The Home Stretch

May 16, 2016


Geoff Krall

Geoff Krall

Teaching in Texas, there was always this weird interim period between the end of standardized exams and final exams around this time of year. Usually this time spanned for about three weeks or so, during which disengagement was rampant. On top of this calendar quirk was the general end-of-school jitters, a mix of euphoria and senioritis. The end of the year was in sight and work slowed to a crawl. “Why are we cooped up in here when it’s so beautiful outside?,” I’d often hear.

The students were also ready for school to end.

So what do we do in this weird interim time? What do we do when there are two weeks of school left, there’s minimal accountability, and everyone’s got one eye on the clock and the other on the calendar? Many teachers, rightly or wrongly, feel this time period isn’t very conducive to student learning. After all, the kids know their grade is largely set in stone (with only small fidgeting based on the final exam). They also know that the standardized test that they just took is as or more important than the final exam. Often this time consists of a hodge podge of review packets and make-up work.

I found this time – The Home Stretch – to be quite liberating. To me, this was the time of the year I could try out new things, give tasks that weren’t necessarily aligned with my content standards, and perhaps undo some of the damage I had been doing all year via my fledgling teaching practice. I also felt the freedom to teach stuff that I was interested in, untethered to my Algebra, or Geometry, or Algebra 2 standards. One year this meant doing a book study on certain chapters of Freakonomics. Another year, it meant having students solve a series of bedeviling puzzles to earn their “super spy badge.”

I’m not suggesting anything I did during this time was any good, and that’s kind of the point. Maybe more than any other part of the school year, this is where I could try stuff without worrying too much about accountability – for me or for the students. I didn’t feel like a series of review packet days did much to result in long term student learning, so I decided to just… try stuff.

And this is where I’d implore you to try stuff these last few weeks. Consider doing this: head over here and click on a grade level above your class and click through until you find a task that you find particularly compelling. And facilitate that.

Some other ideas for The Home Stretch:

  • Give a task that you think is “too hard” for your students, perhaps starting with a particular “Portfolio Problem
  • Head over to and find some good Level 3 questions and give those (in this case, I’d suggest you can sift through some grade levels below. Some of those Level 3 questions are challenging even years after the intended grade level.)
  • Do a number talk – yes, High School teachers & students: I’m looking at you here
  • Give a task that is richer, and more complex than anything you’ve given thus far, maybe a Low Floor/High Cieling task
  • Do Fawn’s Hotel Snap activity
  • Spend a day (or two) having student do logic puzzles or puzzles from the New York Times such as Set, or Battleships)
  • Have students do some free writing or metacognition on their learning from the past year

In other words, consider doing the stuff you like doing in math, but are always like “I would love to do that, but the standards!” Or stuff you wanted to do throughout the year (recall that first week of school where you were like “this is going to be the best math class ever”), but left it sitting on the backburner due to all the other urgent details of teaching.

If you need something with a little more explicit rigor (thanks, admin), consider just going with the first suggestion – a task that’s allegedly too hard – and align it with the CCSS Standards of Mathematical Practice and you’re good to go. The nice thing about that is that you’ll get those rich artifacts that I’m always yammering on about.

We’re in the Home Stretch now folks. Let’s finish strong and send kids into summer with some fun math, real math, while we’re at it.

This blog originally appeared on Emergent Math.