Ideas for the last day of class

Well, here it is again. The last day of class. I think the last day is almost as important as the first day of class.

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This is the opportunity to reflect on the goals of the course and how those goals were achieved. I like to use the session to help students:

  • See how far they’ve come: for example, reading the experimental literature in a critical way.
  • Examine emergent themes and bottom-line messages
  • Encourage them to continue reading/learning on their own/clarify their preparedness for advanced work

Here are some ideas I have tried in my various courses. Here at Vassar, the 100-level are introductory courses, 200-level are intermediate-level courses and 300-level are the junior/senior advanced courses.

100-level Biology (Bio 105): “Making connections to biology concepts from the scientific literature.”

Have students choose a slip of paper with the title of a reading from the semester.

They re-read the reading and identify the main biological concept addressed by the reading.

In addition, they think about how that reading connects to two additional readings from the term.

In class, I draw the titles in circles on the board, have each student come up, state the concept and draw the two links, stating how they are connected.

200-level NEUR or Bio:

° A similar idea. Have them re-read a paper and come prepared to make two connections that illustrate an emerging theme or principle.

Then, list and discuss the different emergent themes we come up with.


° Another idea that I used in a team-taught NEUR201:

A summary slide show…a selection of slides from class and lab that illustrate major themes and concepts we covered throughout the semester. Kind of a “Greatest Hits” slide show of major concepts, particularly impactful readings, students at work.


300-level final discussion questions:

  1. What effects did the course have on you? What skills? What knowledge? How did you change?
  2. What will you remember 10 years from now? (and I relate that to themes we covered in class) How permanent is the change?
  3. How can you maintain these changes: enroll in science daily, read a paper a week, stay connected in classes-go deep.
  4. How does what we learned inform us about education, learning in general


300-level seminar last day idea 2

Ask students to choose their favorite reading from among the three topics of the course. Ask them to be prepared by re-reading their favorite paper and tell why it’s their favorite and be able to connect it to at least two of the three topics.


Then, on the board in class, draw the three topics from the semester in circles. Ask students to come up, write their favorite reading (author, year) in the topic area and have them draw the two connections and tell why they chose that paper.


When time-limited,

I have spent a few minutes reflecting on the curricular goals we set out to accomplish. I also review the emergent themes and big picture ideas- the take-aways I hope will stick with them for years after the course.


One thought on “Ideas for the last day of class

  1. These are great ideas, Kate, and I hope other readers of your blog put them to use. Too many students — especially first-year students — think of their courses as ordeals to be endured and then forgotten. If we can get them to realize that they have actually increased their knowledge by taking our courses and that the knowledge they have acquired will be useful to them in the years ahead, that simple attitude adjustment might be as valuable to them as the knowledge they acquired.

    In courses that involve reading the literature, I think it’s useful to give students old papers to read after they have worked their way through some recent literature. Reading an old paper in which a Nobel laureate struggles unsuccessfully with a problem that has later been solved can give students both an appreciation of the knowledge and sophistication they have gained in your course and a feeling for science as an ongoing enterprise.

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