Today I am remembering fondly the three years that I helped facilitate our end of the year space camp activities in sixth grade science classes.When I taught middle school, I found that the time after state testing until the end of the year could be difficult to keep students excited and engaged since all the standards and content had been taught. We decided to design something new: hands on, engineering style activities to keep kids excited through the final days of school. I first shared this big idea when we were planning activities three years ago. Basically, we designed hands on activities for students to complete. Each teacher hosted an activity, and students rotated through the activities with each teacher. Students spent 3-4 days with each teacher before rotating to the next teacher and activity. We made changes in the following years to some of the activities as new teachers joined us or to replace less engaging ones.
We had so much success the first year that we continued to do our space camp style activities. Kids were engaged, having fun, and learning. And, we had lots of great excuses for being outside. In fact, I’m pretty sure some of the other content area teachers jealously watched us launching rockets while they were stuck inside trying to find something exciting to do with their students. It was a huge student hit, and many students still say that the bottle rocket activity was one of their favorites. (Don’t you just love this picture of everyone’s reaction post launch?)
If you’d like to try this with your students, there are so many engineering design challenges available online. The activities that we had the most fun with included bottle rockets, egg drop landers, and cardboard lunar rovers. You could definitely implement this on your own in your classroom; however, it’s even more fun if you can get your content area colleagues on board. We found that students are on their best behavior with “new” teachers, so discipline issues are lowered. It can take some creative scheduling to work out the rotation, especially if you have some teachers who teach more than one content area. (For instance, we had three sets of science classes each period in the first half of the day, and five sets of science classes each period n the afternoon.) It is definitely worth the time to plan with your team and work out your schedule. You will find the end of the year will be so much more fun for you and your students.
Although we did these space camp style activities with middle school students, the activities can definitely be adapted for elementary or high school students. In fact, many of the NASA guides have ideas for adapting to different grade levels.
I highly recommend you take photos and videos throughout the activities. I would assign students to help take photos in class and outside and videos of our rocket launches. This provided some really fun end of year photos and videos for my farewell movie.
So, are you ready to try something new with your students at the end of the year? I have made a zip file of the activities that we used that you can download. There are student handouts, student directions, lesson plans, and some other materials like videos and slideshows. I also recommend you do some internet digging of your own to find other activities you might want to consider. Have fun, and enjoy the end of the year! If you’re like me, I know it will be hard to say goodbye.