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By: Jane Rhodes

As the school year ends for so many of us in the next few weeks, it is easy to be caught up in business of grading final assignments, attending end-of-year assemblies, finally cleaning out our classrooms (do we really need to keep all those paper towels tubes for projects next year?), and making our summer plans. But even as we are focusing our thoughts on the ending of this school year, it is important to take the time to plan for the new school year to come.

This is our time to consider what went well and what didn’t, a time to ask what strategies we wished we had used more often and to make our plans on how we can be sure that we incorporate them in the future. This is when we think about what our students’ weaknesses were and how we will address those weaknesses next year. This is the time to think what direction we would like to take our own professional development this summer.

This year I was pleased with the use of interactive notebooks. My students tell me that this was a good way for them to stay focused on content and that incorporating three-dimensional graphic organizers helped them to organize their thoughts. When we were reviewing content for the state test, notebooks were referred to often.

Next year, I want to require my students to include more written reflection about their learning. It was too easy this year to give in to the feeling of begin rushed and I didn’t take the time to have students do this. I feel that I missed the chance to help them to deepen their understanding and to make learning connections.

I still haven’t really had the chance to dig into the books I purchased at the National Science Teacher Association Conference in April, and I want to make sure I find time to that this summer. Discrepant events are such a great way to ignite student interest and the Brain-Powered Science books by Thomas O’Brien are going to be a great resource. Another idea I want to learn more about comes from a tech listserve I belong to that discussed the 20% Project. As I currently understand it, I would allow my students 20% of their class time to be focused on researching those science topics about which they are most passionate.

This idea intrigues me. I want to learn more about it and have already made my online book order for Drive by Daniel Pink, a book that looks at the forces that actually motivate people. I think I’ll be adding Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn, a book that examines how we motivate students and the unintended consequences of rewards and praise in the class room.

As I was already planning to require my students to participate in the Seimens We Can Change the World Challenge or the Dupont Challenge this next year, I think the 20% Project idea will dovetail nicely. Both of these contests allow students to determine the focus of their project. I love it when things come together!

So what went well for you? What wasn’t successful and why do you think that happened? Can you fix it or do you need to let it go? What’s caught your attention this year that you haven’t had the time to follow-up on yet? Are you going to work on deepening your content understanding this summer or is it going to be about sharpening your teaching strategies?

As we transition into summer, we need to remember that teaching is always a dynamic endeavor of balancing short-term needs against long-term goals. Even as we focus on the needs of our still here-and-now students, it is important to consider what we as teachers need to do to prepare for the students yet-to-come. So in these last few days, find the time to think about what you’ve done this year as you consider what you would like to accomplish next year.

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