Student walking to school.Yoni Lerner (image modified). Creative Commons.
Learning Environment

Revisiting the Big Ideas at School Year’s End

A trip revisiting a yearlong educational journey ensures all the concepts and big ideas explored don’t become distant memories.

We start off the beginning of the school year with the excitement and anticipation of seeing learning come to life in our students. We question, coach, challenge, and cheer as ideas are explored and new conceptualizations are formed. Our students bring their own ideas, realizations, and reactions to all the planning and efforts that provide the framework for a year of learning. As the school year comes to a close, it’s important to revisit all those big ideas that paved the journey. Taking the time to revisit them allows students to make new connections or hit the refresh button on old ones and take the concepts far beyond the classroom walls.

Where to Start?

Each school year starts with a plan or design for covering the curricular concepts. There is purposeful progression in the learning process that should allow for students to scaffold and make connections between the content explored and big ideas. The framework for hitting all the key elements may look different between classrooms, schools, and districts, but all should share the commonality of allowing students to process, explore, and master what is studied. As teachers look for ways to tie it all together at year’s end, here are a few ideas for revisiting the big ideas and making lasting connections for students to carry with them into future grades and life experiences.

Essential Questions

Nothing captures the big ideas and allows for connectivity across multiple concepts like the use of essential questions. By their very nature, essential questions allow for revisiting throughout the entire school year and most definitely at its end. Wrap-up discussions centered around the questions allow students to see how their conceptualizations have progressed, the ability for responses to have cross-curricular implications, and ways in which the EQs apply to life beyond the classroom. The popular t-shirts and online memes stating things like, Another day has passed and I didn’t use algebra once, can be countered with the fact that we do problem solve, complete multi-step processes, and make deductions which are all skills that are honed in subjects like algebra/mathematics. A great culminating activity would be to assign student pairs or groups an essential question to answer via a filmed breaking news report. This just in, students in Mrs. Parker’s 6th grade classroom have determined… what good readers do, how different strategies can be helpful when solving problems, or how geography shapes politics.

Classroom CliffsNotes

Turn the concept of these popular booklets into a culminating activity for students. CliffsNotes Jr. is one of 22 closure activities shared by Edutopia that could be adapted for an end-of-the-year reflection. Having students create the CliffsNotes of 8th Grade Science, 3rd Grade Mathematics, Explorations of Art, etc. allows them to revisit all the big ideas as they compose an abridged course of study for the semester or year. Students could work individually or in groups to prepare an overview of the year for the upcoming class of students. Creating CliffsNotes helps students process information and determine the key concepts that were covered.

Board Games

Let students take a playful journey through the concepts and big ideas that were studied by creating a board game about them. A perfect opportunity to revisit the progression of ideas and make connections as a pathway for gameplay is devised. Depending on the subject being reviewed, players can progress based on chronological events, questions answered, tasks completed, etc. A wonderful way to review the year as games are constructed, and an enjoyable reflection of all that has been learned as they are played.

Dear Future Self

The viral sensation of the Canadian teacher that tracked down former students and mailed them letters penned twenty years prior lends itself to the concept of having students take an introspective journey as they look back on the school year. Filling their future selves in on the state of affairs at this school year’s end and sharing some standout memories both academic and personal makes for a perfect opportunity for self-reflection. Posing questions to their future selves about if and how information gleaned has been used and what big ideas are still being revisited and conceptualized can help students really think about the connectivity of all their learning goals and achievements. Depending on the grade level, delivering these letters to students upon graduation from elementary, middle, or high school may be more logistically achievable.

No matter how teachers choose to do so, the revisiting of big ideas is a must-do activity at the end of the school year. Much has happened since students entered the classroom on day one, and students and teachers can feel a sense of achievement when all the big ideas are brought together as the school year comes to a close. Making connections and reinforcing the conceptual framework of the school year will allow students to refresh their understandings and more readily apply and transfer the knowledge gained to upcoming situations. Let these end-of-the-year activities give students a final lasting impressions and sense of closure as another academic milestone is achieved.

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