End of the Year Project: What Are YOU Curious About?

The last couple of months have been exhausting on a lot of levels as teachers and students shift to online learning. I would venture to guess that everyone is ready for a much-deserved summer break. Teachers looking for creative ways to end the school year may want to consider a “What are YOU curious about?” project. This is a fun way to close out the year with a student-driven investigation.

This project uses the 5Es instructional model–engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate–to guide students through a learning experience focused on a topic of their choice. The goal of this learning cycle is to give students the agency to decide what they want to learn about before the school year officially ends. Once they have decided on the question they would like to investigate, they self-pace through the parts of the project and use the slide deck below to document their learning. This project is designed to drive higher-order thinking, develop research skills, and encourage reflection.

I recorded the screencast below to walk teachers through the parts of this project.

Below is the project template. Feel free to make a copy of the template below and modify it for your students!


If you have a fun end-of-the-year project or activity you enjoy using with students, please take a moment to post a comment and share it!

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The Balance with Catlin Tucker: Featuring Rachelle Dene Poth

In this episode of The Balance, I chat with Rachelle Dene Poth. Rachelle is a Spanish and STEAM teacher, presenter, author, and lawyer! In 2019, Rachelle received the Making IT Happen Award and a Presidential Gold Award for volunteer service in education. She is a Buncee Ambassador, Edmodo Certified Trainer, Nearpod PioNear, Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, and Google Certified Educator. Rachelle is also the author of In Other Words: Quotes That Push Our Thinking, The Future Is Now: Looking Back to Move Ahead​, ​ Unconventional Ways to THRIVE in EDU​, and Chart A New Course: A Guide to Teaching Essential Skills for Tomorrow’s World​.

In this episode of The Balance, Rachelle and I talk about the importance of prioritizing relationships in education, thinking outside-of-the-box when it comes to lesson design, asking students for feedback to improve our practice, and continuing to learn, stretch and stay inspired!

If you are part of a professional learning community, the questions below are designed to facilitate a conversation–in person or online–about the issues discussed in this episode of The Balance. If you do not have a PLC at your school but you want to engage in an online conversation with other educators, check out my Facebook page!

1. How do you proactively build relationships with students? How do you make time to connect with your students so they feel supported in their learning?

2. How have you used technology in your class to spark student creativity and foster collaboration? Is there a particular technology-infused lesson that you have designed and facilitated that stands out as particularly powerful or effective?

3. As you experiment with new teaching strategies and technology tools, how are you gathering feedback from students? How often do you ask for feedback? How can you build a feedback loop into your practice to ensure that what you are doing is working for students?

4. Is reflection a regular part of your practice? If so, how do you capture your reflections on a particular lesson, strategy, or assignment? If not, what barriers prevent you from taking time to reflect on your work? What can you do to mitigate those barriers and carve out time to engage in reflection?

5. How do you make time to continue learning? Do you have a personal learning network (PLN) that you regularly connect with and learn from? If not, how might creating a powerful personal learning network serve to inspire you and keep you learning?

If you want to connect with Rachelle Dena Poth, you can find her on Twitter or LinkedIn. She also writes a blog and produces her own podcast.

Thank you to StudySync for producing and sponsoring this podcast! StudySync is committed to helping teachers find balance in their lives by providing them with a robust multimedia ELA platform that simplifies lesson planning, automatically differentiates tasks for learners at different skill levels and language proficiencies, and blends online and offline engagement to help students develop as thinkers, readers, writers, and speakers.

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The Building Blocks of an Online Lesson

Even though teaching online may feel like a different animal than teaching face-to-face, there are many similarities in terms of the building blocks of a lesson. The tools teachers use to engage students online are indeed different. It is also true that engaging students in learning activities online will require (at least initially) that teachers onboard students to those technology tools and support them in learning how to navigate online tasks. However, the activities and tasks teachers use to create their lessons offline can be transferred to the online environment if teachers know what tools to use.

Building Blocks of a Lesson

My suggestion when coaching teachers is to think about their online lessons through the lens of these building blocks.

  • Is there instruction or modeling students need to navigate a task or assignment? Would it be better to record a video and allow students to self-pace through the information or engage the group in a real-time video conferencing session?
  • Do students need to engage with texts or podcasts? Can teachers pair those resources with an online discussion prompt to encourage conversation and collaborative meaning-making?
  • Will you collect formative assessment data to assess prior knowledge or check for understanding?
  • Do you want students to reflect on their learning and stretch their metacognitive muscles?

All of these things are possible in an online course! It is just a matter of knowing what tools you can lean on to facilitate these different types of activities online. Below is a document that details each building block, the objective of that activity, and the technology tools teachers can use to engage students in that type of learning activity online.

Once teachers decide which building blocks they want to use to design their online lessons for the week, I encourage teachers to organize the tasks and resources in a single document. The incredible folks at the Nebraska Department of Education put together a template that I loved! I have included a modified version below for teachers who are looking for a structure to help them organize the building blocks of their online lessons. This template also encourages teachers to think about pairing online and offline options to give students a degree of choice. There may not be an “offline option” for every activity, but questioning whether or not students can complete a task offline is a habit worth cultivating in this time of distance learning.

As a parent, it is challenging to keep track of all of the individual assignments my two children receive each week on Google Classroom. It would be much easier to support them if I had a document like the one pictured above with all of the information, links, and resources for the week.

One of the biggest challenges that teachers face in this transition to online teaching is setting realistic expectations for their students. I caution teachers to embrace a “less is more” mentality to ensure that the volume of work they are assigning is manageable. Many tasks that we have done traditionally offline in the classroom take significantly longer online. We must set students up for success online and avoid overwhelming them with too much work.

If you have favorite tools or lesson planning strategies, please take a moment to post a comment and share them!

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