Surviving the Winter doldrums

Teachers find ways to keep kids' attention following Christmas break

Teachers find ways to keep kids' attention following Christmas break

January 14, 2003|by Chris Copley

A white Christmas. New toys, games and clothes. Holiday parties and visiting with relatives.

December is full of anticipation, excitement and special events - even a 10-day break from school. But students returning to school in January face long winter months stretching bleakly into the future. Not to mention state assessment tests and semester finals within the next few weeks.

Laura Roth, seventh-grade math teacher at Smithsburg Middle School, said the past month has made winter school days especially tough.

"There aren't any long breaks now and we've had five snow days already," she said. "We're constantly reviewing because we've missed classes. The kids are always paying attention to the weather: Are we going to be here tomorrow?"

Make it different

Veronique Walker, guidance counselor with Harpers Ferry Junior High School in Bolivar, W.Va., said many teachers make an effort to make school interesting. They vary their classroom presentations - "Anything but lecture," Walker said - and organize special projects and curriculum-related games.


April Crowel, who teaches Boonsboro's advanced placement English class, has students teach each other. With just a few weeks before the end of the first semester, students must prepare a lesson plan and present part of the classroom curriculum. Students learn so much more when they plan a lesson and teach it, Crowel said.

Kristin Taylor, ninth- and 10th-grade English teacher at Boonsboro High School, said boredom is a trap for teachers as well as students.

"In order to not fall into a rut, I try to vary activities through the lesson," she said. "Change the pace, keep momentum going, transition quickly from one thing to another."

She also has her kids approach English from different angles: making posters as one way to study language; acting out books by writing and presenting skits.

Boonsboro's freshman government teacher, Karri Ernst, said she uses kids' TV watching to her advantage.

"My kids like current events," Ernst said. "I have them watch the news on TV or read a bit of the newspaper and then write about it. That gets them reading and processing."

Make it fun

Beth Lycosky, eighth-grade math teacher at Smithsburg Middle School, has a couple favorite tricks for engaging students in math. One is called "basketball review."

"They work on math problems in groups," Lycosky said. "If their group is selected to give an answer to a problem and they get the answer right, they get to shoot a Nerf basketball from anywhere in the classroom. They shoot far away from the basket for 5 points or close up for 1 point."

She said her students get excited into this, especially boys, who sometimes have a hard time with math.

Basket-shooting works for Smithsburg's Roth, too. She breaks up her classwork with short periods of "trash ball" - throwing paper wads at the trash can - to keep her kids from zoning out.

She also lets students mimic her in front of the class. Her kids think this is a scream, but Roth uses it to see how she comes across as a teacher.

"The kids love it, but it's humiliating sometimes," she admitted. "But useful, too. They imitate my mannerisms and I say, 'Do I really do that?'"

Make it relevant

Lycosky takes pains to have students see that studying math is not just their school assignment but useful in life.

"I'm always trying to go back into how can you use this in real life," she said. "When we study decimals, we relate it to money, going shopping. Percentages are like sales discounts at the store. What's 40 percent of $105?

"Or tips. It's interesting to have a discussion of leaving tips with eighth-graders. They have no concept of tipping."

Lycosky said parents can help their children keep sharp. Ask kids to figure up the tip at a restaurant or keep a running tally at the grocery store.

"Anything to keep their brains going," she said.

Senioritis strikes

Seniors slide into the post-holiday blahs especially easily, according members of Crowel's AP English class at Boonsboro.

"It's hard to re-energize," said Claire Houseknecht.

"You're a senior," Stephanie McGee said. "You want to get it over with."

"We've already (qualified to graduate), so what's the point?" Allison Fries said.

Will Strahl said he keeps himself focused by reminding himself that, although he's qualified to take AP English, success is not guaranteed.

"I could still fail," he said. "So I force myself to study, do my homework."

David Byers said his college plans keep him focused.

"Colleges look at all our grades (even the last half of senior year)," he said. "This is the foundation of the rest of our life."

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