Summer learning doesn't have to be a drag--here's how educators are creating engaging and educational programs for their students

How 7 educators are accelerating summer learning


Summer learning doesn't have to be a drag--here's how educators are creating engaging and educational programs for their students

For 2nd grade, we will be practicing their math facts for addition and subtraction. I have printed out math problems for them to solve. The correct answers will be in baskets spread around the classroom. Teams of students will program their robot to move to the correct basket and then launch a ball into that basket. If they get the correct answer, it’s a point. If they launch the ball and it lands in the basket on the first try, it’s another point. Teams with the most points win a trip to the treasure box.

3rd graders will work on solving multiplication problems, using the robot in a similar way. Teams will first illustrate how they solved the problem, then program KIBO to move to the basket containing their answer. If they get the correct answer, it’s a point. If they launch the ball into the basket on the first try, it’s another point. Teams with the most points win a trip to the treasure box. Our 3rd-graders will also program their robot to do a victory dance after each correct answer.

Dr. Julie Wilkerson is a K–5 STEM educator for Gwinnett County (GA) Public Schools. She earned her Doctorate degrees in STEM Education and Instructional Leadership from Nova Southeastern University, Florida. She has taught for 33 years at all levels of K-12 education, both public and private schools. She can be reached at Julie.Wilkerson@gcpsk12.org.

Experiential Learning (and Puzzles!) in Math

Research has proven what educators, parents, and experts know about summer learning loss: that there is an observable decline in students’ math and reading skills. According to recent research, students lose mathematics and reading knowledge over the summer, and their math achievement takes a sharper decline than their reading during summer vacation. And as the Brookings Institute has shown, as students matriculate through different grade levels, the extent of learning loss during summer becomes larger.

To support our students in math, the Los Nietos School District has partnered with the MIND Research Institute to provide students with four weeks of math experiential learning opportunities. This year, students will have the opportunity to continue practicing their math skills with ST Math as well as attend the Summer Learning Program Math Experience.

To make sure that they’re engaged in continuing their math learning process over the summer, students attending the Summer Learning Program Math Experience will participate in one hour of math experiences every day. They will participate in puzzle talks, number games, and math writing prompts, and will complete real-life design thinking projects using math. Our goal is to have students see math as a daily tool rather than an abstract school subject. 

Dr. William W. Gideon, Jr., is the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction for the Los Nietos School District. He can be reached at william_gideon@lnsd.net.

Face-to-Face Phonics

Eufaula City Schools is thrilled to offer summer programs to our students. We offer two variations of summer learning for students. Our first program, Summer Start, is designed for students who have been retained. This program focuses on critical standards that students have missed and allows them to show mastery of these missed standards to be promoted to the next grade level. Our second program, Summer Scholars, is designed for students who are below grade level in reading and/or math. These students receive instruction on missing skills to close the gaps and provide a solid foundation for them in the next academic year.

Reading Horizons is an integral part of our summer success. Each student in both programs receives 45 minutes of instruction each day. Our teachers follow an amended pacing guide that focuses on developmentally appropriate skills for each grade level to ensure that students receive explicit, face-to-face instruction in phonics and phonemic awareness. We supplement our summer reading instruction with science-based Reading Horizons Discovery for grades K-3 and Reading Horizons Elevate for grades 4 and above. We are excited to see the progress our students make!

Holly Mitchell is the director of curriculum and instruction at Eufaula City School District, Alabama. She can be reached at holly.mitchell@ecsk12.org.

Reading Time Is Non-Negotiable

Our summer program, HOST, delivers significant impact for students because we stick to what works and make adjustments as needed. We have a solid template that we use from year to year, augmenting and differentiating based on what our stakeholders need each summer. Our summer programs run from 7 am until 6 pm hosted across 31 different sites this year, servicing approximately 5,000 students. 

At our sites, students participate in a range of activities, from STEAM projects led by a dedicated team of STEAM educators to recreational physical education time. As with our before and after school programming, we incorporate material from their school year curriculum, but try to disguise the learning in some fun. Students may code with EV3 Robots, build with Legos and create musical instruments from perishable and non-perishable household items. An instructor may use some polydots with letters and numbers on the floor and have students solve math problems and spell words by jumping from one to another.

One non-negotiable across all our sites is myON reading time. We distribute laptops to all the sites and encourage every instructor, assistant instructor, and aide in the program to have students spend 30–50 minutes every day reading using myON, a vast library of standards-aligned reading material. Literacy is absolutely critical, and it’s very important for us that as students transition from the regular year into summer school and back again, we maintain that focus on literacy.

Michael McManus is the supervisor of Hillsborough Out of School Time Programs (HOST), a program that serves elementary and middle school students Hillsborough County Public Schools, Tampa, Florida. He has served as a teacher, assistant principal, senior analyst in information technology. He can be reached at michael.mcmanus@hcps.net.

Holding Space for Educators to Gather

All school systems are feeling the pressure to make this summer count; Ulster BOCES is no exception. As an educational service agency, we provide remedial summer school programs on behalf of the eight component school districts serving the 22,000 students in the county. However, because of our unique structure, we are able to more easily scale our programs to meet the increased demand, which allows us to offer additional instruction in the core academic subjects to high school and middle school-aged students, in smaller group settings, giving students more personalized instructional time. 

But we believe that real student learning can only happen if educators themselves are engaged in continuous learning, so this summer we are holding space for our educators to gather together and engage in meaningful, project-based learning of the kind we want our students to experience, as well. We asked our teachers what they wanted and needed from leadership, and they overwhelmingly requested the chance to exercise their creativity and imaginations again, something that felt impossible during COVID. And so, we are going to be thinking about what has worked and what has not over the last two years, and really give them the opportunity to design, build, and iterate on policies and programs that they feel will better serve our organizational mission as we move out of the pandemic haze.

Charles V. Khoury, Ed.D., is the district superintendent and chief executive officer of Ulster BOCES.

Promoting Literacy Among the Youngest Learners

Petersburg City Public Schools has been using Waterford Reading Academy during the 2021-2022 school year with preK-2 to address learning loss. We have seen improvements on our state’s Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening from the beginning of the school year to the middle of the school year.

Our goal is to continue to use Waterford Upstart Summer Learning Path for students entering kindergarten through 3rd grade this fall to ensure that students are receiving strategic interventions as part of our multi-tiered system of support.

Maria Pitre-Martin, Ph.D., is the outgoing superintendent of Petersburg City Public Schools in Virginia. She is assuming the role of director of board operations and policy for the North Carolina State Board of Education. She can be reached via LinkedIn.

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