4 Creative, Simple End of Year Projects for Inquiry-Based Learning
A strong end of year project is a great way for students to demonstrate their learning and create something valuable. If you’ve been utilizing inquiry learning methods all year, or even if you’re new to inquiry-based learning, there is a lot of opportunity to design an end of year project with inquiry elements. Below are four different projects you can pitch to your students in the final weeks of the school year.
Structuring your end of year project
Launching the inquiry
Keeping true to the inquiry model, plan to launch the inquiry as a class. Foster curiosity by using videos, artifacts, compelling speeches, or other elements to activate background knowledge and spark interest. Using a provocation or invitation is another way to excite students and get them thinking about the final topic.
Explore the topic
Provide a few framing questions for students to consider, then present the culminating task. This can be a broad topic for students to explore, or it can focus around a problem or societal issue. Next, have students generate more specific questions about the topic, rooted in their own curiosities. For tips on what a good inquiry question should include, download this free checklist!
Extend the inquiry
As students branch out to explore their own questions, build in time for mini-lessons and teaching support. These sessions should be skills-based and taught in small groups. Some examples of mini-lessons include skimming and scanning techniques or using graphic organizers; they could also include how to reach out to the local community, how to prepare interview questions, or how to analyze information. Furthermore, mini-lessons can teach a variety of other skills to help students work through their inquiries.
Reflect on learning
Make sure to allocate time for students to reflect on their progress as the inquiry progresses. Provide a few 10-15 minute intervals each week to give students time to discuss their process with other students, ask for feedback, revisit their driving question, and collect their thoughts. Ensure that you are also checking in with students to support them as and when they need it.
Concluding the inquiry
By the end of the inquiry, students should have a good idea of how they want to demonstrate their learning. Perhaps they will create a public service announcement, write an article for the school paper (or local paper), devise a campaign, perform a skit or song, or organize an awareness event. Students need opportunities to effectively communicate their learning and take action to inform others or champion for a cause.
End of Year Project #1: Environmental Action
Start by browsing some nature and environment questions and choosing a few to share with students. Some questions that have worked well for my students in the past have been:
- How do we affect our environment?
- Why is it important to take care of the environment?
- Who “owns” the environment?
- How can we create a more sustainable future?
Once you have chosen a driving question, have students generate their own, more specific and interest-focused questions that they want to explore. We’ve posted some excellent tips and downloads to help students develop rich, high-quality questions to get them started.
Next, take students outside! This can be a short walk around the park, a longer hike through a local forest, or a class trip to interact with the environment in a more structured way. Students need opportunities to explore their local environment, and being in nature allows them to observe the natural world. A great way to record and reflect on these opportunities is through nature journaling. Nature journaling is an excellent way for students to record, sketch, and appreciate the wonders of the environment and has links to various school subjects.
Download a PDF copy of the web above by clicking here!
Be sure to pepper in some mini-lessons that explicitly teach skills like organizing and processing information, providing feedback, and engaging in meaningful reflection. These don’t need to be long lessons; 15 minutes per mini-lesson has often been enough for a group of 4-8 students at a time, enabling me to get through a class of 28 in just over 1 hour a few times per week.
Students are very creative in coming up with ways to present their information. Some end of year project ideas include:
- Designing an informative pamphlet, brochure, or poster
- Writing and performing a song or music video
- Creating a painting or piece of art that demonstrates an environmental issue
- Producing a letter or petition to enact social change
- Organizing a fundraising event to raise money for an environmental issue
Whatever students decide, try to think about the skills they will need in order to be successful. Consider the different ways students want to present their findings, and find common skills that can be taught as a small group. For example, if a student wants to create a poster about protecting the oceans, and another student wants to design an informative brochure, some common skills that both students will need to utilize are organizing (what ideas will be the most important, and how will they draw attention to them?) and visual placement (what pictures or photos will hook the reader and make them more interested?).
End of Year Project #2: Future Thinking
Getting students thinking about the future has always worked well in my classroom. In fact, I was recently involved in an international project focused on learning lessons from the pandemic using scenario-based learning. The steps of the project were as follows:
- Uncovering the “ground truth”: students interviewed members of their families and communities to get their perspectives on how COVID-19 has changed things for them
- Looking to the past: students explored how societies have historically responded to pandemics and global events
- Tuning in: students reflected on present disruptions, patterns, and problems that the pandemic has brought to our attention
- Creating future stories: students created narratives of a desirable future
Click here to see a blueprint of the entire project.
Imagining the future through narratives helps students understand the possibilities that exist. Narratives help provide the structure and parameters through which the future can be experienced and understood. Through this framework, students can observe the issues that have arisen. For example, many students noticed that supply chains should be more localized so that grocery stores and restaurants can continue operating.
Putting this into practise takes a bit more time than a typical end of year project, especially if you are using scenario-based learning. The general steps you want to follow include:
Identify the skills you want your students to practice:
Look at your students as a whole and determine what soft skills they could practice. For example, if your students tend to give up easily, perhaps they need to practice their resilience. If students have a difficult time communicating their ideas, building in opportunities to strengthen their communication skills might benefit them.
Tap into student interest:
Consider things that students want to pursue and discuss them as a class. Some discussions might touch on what organizations students are involved in, what global issues they like debating about, or if they have shown interest in issues of local concern. For example, if students are interested in climate change, consider developing a scenario that models how global leaders tackle climate change. Discuss things like carbon tax or the Paris Climate Accord. In addition, talk about how these solutions have worked or how they can be improved. Take into account current proposals and the barriers that might be in the way to creating sustainable change. You might even take the learning opportunity further by imagining that students run their own country on earth – how might they tackle the issue of climate change in their country?
