Middle School Kids and Summer -- What to Do, What to Do?!

Keeping middle school students engaged is difficult at the best of times, but it is especially trying during the summer. Take advantage of local “haunts” and those special interests to sneak in a little learning while the students are having fun.

At the Museum or the Mall

Even mall cruises pall after a few trips, so “kick it up” with a scavenger hunt. Remind students that they must be considerate of other visitors to the museum or shoppers in the mall, or you will disqualify their entries in the game. Discuss things like not running or shoving other people, keeping the volume to appropriate levels and skipping exhibits or stores with many other visitors and returning to them later. Offer a relevant prize, like a gift certificate for the museum gift shop or a gift card for stores in the mall.

Write a list of items students may find in the different areas of the site. Make the items themselves reasonably simple to find.

Create puzzle descriptions of the items, so that students must “solve” the clues to know what they need to find. For example, instead of listing the name of a painting in a museum, paraphrase it with synonyms or use hints about the artist or the artwork’s history.

For a museum hunt, students record the exact location of the artifact on their treasure lists. At the mall, you could ask them to take digital pictures that show where they found the item.

Game Time

Take advantage of students’ interest in computer gaming to “trick” them into reading and writing practice.

Provide a list of action-based novels that middle school students will find interesting. Among others, consider any of the Percy Jackson series, the Mysterious Benedict Society series and Touching Spirit Bear.

Group students by the titles they select. Ask them to design a video game based on the book. They should provide a complete storyboard and script for the entire game, along with objectives for winning and player instructions. Encourage them to follow the storyline closely, but then to add extra adventures, prequels and sequels in the game.

Storyboards should include all the artwork for the game. For those less artistically inclined groups, allow them to use clipart or even stick figures, but require them to make the designs thorough and visually appealing. Discuss concepts like use of blank space, not crowding the scene, perception and other design ideas with them before they begin.

Scripts should include the dialogue for the characters as the gamers progress through various scenes. To make the project even more challenging, encourage designers to have the characters respond to “answer” choices made by the players.

Consider collaborating with the technology instructors to turn the storyboards and scripts into actual games, if your school has the appropriate software available.

In the Field

Target field trips that allow students to conduct scientific experiments while exploring the site. Many water parks and zoos already have programs in place, especially those involved with sea animals, but you can apply your own themes to others, as well. For instance, take students to a mini-golf course and let them experiment with angles or with probability for different shots or holes. Go to the park and see which group can create the best bubble-maker -- the one that produces the largest bubbles, most clusters, etc. Even middle school students like making the bubbles, although they may not admit it. Adding the science “hook” allows them to have an excuse for doing what they want to anyway!

Hot Times in Hollywood

Hide out in a dark and cool movie theater by turning middle school students into movie reviewers. Ask them to critique a shared movie experience by writing a review of the movie itself, including the plot, the acting, film quality, special effects, etc. Encourage them to nominate aspects of the movie for awards -- positive or negative -- and to explain their reasons for the “honors.” Expand the activity by having them include a rating for the theater, as well, in the way a mystery shopper might report on the experience. Include things like the comfort and cleanliness of the facility, variety and quality of the snacks and anything else the students deem important to enjoying a day at the movies.

Expand the trip by asking students to write and film the prequel or sequel to the movie. After writing the script and staging directions, students may recruit friends to “star” in their film or create animated scenes instead. When all the films are finished, invite family members to a premier at which you set up a mock theater, with popcorn, sodas and candy for sale. Screen the student films for family night fun.

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