Summertime is a crucial period of rest for students, but as educators we know minds should stay active to retain the year’s learning and ensure brains “stay in shape” till back to school season. So how do we balance giving our students time to recharge, while keeping them academically engaged?
The key is to provide students with assignments that give them complete control of their pursuits.
Traditionally students have been bombarded with summer reading lists, math packets, and history readings to prepare them for their upcoming school year — but really, what we want our students to be doing over the summer is relaxing while retaining skillsandnot necessarily learning new content for next year.
It’s easy for teachers using Kiddom to support student learning through meaningful, student-centered activities all summer long. Need some ideas to kick-start the summer? Check out the following activities that can be used in any content area this summer.
Students do a lot over the summer, whether it’s going away on vacation, endlessly playing video games, reading books independently, or hanging out nonstop with friends and family.
By assigning prompts to students weekly, monthly, or at their own leisure, journal assignments can help students document and reflect on their activities throughout the summer. Here are some sample prompts you can assign on a recurring basis using Kiddom:
Identify and explain something you learned today.
If your students were playing video games for eight hours everyday all summer, they learned a lot of new things. Video games use problem solving and inquiry to complete challenges, beat “bosses,” and win the game.
Ask your students to explain how they overcame challenges in their game and you’ll be surprised at how much of what you taught them or how much you will be teaching them, is used while playing video games!
2. How did you use something you learned last school year today?
3. How do you think what you did today might fit into what we are learning next year in class? Write a brief explanation.
This one works really well if you’re preparing them for a new course/subject.
Choose a Book
Keeping students engaged reading books is tough during the off-season. But there is a way to keep them interested and excited.
Instead of assigning them a book for the summer, why not let them choose a book on their own? There is no limit to what they can read: graphic novels, short stories, poetry, or a piece of literature. Have your students choose a book on their own and write a journal reflection about it. You can give them specific prompts, but leaving it up to them to reflect on their thoughts and challenges will help them remember why they love to read and also help them to reflect on their own perceptions and interpretations of the work they chose.
Assign simple journaling prompts at weekly or monthly intervals. Set them up in advance using Kiddom Planner.
Use Kiddom to set up check in dates throughout the summer for students to post their reflections. Students can submit as many times as they want, for as many books as they want.
If you want to go the extra mile, send comments to students throughout the summer — this is a great way to keep in touch with your students as they transition to the next school year. It’s also an effective way to get to know students you may have next year.
“Hack Your Summer Vacation” Project
Yes, “hacking your summer” sounds weird, but bear with us. This involves inquiry and problem solving. Have your students predict problems they might run into over the summer break. Then, encourage them to think about ways they might solve those problems. Perhaps they can even invent something that solves it! Students can submit their work to you throughout the summer to get feedback and encouragement from you.
Bonus: You could join in the fun and create your own invention and submit it back to your students for their viewing pleasure!
Here’s how to create your “Hack Your Summer” project in Kiddom:
1. Set up an assignment for each step of the scientific process or design process. Students can submit their progress to these assignments as they move along in the project.
You’ll notice the assignments in Timeline at left, and additional resources for this project stored in my Planner at right.
2. Set up a general assignment for students where they can submit their inventions to you throughout the summer.
3. Create a playlist of resources for students who might be struggling with ideas for a summer hack or invention.
At the end of the summer, you can share your class with their future teachers to showcase their work. It’s as easy as that!
Independent Research Topic
High school students are often the hardest to get engaged in meaningful summer work, so why not give them an option to investigate a topic that interests them in your content area?
We can use summer assignments to get them excited about the classes they’re set up to take in the upcoming school year. By setting up an open-ended research assignment in Kiddom, students can submit their thoughts, perspectives, articles, and analysis throughout the summer. This is a great way to keep students honing their critical thinking and inquiry skills all summer long. Even better: not only are students working on skill sets that will be necessary for next year, but you’ll gain a wealth of knowledge about your students and their interests throughout the summer! So if you’re spending some time planning curriculum for your new set of students over the summer using your Planner, you’ll also get to learn more about your students and their interests!
You got this
Keeping students engaged during the summer months is tough and rightfully so. We all need a break. But that doesn’t mean completely shutting off all summer is good either. Just as we make our own choices about how we learn in the summer, let’s let our students do the same.
Going on spring (or even summer) break doesn’t mean that students have to turn off their brains. One analysis in the Review of Educational Research found that students can lose as much as a month of learning during school breaks, and teachers know how difficult it can be to rebuild academic routines after time off.
Creating flexible, creative assignments for students to work on over a school vacation can help them imagine new worlds, stay connected to their classrooms, and stay mentally active. Here are some ways you can use Kiddom to facilitate these types of assignments, so your students can keep learning and you can take some well-deserved rest.
