Most schools are reaching the end of the year and have completed standardized testing. I see many teacher requests for movies to show in my Facebook feed. What if we ended the year with an open-ended project instead? It might be a culmination of your content themes for the year or it might just be tied to something authentic in the community. When students start getting antsy for summer, projects can motivate and finish the year strong. It’s a great time for students to demonstrate the SEL competencies that they have been developing all year. Here’s four examples from my classroom.
At the conclusion of a freshman World History integrated with English class, we created a fictional world, putting students in different teams to tackle global issues. It was inspired by John Hunter’s Ted Talk (one of my all time favorites). The Driving Question was “How would you rule the world?” Each team was given a land mass to create their own country and laws. They had different natural resources and economic opportunities. Students loved it, and were able to apply the concepts of fairness, environmental stewardship, negotiation, and problem-solving.
At my PBL high school, we had a hobby day the last week of the year. All of the teachers would bring in tools and materials and lead a session on something that they are passionate about. Students could then choose which ones they were interested in. Options included things such as making root beer, jewelry, woodturning, scrapbooking, and outdoor hikes in the woods.
I, of course, had students mix and form concrete to make tea light candleholders. It was so much fun making things with students and letting them into another side of who, we the teachers are.
River City Redesign
The Water Project was undoubtedly, my favorite project ever! We integrated all sophomore classes into one massive project to end the year. The focus was to redesign the riverfront in downtown Grand Rapids based on the proposed plan to return the river to its natural state by removing and lowering dams. The Driving Question was “How can we as architects redesign the Grand River waterfront to promote ecological and economic growth for our city?” Students applied chemistry as they studied water quality, geometry in creating a 3D scaled plan, and social studies as they surveyed the community and plotted the best ideas for environmental sustainability and economic growth. We studied how rivers have been revitalized all over the country and world.
During this project, students flexed their SEL skills. Leaders choose themselves and came up with new ideas and plans for the project. A marketing team was created by students excelling at public communications sharing the project with the community. Collaboration between teams was a challenge that students met by calling meetings and working out compromises and timelines. Students organized a compelling final showcase and successfully invited many community leaders. They problem-solved both the project and the problem at hand-making the city proud of its river-with creativity and passion.
Our school was a somewhat worn modular building that did not necessarily make students feel valued or important. We challenged all of our students to come up with a plan to improve our facilities. We asked them, “What will be my legacy at East Lee Campus?” Students brainstormed many ideas both inside and out. We found support from a local painter who donated labor, equipment, and some paint. A local bank who matched those funds and students were able to paint the outside of our building, remove a chainlink fence that made them feel like prisoners, and update the landscaping.
The tests are over. The pressure is off, and the possibilities are endless. How could you end the school year with meaningful work that students will remember for the rest of their lives? What opportunities disguised as problems are in your community? How can your students flex their SEL strengths to make a difference?
Interested in learning how you can develop SEL skills integrated in your classroom? Check out my virtual workshops this summer! I am also booking workshops with schools across the country on PBL and SEL.