Reflection of Exhibition Nights for PBL

Our middle school of 1100 students has tackled project based learning head on this year. It has been a radical shift for some. It has had both the amazing breakthroughs and the moments of frustrations as we try new things, push our comfort zones, and find what works best. After each grade level has completed two exhibition nights I took time to talk with those who wanted to about the process of exhibition night. I spoke with students and parents as well.

Below is a gathering of all ideas shared and expressed. I decided to post the ideas here for two reasons.

1. Perhaps these ideas can help other schools as they plan

2. Other schools and educators have ideas or suggestions to help us tackle some of the thoughts.

This a collected gathering of about 40+ voices. I think that whether you agree or disagree with the ideas shared they are all worth considering as we strive to improve and make things better. You will see ideas from all angles. None of these are right nor are they wrong. These are just perceptions and thoughts of many.

What I would like to do after sharing this is move into an action phase where we start to figure what we are going to do next year.

Please let me know what you think.

Overarching Issues To Think About

  • Students who are pulled out from classes sometimes don’t have projects or are not completely on the same page as other students. Their curriculum is more skills based. How do we help merge their levels of learning with the classroom subjects when there are times they don’t have the opportunity for all the interdisciplinary opportunities due to their schedule?
  • Communication – this is a far reaching concern that has always been around. I am working on some solutions to possibly help, but here are some areas of concern
    • Communicating with special education teachers in advance so they are aware of projects and expectations. I think this goes beyond special education teachers to all teachers not in the core subjects so that everyone involved understands the scope, sequencee, and expectations. Many people are being left out. I personally don’t believe it is intentional, but we will need to come up with ways to help bridge the miscommunication pockets.
  • Grade level vision – Can we get grade levels to have same vision and expectations?
    • Perhaps we start at department level
    • Bigger idea is that of equity to ensure that all students are gaining the necessary experiences to reach that deeper level of learning
  • Group Projects(in perspective of strictly projects for exhibition)
    • Do we need group work for the larger/exhibition project
    • Are we grouping properly? When we put one high level student with others who are not high level are we striving for deeper learning or equal learning?
    • Can projects have group components but solo end result?
  • Commitment to PBL Exhibition Night
    • Some teachers/staff spend a lot of time preparing, organizing, etc.
    • How do we strike a balance for all staff to play a role?
    • How do help all staff feel part of the PBL movement and not standing alone on the outside?
    • Clarification of job roles and duties i.e. team leader, teachers, students, etc.
    • Perception of some doing everything and some doing nothing.
  • Showcase project NOW
    • What if our projects don’t align with exhibition night?
      • make video of project in the moment that students could present during exhibition.
      • host our own smaller exhibitions
      • what is too many events for students, teachers, families

Structure of Exhibition Night

  • Format of not moving was well liked and perceived by parents and teachers
  • When we group by TA we must not forget about the TA’s that have BD and At Risk. How do we make sure that these rooms have audience, how do we make sure that there are shining moments, and making sure we don’t forget that these TA’s have possibly more work than others. How can we streamline this process so they don’t stand out, but can still be part of the night?
  • Many people liked the format of one room, no movement, and presenting for x amount of minutes. However, just because we liked it does not mean it is the right format.
    • helps elderly not having to walk
  • Placement of rooms and hallway displays
    • as we cannot please everyone when we bundle up a lot of hallway space by classrooms being used it can congest the halls
    • finding that happy balance of flow in the school
  • TA structure format was nice because we could see all students. As a teacher you are able to see your own TA students that you don’t always get to see in the classroom
  • Assessment for presentations to hold it accountable – Some houses grade and others don’t. We need to think equity. Either all grade or nobody grades. Must be equal in expectations
    • Can there be one presentation rubric that we all use?
    • Is grading even the goal of the night?
  • Splitting students in half
    • two sessions works so much better than all at once
    • some students have expressed that by house with smaller audience would be nice
    • 45 minutes standing at one station was too much
    • If interactive 45 minutes is fine
    • Repetition can be issue hearing same thing over and over
  • Monday night does not work
  • Our Exhibition Night should be most important event of that night.
    • Need to mark on calendar and stick to it.
  • Clean up Process after the night
    • how do we make this easier simpler and more effective
      • students to help
      • assign jobs and duties
      • ownership in the whole night by staff and students
  • Open space where it can be free flowing and open. Students able to see that work was good receive proper attention.
    • allows chance to mingle, but see all work
    • classrooms look full you don’t want to go it
    • don’t want to be stuck in one room all night
  • Formal vs. Informal
    • can we have one formal with presentations and one informal that is more laid back
    • adjust to time of year and busy schedule of everyone