Use the curriculum to provide structure:
Browse through the strands and consider how you can deliver an end of year project around a few specific objectives. For example, some standards that would work well include:
- Developing an understanding of the diversity within local, national, and global communities
- Understanding power dynamics and the complex relationships that exist globally
- Exploring issues related to personal and societal rights and responsibilities
- Investigating moral and ethical dilemmas, issues, and developments
Create the scenarios:
Think of the learning your students have done over the past few weeks or months. Identify the types of situations where students could apply their knowledge. Each scenario should take students down a few different pathways, depending on what actions they take. In addition, there should be enough room for them to explore different decisions and figure out which one is best for their circumstance. Identify and build scenarios where difficult and complex decisions have to be made. Consider situations that arise, or wrenches that might get thrown into the scenario; find opportunities for students to flex their decision-making muscles. A few examples can be found at the bottom of this article.
We have written a step-by-step guide for teaching effective questioning skills to help develop deep, meaningful inquiry questions in any classroom.
End of Year Project #3: Mindfulness Reflection
Mindfulness is a meditative technique where your mind is fully attentive of what’s happening and what you’re doing. You are present and aware of your surroundings. Many elements of mindfulness arise during inquiry-based learning, such as observation, acceptance, awareness, and process. Exploring these elements as part of a driving question helps students to better understand the impacts of mindfulness in their lives.
In this end of year project, students turn the focus inward. Some questions could be:
- How can I care for my body, mind, and soul?
- What impact does social media have on people’s health?
- How have I changed over time?
- In what ways can I make a positive difference in the lives of others?
- How do our choices affect our health?
Begin by exploring the concept of mindfulness. Talk about how students can be mindful in their own lives, and conduct some small, whole-class experiments about adopting mindful practices. Furthermore, have students participate in mindfulness tweaks; for example, meditating at the end of the school day, practicing gratitude before eating dinner, silently reflecting on their thoughts. Discuss how those tweaks affected their moods. Once students feel comfortable with the concept of mindfulness and the benefits it can bring, encourage them to choose a focus question to drive their inquiries.
Mini-lessons for a mindfulness inquiry include teaching students communication skills, and learning how to collect information with care and sensitivity. Teachers should strive to support these skills, and guide students to become aware of their surroundings. Once students have chosen their driving question(s), they can begin to collect and analyze information about how mindfulness impacts our lives, and ultimately make conclusions about this information.
There’s a lot of room for creativity with this end of year project. Students may choose to:
- Conduct interviews with their friends, create mindfulness schedules to improve the quality of life for their families
- Reach out to a community partner to design a wall mural to highlight the importance of mental health and mindfulness
- Design an informative pamphlet or poster to bring awareness to the topic of mindfulness
- Write a short skit or a poem about being mindful, or dive into deeper research about the scientific benefits of practicing mindfulness
- Present a TED-style talk about mental health issues faced by adolescents
- Host a mindfulness club at lunchtime or over Zoom during the summer where participants engage in exercises to bring calmness and awareness
End of Year Project #4: Social Justice Issues
The aim of social justice is to achieve a just and equitable society. An increasingly important task that educators have is helping students understand what a just and equitable society looks like, and how students can make that happen.Not only does this mean teaching students about the world itself, but it also means teaching students about the underlying issues that have persisted throughout the history of the world. These issues include slavery, inequality, discrimination, sexism, and other social justice issues.
Working to create change in the classroom begins with a teacher who is willing to get knee-deep in the tangles of these issues. By doing so, they work to create a classroom of learners who are respectful, inclusive, and confident to drive change.
Consider the following before diving into a social justice inquiry with students:
- Ensure that you are considering the diverse learning experiences of students. Showing students that you value what they already know is important for bringing social justice to the forefront.
- Make room for student voice and choice. This helps students become both actors and facilitators of change.
- Explicitly teach students how to spot the difference between fact and opinion, how to consider others’ points of view, and how to make decisions based on all the information available.
End of year project ideas
Social justice issues are strongly linked to inquiry learning. The emphasis in inquiry learning to explore and bring awareness to interest-specific topics is similar to the aims of social justice activists. Just as activists find a cause they are passionate about and advocate for it, students during inquiry learning operate in a similar way. Download these civics, freedom, and government questions to get students thinking about issues that are important to them. Consider these ideas to implement in the final weeks of the semester (or anytime, really!):
- Create a short documentary that highlights a problem or event in their neighbourhood (for example, poverty, homelessness, inequality, etc.) Furthermore, students can devise a community initiative that provides solutions to address the problem.
- Interview people who have made a difference in their community. This project requires students to ask questions, organize their research, and dig deep. In addition, students can collect photos and memorabilia, and ask other members of the community how they were impacted by the subject. Final projects can include a digital portfolio, or visual presentation that centres on their chosen subject. A guest lecturer could be an option too.
- Students create a digital diary about a recent trip they took (in their own city, country, or abroad) that shows the social injustices that they witnessed there. Including historical facts, present-day views, as well as their perspective can produce a thorough and enriching project that is both meaningful and empowering for the student.
- Create a gratitude board, where students recognize the efforts of people or organizations in their community and show gratitude for the work they do. Alternatively, students show a positive aspect of their neighbourhood that others may not know about yet. For example, a new community clean-up initiative, or the construction of shelters for homeless people.