Send your Students on a Virtual Vacation
Google Arts and Culture allows the public to access high-resolution images of artworks, take a virtual walk through real museums around the world, or look at thematic collections of exhibits — all for free!
Choose a specific museum, work of art, or theme and send to you your students with open-ended questions for them to explore and reflect. Or, send them the link to the overall site and let them choose their own adventure! Find even more tips for incorporating art in our teacher-developed arts guidefocused on standards-based, interdisciplinary instruction.
Everything is bundled into one Kiddom assignment: (1) a teacher-created assessment via Google Drive and (2) a link to a Google Arts and Culture exhibit
Each student submits their work separately via the Google Drive attachment
Pause to Journal and Reflect
Break is a good time for students to dig into social emotional skills while they take a step back from a purely academic focus. Kiddom’s Google Drive integration allows you to send journaling prompts to your class, and Kiddom automatically makes a copy for each student to write their individual reflections. You can also have students reflect on their own progress towards mastery using the reports that they find in their Kiddom dashboards. You can even align these assignments to CASEL’s standards to track progress towards healthy social emotional development.
This folder, created automatically by Kiddom when sending an assignment, gives each student an individual copy of the journaling assignment to save you time
Send Content for Remediation or Exploration
Ahead of break, take a look at your mastery reports in Kiddom and pick one or two standards for students to work on. You can search for these topics or standards to find extension or remediation resources and assign directly to the students who need them.
Kiddom library of free curriculum and teaching resources
Each of these suggestions can be reworked to fit your class needs with Kiddom’s flexible assignment structure and student-centered communication tools. Comment on assignments as your students work, and keep consistency going so the re-adjustment is a little smoother on the Monday after break.
Trace a student’s journey to mastery with this new feature
Educators in our pilot schools and districts have been using Kiddom this school year to create self-paced curriculum and personalized assignments. Their work is shifting towards student-centered, authentic projects and away from teacher-driven assignments with only one right answer.
This shift provides options for demonstrating mastery in both the processes students use and the artifacts they create. To support our pilot schools’ desires to build student ownership, we’ve expanded the ways teachers can send assignments and students can send evidence of demonstrating mastery.
Now, each assignment created by a teacher can have multiple attachments from their computer, Google Drive, or Kiddom’s content library.
Students benefit too — they can send teachers more than one attachment per assignment, allowing them to do more complex and rigorous work in a streamlined way.
How do multiple attachments support teaching and learning?
Choice: Provide students with choice by sending multiple attachments as a set of options to choose from. An English teacher might attach multiple readings to choose at the same Lexile level.
Modality: Help every student gain an understanding of the learning material by attaching a video, an audio file, and a reading to meet their needs.
Process: Let students share several drafts of a project within a single assignment, or offer checklists and graphic organizers in the same assignment as the final project.
Students will now be able to:
Attach multiple attachments before submitting an assignment
Access and attach items from Google Drive
Make multiple submissions over time on a single assignment
Teachers will be able to:
Send multiple attachments from a single assignment
Attach more than one curriculum resource from Library
Send more than one Google Drive attachment
Attach any combination of files (PDFs, screenshots, images, etc.)
We’d like to thank our pilot school communities for helping us understand why allowing for multiple attachments is critical for classrooms focused on promoting student choice and voice. We’re excited to learn how you’ll use this new functionality in your quest to unlock potential for all students.
P.S. If this is your first time hearing about our pilot program for schools and districts, click here to learn more. We do have some availability for learning communities interested in implementation spring 2018.
It’s the time of year to help students pinpoint areas of interest and encourage them to explore those further.
As the year comes to a close, student motivation can start to slip. When the weather warms up, it’s okay to admit that some students may be counting down the days until their summer vacations start. Truthfully, you might be too! Teaching is a double-edged sword: it’s rewarding, yet emotionally and physically exhausting.
It can be tempting to become more passive as things wrap up, especially when many of us have been preparing students all year to demonstrate what they’ve learned on cumulative standardized tests or internal exams. However, when I was in the classroom, I took another approach to end the year strong. I used the last weeks of school to encourage students to reflect and dive deeper into a topic from earlier in the year, which sent students into summer feeling empowered by everything they were able accomplish. Students spent the last part of the year working on projects to highlight what they learned and share why it excited them.
An easy way to give students a level of ownership is by using Kiddom’s Planner for curriculum development. The playlist feature in Planner lets you break projects into manageable pieces for students to complete. First, students begin by choosing the format in which they want to showcase what they have learned. Based on student choice, teachers can assign them the most relevant project outline. By using individualized resources and feedback shared through Google Drive and Kiddom’s communication tools, students will be able to produce projects that reflect their own development and passions, and take critical reflection and analysis tools with them onto their next course or grade.
