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innovation-classroomWith only weeks of school left, it’s easy for students and teachers to check out. The weather is nice. The state exams are behind us and with them a certain sense of urgency.

This time of year can drive a teacher crazy. In many schools including my own in New York City, students have been cooped up all winter. With the arrival of warm weather, they’re practically vibrating in their seats with excitement to get outdoors. Many schools in New York City lack access to sufficient outdoor play space even in the warmer months, which can exacerbate the “spring fever”.

Even so, this time of year is in some ways my favorite. It’s when I feel most free to try new things. As much as I despise the business world jargon that has infected education (full of its own idiosyncratic words to begin with, i.e. differentiation), I do like the idea of teachers as entrepreneurs. The final weeks of school are a perfect setting for innovation. Ideally, if you try something out now and it works well, you can implement it from the start come September, with a few tweaks of course.

You might think that switching things up at the end of the year is a recipe for disaster. Students, especially young elementary aged kids, thrive within consistency and structure. Why disrupt that when kids are already struggling to attend to learning?

But innovation doesn’t mean you are removing the structure from your classroom. Rather you are replacing the current structure with a new one. At a time when kids might be finding the routines and procedures in place since September tedious, a change of pace can do them good. Furthermore, you can brainstorm changes within the context of their next grade level. A new structure might require more independence from students than the beginning of the school year as part of the preparation for the next year.

Is innovating overly ambitious at this hectic time of year when many teachers are just trying to survive? For me, I find it highly invigorating! The students aren’t the only ones who can get bored by the same system after eight months in the classroom. Mixing it up in one or two key ways keeps me excited through the final weeks of the year.

Of course, the great thing about education is that there are very few “new” ideas. Most great ideas have already been tried and tested by successful educators before us. So, if you’re looking to try something new to give you and your students a fresh perspective for the final weeks, there are lots of resources to choose from.

In the past years, here are some of the structures and ideas I’ve experimented without along with resources to help with implementing them:

1. Project Based Learning (Resources: Edutopia, BIE, The Educator’s Room)
2. Literature Circles (Resources: Laura Candler, ReadWriteThink)
3. Whole class incentives (Resources: Teaching Channel, Oregon State Non-Food Incentives)
4. Social action projects (Resources: The World We Want Foundation, Teach Peace Now)
5. Arts integration (Resources: Teaching Channel, Pinterest, Edutopia)

If you’re already doing these things year-round, kudos to you! What is something that you have read or heard about that you’ve been wanting to try instead?

Maybe it’s flipped or blended learning? Maybe you want to take some field trips to destinations you haven’t considered before? Maybe it’s just a new approach to seating? Go ahead and share your thoughts in the comments!

Ruben Brosbe is a former elementary school teacher. He currently facilitates professional learning...

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