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3 Tips for Teachers to Help Students Finish School Year Strong

Students who are already in summer mode may need help to focus on their studies.

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With only a month or two left until the end of the school year, high school students can get a little antsy. Increasing temperatures seem to trigger daydreams of summer vacations, and perhaps post-graduation plans, which means history lessons and calculus tests often drop a couple spots on students' priority lists.

Most teachers are aware of students losing focus in April and May, and don't want to see them sully their grades because of it. By following these tips from fellow educators, teachers may be able to help students focus and finish the school year strong.

1. Save the fun stuff for spring: Although not all teachers have much leverage with the topics they cover at the end of the year, teachers who can should opt for more engaging lessons in the spring, says Frank Noschese, a physics teacher at John Jay High School in Cross River, N.Y. By doing so, he says, "when the kids start to tune out, you can bring them back in."

"I tend to [teach] waves, light, sound, and music in the 4th quarter toward the end of the year," Noschese says, "Because those are really exciting for the kids and not as abstract as, say, static electricity and circuits."

[Read three tips for integrating technology in the classroom.]

2. Give students a choice: Each of Noschese's AP Physics students finishes the year by conducting an experiment, and he says students remain engaged in the assignment because they call the shots.

"They come up with a question that can be answered by experiments and data, and then they carry out the experiment, and they write the report, and they have a little science-share session."

In an Iowa English class, Shaelynn Farnsworth's students are reading and writing about The Scarlet Letter. Farnsworth and her students collaboratively decided that the students would also produce short videos about the book, but the students decided they would make each of their movies a different genre, such as musical, romantic comedy, or zombie, Farnsworth says.

"Giving students a choice as far as what they can do for projects … makes it more exciting and relevant and fun for them," notes Farnsworth, who teaches at BCLUW High School in Conrad.

[Read about the upcoming Best High Schools rankings.]

3. Enjoy the warmer weather: "Can your class be mobile?" Farnsworth suggests teachers ask themselves. "Students love going outside—they're motivated by it."

One way Farnsworth has given her students a break from the fluorescent lights is by conducting a writing marathon, she says. Students were assigned to visit various locations on the school's campus and write about memories they have from events in those spots.

Noschese's physics students get some sunshine through different outdoor lab activities, including one in which students stand on opposite sides of the football field to measure the speed of sound. Many of Noschese's students also measure factors such as g-force when they analyze (and ride) roller coasters on their spring field trip to a Six Flags amusement park.

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