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Keeping Students Engaged This Summer

ByRalph BouquetNOVA EducationNOVA Education

Research from the

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National Summer Learning Association reveals that students lose about two months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer. In addition, a Johns Hopkins study attributes a large portion of the reading achievement gap in low-income students to the summer slide. Furthermore, about a quarter of teachers spend at least 1.5 months simply re-teaching material from the previous year. For many students, the summer is a period of time designated for little to no academic engagement, and teachers pay the price in the fall — a steep price that affects their ability to stick to the teaching timeline and be innovative with new content and resources they acquire during the summer.

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So how can science play a role in curbing summer slide?

Science provides a wealth of interdisciplinary learning opportunities because it requires both critical reading skills and mathematical proficiency. It can be a powerful tool to engage students through content that may not seem academic on the surface, but ultimately has very real connections to core scientific concepts and skills (as well as reading and math). Whether you’re a parent or you’re managing a summer program, there are creative ways to “sneak science” into summer.

Connect summer hobbies to relevant scientific concepts

Science is everywhere, and that includes the hobbies that students are working on during the summer. For example, summer is the season for athletic training camps and there are numerous ways for students to learn about sports science, a field with a wealth of free, online resources. A quick search on PBS Learning Media will reveal over 6,000 resources that parents and educators can use to illustrate the physics and biology central to sports performance.

In addition, there are entire projects that students participating in summer camps can work on to dig deeper into the science that makes sports possible.

Magic Johnson on STEM in Sports.

The same goes for the arts. Students practicing an instrument or working on improving their dance moves might be surprised at some of the powerful STEM implications in the arts they enjoy.

Encourage online STEM games and skill building activities

There’s a growing amount of research that suggests that games can have a powerful impact on improving attention, focus, and reaction time. When used as a teaching tool, games also provide the unique experience of forcing students to apply content and skills in an experience that is interdisciplinary and holistic. For example, the NOVA Labs website contains games and activities that foster scientific exploration through citizen science. With NOVA Labs, anyone can take part in real-world investigations by visualizing, analyzing, and sharing the same data that scientists use in their research.

Theatrical poster for the film 'The Fabulous World of Jules Verne,' 1961.

Through activities like NOVA Labs, students are placed in problem-based learning scenarios that require reading, math, and scientific reasoning skills while reinforcing core scientific competencies like conservation of energy or the process of protein synthesis. During the school year, many teachers may not find the time to implement online science games into their curriculum, but the summer is a great opportunity to explore these resources.

Explore the science of this summer’s blockbuster movies

The movie industry thrives in the summer as most major blockbuster films hit theaters between May and August. Science fiction has reigned as a dominant genre and comic book, post-apocalyptic, and alien world action films have swept audiences into a world of genetics, advanced robotics, space travel, and climate change. Though much of the science in these films is hand-wavy at best, they can do a great job at piquing curiosity for what’s actually happening in the real world of scientific research. Furthermore, there are some great online resources where scientists explore the science behind science fiction films. Popular Science magazine is often on the cutting edge of this topic and recently released an overview of some of the science in this summer’s upcoming sci-fi blockbusters .


If you’re a parent, encourage your children to explore the science featured in the film after they’ve watched. If you’re running a summer camp, prepare a lesson on the real science behind the film and have students work in groups to compare the representation of the science in the film to its current applications. This is also a great opportunity to reinforce science literacy by having students engage with articles about cutting-edge scientific research. Check out NOVA Next for some examples of articles and op-eds on the groundbreaking science issues.

Summer slide is a real problem, but by doing your part as a parent, caretaker, or a summer program director, you can turn the summer months into a fun, innovative learning experience.

Cover image by Кирилл Б.

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