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Re-thinking the exhibition presentation

Jordan Rose, PYP Coordinator & year 6 teacher at Zhuhai International School, China

William Applebaum, PYP teacher, International School of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

How to make an engaging PYP exhibition that everyone will remember? Turn it into an experience!

Let’s be honest, student exhibition presentations can be quite boring.

Whether it is because a student is reading from a Power Point presentation or taking you through the material they have stuck to their poster board, quite often the presentation portion of the exhibition fails to convey the excitement and passion of the inquiry. The information can be extremely interesting, but without a well thought out method to engage the audience the presentation is likely to be a bit of a letdown.

This year I had the chance to lead my first exhibition and this dilemma was at the front of my mind. Teaching is my second career, my first being in advertising as an art director, so I have a passion for ideas and how to present them in an engaging way. I wanted to share this passion with my students to show them how to create interesting presentations and to present their learning to others in a fun, interesting and engaging manner.

We chose to challenge the students to think about their presentations in a different fashion, as an experience – an experience that included the audience and would allow the viewer to interact with the exhibitors and receive information in unique and creative ways. The goal was to remake the exhibition presentation into something that would stick with the audience member, regardless of whether they were students, parents or teachers.

In order to give our students a chance at designing their presentations into these types of experiences, we knew that we could not wait until the last week to start planning and putting ideas together. Instead we tried to plant the seeds of creativity from the beginning. When the students got to school on Monday morning of the first week of exhibition, they found their classroom bare.  All of the student work, the posters and the decorations had been stripped from the walls. The students were told that they were to think of their classroom as a blank canvas on which they would be designing their exhibition inquiry and eventually their exhibition presentation experience. We wanted the challenge and opportunity for something exciting to happen in the students’ minds from the beginning.

As the inquiries took their shape and the students began their research process, each group carved out a section of the classroom to work in. This section was also to be the space where they would eventually build their presentation experiences. We are fortunate to have a large year 6 classroom and a small number of students, which made it possible for all three of our groups to remake their classroom into their final presentation space. I feel that this helped the students to consider their presentation possibilities from early on in the exhibition process. The results were even better than I had hoped as the concept of the presentation experience grew and formed at the same time as the rest of the inquiry.

Week by week we removed more and more things from the classroom to give our students the room to create. Desks, shelves and computers were relocated to the hallway as our students reshaped their classroom. The students worked closely with their mentors to help them conceive and create their ambitious presentation spaces. It was frantic as the last weeks of exhibition always tend to be, but frantic in a good way. Instead of worrying about how to fill up our poster boards, we were solving creative challenges such as how we could turn a corner of a room into a dinosaur cave or change the other side into a movie theater.

In the end the students blew me away with the presentations they created! There were three groups and here is how they engaged with the audience:

Transportation/Tech Group: This group inquired into the causes and effects cars, boats and devices have on the environment. They created a pollution cruise where they took passengers on an imaginary ride to the great pacific plastic garbage patch. Passengers, who were required to wear life-jackets, were shown dumps filled with toxic e-waste, shown dirty water and engaged in a discussion about car pollution after a huge car crash on land. Yes, the students had most of their information on boards, but used this as a follow-up after the cruise if passengers wanted more information.

Movie Piracy: This group inquired into the movie piracy process, people’s responsibility in that process, and how China censors movies. They appropriately decided to make a movie to share their knowledge. Using PowToons they created a video to explain how the piracy process works and how people who watch downloaded movies are part of the problem. They then recorded and interviewed teachers and students asking them questions about their downloading habits. They took all this footage and edited it together into a powerful movie that they showed during exhibition. In addition, they asked audience members to become part of the process by having them vote if the movie changed their minds. The mini theater with black out curtains and a popcorn machine created the full effect.

Extinction: This group inquired into the causes and effects of extinction. They focused on the extinction of dinosaurs, the extinction of languages and the possible extinction of sharks and humans in the future. They came up with the idea of a time machine to take visitors on an imaginary journey forward and backwards in time. There was a future ocean without sharks, a cave from a mass extinction in the past and a school 200 years in the future where only 5 languages still exist. The props and details were exquisite: a magnetic shark puzzle where the various parts of the shark could be taken off to show how it is used, such as in Chinese medicine, Shark’s fin soup, wallets, etc; a “possible” timeline of how languages went extinct based on real scientific predictions; and a cave made of tarps and craft paper where all the information was inside and shared in an intimate setting under small torches.

