or they can study music and composition.   If you are taking a trip, kids can do all kinds of mileage calculations and they can be learning geography and history along the way. 

It doesn’t have to be complicated.  Sometimes the easiest thing to do is to allow students to research a topic and let them think of a fun, special way to present what they learned.  Music buffs might compose a song on the topic.  Kids who are into technology might want to find a web tool to make an interactive presentation of some kind.  A student studying a social issue may want to hold a bake sale to raise funds for a cause.  The possibilities are endless, and a child’s sense of accomplishment can be huge.

Hopefully my ramblings made sense and you were able to put together some ideas for your students and their parents.  As always, we would love to hear about what you are doing in your classroom and how you are busting summer boredom for your students and keeping their minds engaged.  On a final note, if you think some of these ideas would be too hard for your students, check out this report created by a super cute and sweet four-year-old who loves camels.  She researched the information with an adult, typed up her findings one slow keystroke at a time, searched for pictures in Google, and dragged all of her own clips into Windows Movie Maker.  I think it’s better than I could have done!

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