The Problem: "I"m finished, Mrs. Fine. What do I do now, Mrs. Fine? I'm bored, Mrs. Fine. Can I dance? Can I dance, Mrs. Fine?"
I have always struggled with what to do with my early finishers. I try to give plenty of time for students to work in class, and they, of course, all work at their own pace. Some students tend to finish early all the time; other students never finish early. In past years, I have allowed students to read independently, work on assignments for other classes, and in certain instances, complete 24 piece puzzles, of which I have many. I have also allowed students to help others and even visit quietly.
I have never been happy with my strategies to deal with early finishers. I have read about people who offer extra practice problems or more difficult problems to challenge these students. I find in the middle school that many of my students are not actually motivated enough to do this "just because they can", and yet, I don't want to break my neck offering rewards for early finishers just to keep them working. I also know that I have a student computer and 9 iPads at my disposal that I could surely be utilizing with my early finishers. Still, I don't want to allow them to just play math games on the iPads because most of such games help with fact fluency, something that early finishers don't usually need or benefit from, and I worry some students would rush through their work just to be able to play games.
The Solution: A simple, meaningful task that students will *hopefully* enjoy.
So, I tried to research meaningful activities for early finishers. I read this article from The Cornerstone for Teachers.com, and I decided I wanted to develop individualized projects which students would find naturally engaging. I wanted activities that were both challenging, math-related, and yet interesting enough that students would want to complete the activities without needing to offer additional rewards (i.e. candy, free homework passes, etc.).
Then, I found an idea I liked from this presentation by the North Carolina Association for Middle Level Education. The idea presented was to allow students to plan their own vacation. I expanded upon that idea and developed an actual project with specific instructions for students to budget and plan their own dream vacation. I hope this will be just one of many meaningful activities I can offer students who finish early.
- can use the iPads and/or computer for research
- can research something interesting to them
- can use real-life mathematical and problem-solving skills
- can complete the task independently
I am really happy with how the idea turned out! Do you see any typos? Any suggestions to make this activity better? What other meaningful tasks might I give early finishers?
When students finish early, I still plan to allow students to read, work on missing assignments for other classes, correct old assignments, etc. I don't think these tasks are bad. I just want my students to have another option, an option that is more viable for students who finish early on a regular basis. I think longer term projects that students can work on when they have extra time throughout a semester are a better way for these regular early finishers to spend their extra time during my class. How do you handle students who finish early on a regular basis?
I have used this task in my class, and it was incredibly successful. Students who used it stayed super engaged, had to persevere through some challenging problem solving, and drew great conclusions about the pros and cons of distant travel versus more local travel. One student chose to go to Texas and had a phenomenal itinerary of fun things to do. Another student chose to go to Australia and only had enough money to backpack and sleep in a hostel with no money left to do any fun activities. They loved it and talked as if it was really happening. "Mrs. Fine, I am going to Australia but I will have to walk everywhere and can't do anything but maybe sit on the beach." "Mrs. Fine, I am going to New York City and seeing a Broadway musical." It was fun to see how excited they were!
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