Exhibition Night w/ Audience

  • How do we develop more discussion/conversation?
  • Ambience – how do we get more perspective/decoration in hallways
  • What exactly is the goal/expectation of exhibition night? There are various opinions about this night. Clear vision
  • Parents
    • Perhaps parents are not the audience we should be focusing on? Perhaps the audience should be community or experts in that specific field
    • Parents don’t care about others kids. We have worried about this since day one. Is this something to worry about or just accept? As an educator I care about all kids and how they do. As a parent, I only care about my own.
    • Still a divide between what parents know/understand vs. students and staff
    • Parents view the night as a social event/gathering where they have a chance to connect and not be running around all over
      • Do we embrace this mindset? Do we offer a social gathering at the beginning and then give them some quick reminders before we send them off?
      • Do they have to go through and get stamped before they get cookies and punch?
  • Consistency to make sure students, teachers, and building are on same page
  • Parent Confusion – Open House vs. Exhibition – can we work language
  • Have we done enough to help teach, prepare, and guide parents about PBL and what this night is about?(no)
  • Educate parents ahead of time
    • bring them on board
    • help them see the power of PBL
    • teach them, guide them, and don’t assume they know how to ask questions and interact
  • Use college students in the education department as part of their hours to be audience for exhibition
  • Weave in student body as audience? Give them time to see projects during day and then community at night?


  • How do we help students see the importance of exhibition night
    • Honors class students present all the time and exhibition night is not a big deal because they do it all the time. They are at a different level and this is just not as heavy of a load compared to others so they don’t view this night as important.
    • Low end kids to help find their voice and confidence to do well.
    • Raise kids in the middle to a higher level
  • Clear expectations for students
    • Must eliminate the tacking on as we go because it causes stress on kids
    • Clear agenda of where product will be placed, used, presented, etc.
  • Students – stressed with projects
    • some stress is good
    • find a balance so big projects not happening at once
      • work towards interdisciplinary projects
      • Instructional Coaches work with coordination(I have some ideas)
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One thought on “Reflection of Exhibition Nights for PBL

  1. Lots of hood things and some suggestions (mixed as come to me while adding this):

    1. Better to make projects part of classes as Ss know where they fit, Ts can assist w/ PBL skills through use in developing core knowledge. Assessed through reports, presentations, and demo session perfoormance using distributed / discussed rubrics (BIE).
    2. Assign groups randomly. Have them develop a contract first. Use self-assessment of all team members including self by each team member to adjust personal assessments from team. I like three in a group.
    3. Absolutely, encourage teams to reach out to community when selecting projects and when addressing projects. And for sure, invite community (implore?) to come to presentations / demonstrations.
    4. You should meet with community before projects begin to elicit their support and to help them learn their importance and their roles. Provide a list to teams of willing community options. Teams then formulate their idea from the driving question (not from list or from list as they develop idea(s).
    5. First team report is their project choice and their defense of it. Ts and you need to review proposals: not so simple that there’s not enough to enable a good grade OR too much that they can’t get it completed to get a good grade.
    6. Run a PBL session with Ts and willing community members well before starting to enable them to get experience AND to post-reflect on how it went, what their concerns were, and how it could go better.
    7. Run the presentations in the auditorium and the demonstrations in the gym. Have Ss, Ts, and community present provide feedback (required of Ss). Have small group of “willing outsiders” visit demonstrations and select 1-3 top projects for honor / prize.
    8. Engage media as much as possible for obvious reasons.
    9. The driving question is the key to aligning with standards. Every reason to align with different and multiple course topics.
    10. If you want to keep it away from classes, choose school improvement, environment clean-up, town facility update or even addition, …
    11. It is great this is happening in your middle school. Make sure Ps, Ss, and Ts know of its importance and assess accordingly – including frequent formative interim assessment to judge how it’s going and what interventions are called for.
    12. Run videos of demos, presentations, and student prepared videos for their use on school TV, put on local cable channel, make available to media, and put them on school website. Rotate posters in school for publicity.
    13. Post-process with all involved.
    14. Work with elementary schools to introduce PBL earlier and with high schools to continue the experience.

    Hope at least a few of these are helpful …