Use Kiddom’s Planner to build personalized playlists for students to explore topics of interest.
In my biology class, there was a broad unit that covered nutrition. I had one student who, in his words, was allergic to vegetables, saying they made his “taste buds sad.” As we approached the final project, he wanted to build a greenhouse to grow flowers for his mom. I took this opportunity to link multiple units together and tied the skills he was passionate about developing to nutrition by supplying him with lettuce and radishes to plant. I had never seen him so excited to learn and build! This student was chronically late throughout the year and yet, for this project, he was coming in after school and at lunch! When his plants began to grow, his eyes lit up. The moment we harvested his first radish, I didn’t even have to ask him if he was going to try it. He rinsed it off and popped it in his mouth; the look of disgust was priceless, and could only have been gained through this personal exploration. While he left for the summer still hating vegetables, he was ecstatic with the knowledge that he could build a structure and grow plants.
As a teacher, shifting ownership of learning to students through final projects gives me time to reflect and learn from my students. I was able to identify which lessons truly “stuck” and which may have missed the mark. Analyzing which topics students choose to focus their projects on helped identify strengths in my curriculum. What does this tell me about the units I have taught? Where do I need to focus more next year and what lessons were particularly effective? I used the students’ interests to help me reflect on lessons that they remembered, and which ones had faded by June. Kiddom’s standards reports, alongside the assignment based reports, lets teachers compare student interest to their mastery of those skills. Not only can we see what our students enjoyed learning but how that engagement affects their mastery of a standard. With these data points I can make notes for next year detailing the most effective lessons for bringing students to mastery. Setting aside time to learn from past experiences is an important part of teaching that can easily get lost in the shuffle.
Standards-based reports allow you to infer interest by performance on specific skills.
We focus on students leaving the school year with something they can take away but we also need to find time for teachers to synthesize what they have learned during each school year. Kiddom gives teachers time to analyze their own development at the end of the year, letting them go into summer ready to take what they have learned and build a stronger foundation for the coming year.
As a former New York City high school teacher, I know that parent-teacher conferences seldom provide parents with enough time to process what their children learned, what they’re interested in, and what needs improvement. These conferences are rarely original and are often a missed opportunity to truly connect with parents about something beyond the report card.
In contrast, my own parent-teacher conferences were student-centered — creating space for meaningful discussion about things other than grades. But if I’m being transparent, I have to confess I didn’t intentionally structure them that way. I credit technology — and superheroes.
Budgeting for superheroes was always a hit in my algebra class. I provided students with a superhero’s historical financials and challenged them to figure out a way to redirect more cash towards their characters’ “superhero needs.” That could mean more Iron Man suits for Tony Stark or a better sewing machine for Peter Parker. My students dominated the family conferences after the superhero unit, presenting their work to parents, aunts, uncles, older siblings, other teachers — literally anyone who would listen. “Mom, this is the project I want to show you,” said one student. “Look how I saved Iron Man thousands of dollars by just paying off his credit cards. Now he doesn’t pay interest, which means he’s not wasting money!”
In these conferences, we spoke little about grades and missing work because I had provided that information to my students in real-time throughout the semester, which meant conferences became a space to talk about what’s being learned rather than what’s missing.
Despite emerging digital communication tools that seek to bring parents and teachers closer, the structure of parent-teacher conferences largely remains the same: “Here’s how Susie did. Here’s our wall of work. That’s her worksheet with a sticker on it. Oh, and she really needs to stop throwing erasers at Laila.” Often, “what needs improvement” dominates the conversation; if parents must endure this in multiple classrooms with multiple teachers, it doesn’t provide the incentive to come back next time.
I most definitely didn’t plan a project to have something like the superhero project culminate before every parent-teacher conference — that would feel forced. If my students didn’t have a project to talk about, they reflected on their favorite topics in class or their increased sense of confidence grappling with mathematics. Grades were never the centerpiece of the conversation because I invested a lot of time and effort ensuring my students and their families could access their class progress and grades before conferences — in fact, anytime they wanted during the semester. Providing students with access to grades in real-time — and providing them with a means to improve their work — redefined the parent-teacher conference experience. Conferences became a wonderful opportunity for parents to see and hear their children in action.
On Kiddom, students can access to their achievement data at any time to track growth and progress.
I set a minimum expectation for myself to keeping my gradebook up-to-date on a daily basis. In my first year teaching math, I built and maintained a complex gradebook using Google Sheets. I inserted the sheet onto my class homepage and made it publicly accessible for students to track themselves. (Of course, I replaced names with ID numbers). It looked more like a financial model than a gradebook — and it was ugly — but its existence made students rush to the computer to monitor their progress. Sometimes students would leave comments in spreadsheet cells with their grades and tag me in it, “Thought I turned this in, can you print me another?” Grades not only became accessible, but my students no longer had to wait until progress reports to ask for additional work to get them on their way; instead, this became an ongoing practice. I had effectively created the conditions necessary for my students to self-advocate, which, as I would later learn, meant parent-teacher conferences would be less of a performance review.
