A reflection on Exhibition

How do I even begin to sum up our first Exhibition adequately? It’s difficult to get all of my thoughts, reflections and emotions down in a coherent way. The past 7 weeks has been quite a trip for me. It’s not something that I can say I’ve ever experienced before. I was given advice at The Exhibition workshop I attended in February to soak it all in. To step back and just enjoy the Exhibition as it unfolded. I really tried to take that advice, but, you get so wrapped up in the mechanics of putting the Exhibition together to make it successful, that it’s really hard to do! I took lots of pictures, tried to blog weekly about my experiences with Ex (but that fell apart after week 3!) and tweeted a TON to document our first Exhibition. It’ll be nice to go back to the #pwex14 hashtag and revisit the Exhibition from the start, 7 weeks ago.

When I got married, I was given another tidbit of advice – similar to that, which I received at The Exhibition workshop. Your wedding day will be the longest, shortest day of your life – enjoy it as much as you can. I can say, with certainty, that the same could be said for Exhibition. It seems like it was so long ago that we began planning and preparing for Exhibition, and yet, it’s over already. In a flash. Like a blur. It’s over. That 7 weeks flew by like nothing. But I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I have learned SO much. As much, or maybe more, as the students did! My mind is absolutely, positively, over-the-brim full of new knowledge from this experience. I can only imagine what the students are feeling!

So what are my thoughts on Exhibition. Now that it’s over?

As a Coordinator –

It’s exhausting:

  • Emotionally: You are rooting for every student to be successful. You empathize with them on the tough days, when they just don’t think they can do it. You celebrate with them on the great days, when the lightbulb goes off or they discover something so fascinating that they vibrate with excitement when they tell you. You be their cheerleader on the lead-up days, when they get nervous about presenting to a large audience. You be their coach on the learning days, when they are trying to put all of the pieces (lines of inquiry, conceptual questions, academic honesty…) together. You be their biggest fan on Exhibition day, when they knock their presentation out of the park.
  • Physically: You are run off your feet. Sore, blistered feet were the norm for me. Sleep in the last couple of weeks has been at a minimum. My dreams were filled with all of the possible scenarios where things go wrong, or I’ve forgotten to address some key aspect of Exhibition. The actual evening and day of Exhibition is something else! Talk about feeling like you’re in a hundred different places at once!
  • Mentally: Exhibition is always on your mind. What can I do to spread the word to a bigger audience for the students? Who can we connect with for students to interview or visit? Do we have enough projectors? Where will we possibly put 57 groups of students in our already overcrowded school? Will we have enough mentors to support our groups? Do the mentors feel supported enough in their role?

It’s all-consuming: Like I said above. You constantly think about it. Sorting out students’ interests and grouping them accordingly. Days spent on mini-lessons in the class with the students to prepare them for the different aspects of the Exhibition process. Organizing mentors and keeping them informed throughout the process. Informing parents through information sessions and keeping them updated via emails and newsletters. Planning the actual exhibition evening (invitations, guest list, promotion, setup/layout). Mentoring groups yourself. Checking in with students at every opportunity you get. Troubleshooting problems with technology (both in the research and the presentation prep). Connecting with other schools who are also in the midst of Exhibition. Meeting with the teaching team to keep on schedule and ensure that they feel supported through it as well. If there’s one thing that I didn’t like about this part, it’s that I felt like the rest of the grades didn’t receive as much of my attention and support as they should have. It felt like all of my energy was focused on the 5’s and Exhibition. For 7 weeks, I felt very absent from the other grade teams. I hope to improve upon this next year.

It’s intense:  Enough said!

It’s a juggling act: Like I said, I felt like I let the ball drop a little on the juggling act in terms of splitting my time equally amongst all of the grades in the school. But in terms of Exhibition, there are so many aspects to juggle in a day – hence why it’s all-consuming and intense!

But It’s WORTH IT

To see the students grow into their own with their topics; they became confident, enthusiastic and energized about sharing their learning and inspiring others to take action, just as they did. When we started the unit, we encouraged the students to think creatively about how they could take action. The one stipulation that we put into place was that they couldn’t choose ‘fundraising’ as an action. All too often, it is the default way to make a difference. Sure, it works – but there are so many other ways to create change, or make a difference and we wanted to kids to experience that. It was really hard for some of them, to think past collecting money. But at the end of the unit, it was so neat to see them come to the realization that there is a multitude of ways to spread your message, create change and take action. The pride that our students showed was clearly evident at our parent/community showcase. They knew that everyone was there to hear what they had to say,  and not only that, they VALUED what they had to say.

It was so impressive to see these students step up the to plate and approach people, and encourage them to come to their presentation. Something that most of them had NEVER done before. Taking that risk to initiate conversation with people that they didn’t know was foreign to most of them, but they nailed it! One of the most common feedback comments on our Today’s Meet Back Channel chat from parents was that they were so impressed at how knowledgeable, prepared and approachable the groups were. They didn’t shy away from inviting adults to talk to them. And that’s the key — When it’s something that the students are passionate about and WANT to share with others, because it’s THEIRS and it’s IMPORTANT – all the shyness of presenting and speaking disappears; because they are confident in speaking to the topic and want to speak about it. They invested a lot of time and effort into learning about something that they CARE about and they are proud to show that off. It’s easy to talk about something that you love, or are passionate about. So often, when we do in class presentations, it’s on topics that are chosen by the teacher, or required by the curriculum. Of course the students aren’t going to knock it out of the park, because it’s not theirs. There isn’t the investment. A lot of it is most likely done with the assistance of an adult – be it the teacher, an assistant or a parent – there won’t be buy in or passion if someone else does it for you!

Of course, every group was different in their level of success. But, EVERY group achieved their own personal level of success – and I’m confident that we have prepared these students to move on to middle school and continue to push their success further.  Their experience with Exhibition has strengthened their skills, their attitudes, and their understanding about learning and creating. They see themselves as capable change makers, in whatever capacity that may be.

And that is worth it…every time!

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