As report card season for the school year gets underway, I encourage educators to do their due diligence. Do the research on tools that can minimize the information asymmetry between teachers and learners. I’m not keen on public data walls to achieve this, because I’ve witnessed students get demoralized after tracking their performance against peers in public spaces. And I wouldn’t build a gradebook from scratch again either. That’s too time-consuming to maintain and, at this point, there are plenty of free gradebooks out there that offer a simple student-facing portal to get you on your way.
At Kiddom, we recently redesigned the student experience to allow students to access and submit work, track their own progress, and solicit feedback from teachers all from one place. We intentionally redirected 100% of our engineering effort towards the new student platform because we believe education technology has typically ignored the student experience. That’s unfortunate, because students today move fast and are incredibly tech-savvy. And from what we’ve gathered, teachers are constantly looking to empower students to take control of their learning.
On Kiddom, students actively communicate with teachers to get the feedback they need to earn mastery.
My experience in classrooms has taught me that it’s possible for technology to transform parent-teacher conferences. But technology isn’t going to redefine parent-teacher conferences for you; it’s only an enabler. So before you set out to restructure your parent-teacher conference, be sure to set up the practices you’ll need for success. Empower students with their own achievement data, but be sure to keep them updated. Then, design a way for your students to access remediation and/or enrichment resources on their own. If you can do that, the possibilities of student ownership are endless.
“Imagine you will be teaching a class full of Sheldons from The Big Bang Theory.”
That is how teaching students with unique learning was introduced to me as I interviewed for my current teaching position at a boarding school designed to support these challenges. The majority of my students are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder or non-verbal learning disabilities. In my first days at this school, I realized that the TV comparison was about as accurate as it could get. Most of my students can read an entire textbook and have it memorized in half an hour, spouting facts like Sheldon can, but can also be stubborn just like him. That stubbornness especially appears when educational technology comes into the picture.
Because our students tend to have no problem accessing new information from textbooks or the internet, teaching content is not our primary focus as a school.
We try to focus more on teaching the skills students will need in their future, using content as the conduit to practice the skills.
There are a lot of educational technologies that can help students with academic and critical thinking skills, like online graphic organizers to help them learn how to organize their ideas before writing or even a student dashboard like Kiddom’s to help keep assignments and work organized all in one place. But here is where the Sheldon stubbornness can come into play. In their minds, they don’t need any technologies to help them, and nothing I offer them will work, simply because they don’t want to use it. I find myself having the following conversations over and over again:
“Here try this website, and you won’t have to worry about losing papers and missing assignments”
“I never lose my homework or forget about them, why would I need this?”
“I found this awesome program where you can highlight and look up words in a reading right on the same tab”
“I like having the reading, my notes and a dictionary separate, I’m not using that”
A teacher can tell their students that it is mandatory to use a site, or assign using an education tool for homework, and they may do it, but educational technologies are really only effective if students (like teachers) are bought in and truly willing to try it. Getting buy-in from students is where our energy is focused, and is the hardest part. I have a degree in special education with a concentration in assistive technology — I can come up with a list of different sites, apps or programs that can help a student with whatever they are struggling with ease. However, getting that student to follow through and use the tool in a way they will find it useful is where I struggle, especially when they will find any reason to argue it won’t work.
Sometimes, a whole class discussion so we can explain our views to each other so we are all on the same page will persuade them. Other times, though, no matter what I try seems to fail and I end up abandoning a technology that I originally thought would be perfect.
Sometimes, my own persistence and stubbornness is as effective as anything else (I guess I have some Sheldon in me, too). Recently, I refused to give in when I was confident that an online graphic organizer would work for my students as they learn how to write a lab report. They grumbled and groaned all marking period as I made them use it for each lab that we did, but when we had conferences, almost every single student admitted how helpful it was and asked if we could keep using it for the rest of the year.
I love teaching classes full of Sheldons. As frustrating as the inflexibility of my students can be, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I know that it is making me a better teacher as I creatively develop new ways to incorporate an educational technology tool into the plan for each individual student. The lesson I have learned so far is that if you really believe in the benefits of a particular tool for an individual or a class, consider putting your Sheldon hat on. Then, and this is important, when the semester or year is over, reflect on the effectiveness of that tool with the student (or class) rather than in isolation. You’ll learn a lot, and they will too.
Guest Writer: Sara Giroux
Science Teacher in Franklin, CT