People who visited our exhibition were fully immersed in the experience. The unique environment created an atmosphere where students enjoyed teaching and enjoyed learning! While I know that all the students did a significant amount of research and learned a lot during exhibition, they may forget that knowledge over time.

What they will not forget is their experience. I hope that when they go to secondary, they will use their skills supported by the many teachers in the school to present different information in unique and creative ways.

Jordan Rose is the PYP Coordinator and year six teacher at Zhuhai International School (ZIS). Originally from Toronto, Canada, he has spent the past 16 years living overseas and working as an international educator. He has taught at International Schools in the UAE, Honduras and China respectively, with a focus on upper elementary classroom teaching and curriculum development. Jordan also enjoys coaching basketball and participating in the activities program at ZIS.  He is currently in his fifth year at Zhuhai International School.  

William Applebaum is a PYP upper primary teacher. He has finished the year 6 exhibition at Zhuhai International School and has started the next school year at the International School of Ho Chi Minh City. Raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., he did not enter teaching in the traditional way, rather he started his career as a creative professional in America (in advertising and design). After seven years in the creative world, he discovered and fell in love with international teaching. He has been lucky enough to live in various places around the world. He tries to use his background to enrich his students’ experience in the classroom.

13 Responses to Re-thinking the exhibition presentation

  1. Ricardo 31 January 2017 at 2:24 pm #

    Amazing job! Congratulations!

  2. ileana trevino 31 January 2017 at 6:37 pm #

    Wow its amazing . Miss Ileana . MADISON Mty MEXICO

  3. Jill Silva 24 February 2017 at 12:43 am #

    Thanks. I really like the idea of giving students all that space to work.

  4. Noura 26 February 2017 at 6:47 am #

    Amazing and outstanding! Very Creative! Thank you so much for sharing

  5. Pamela Curtin 24 March 2017 at 12:12 pm #

    What a great idea having a full immersion experience! Keeping the audience engaged in order to get the message across is an important element when presenting and this is such an exciting way for your students to plan for that. I am wondering how this can be done when there are 120 Grade 5s and they have to relocate from classrooms to be able to present – we are doing a science fair model of sharing this year. I will definitely be discussing this with my Exhibition team. Maybe our students can come up with a solution.

  6. Mary Sheffield 24 January 2018 at 9:12 pm #

    I was very excited after reading this. We have been doing Exhibition for 8 years at our school and I feel like we have fallen into a rut. Even the presentations have become very cookie cutter from year to year. I don’t think we can turn over our 4 classrooms to 94 students, but I am thinking that maybe we can make some kind of “experience” a part of their presentation, perhaps even the introduction to it.

  7. Nadia Demolder 18 July 2018 at 5:24 pm #

    Dear Jordon & William,

    Thank you for such an inspiring post. I have been teaching Grade 5 Exhibition for the last five years and have used a variety of strategies to make the exhibition days more interactive for students. We have used a variety of successful strategies such as performance, fashion shows, debates and interactive games. A wonderful opportunity for students to creatively share their understanding with others. I really feel that also helps students to consolidate their learning.
    Regarding conceptual understanding, may I ask how were students guided into their topics of interest? Often, I find that focusing on one transdisciplinary theme can be limiting for students and they may not have the opportunity to follow a true passion. What was your theme or central idea for this exhibition? I would also love to know more about how you assessed the experiences the students created.

    Warmest regards,

  8. Hayley Newman 25 August 2018 at 8:36 am #

    What a great idea! Coming into my first exhibition, I have had the thought of how the learners could be presenting their work – I really like the idea of calling it an experience, I may have to keep that in mind!

    I am curious to know how you kept track of each groups’ progress; did they have journals which they would fill out? Did they take photographic evidence as their Experiences grew?

    Thanks for the great post,


  9. Sarah Alloway 25 August 2018 at 8:41 am #

    Thank you for sharing your students awesome presentations! This is often something that we struggle with and I look forward to sharing some of these ideas with my own students. I agree that planting the seed of creativity early is important and that students should be thinking about and planning how they will share their inquiry with the wider school community throughout the exhibition process.

  10. Danielle Henry 25 August 2018 at 10:36 am #

    Dear Jordan and William,

    I really love your idea of making the exhibition presentation more of an experience. This makes more sense to me, as an inquiry teacher. Student’s should be challenged to move away from traditional presentations and be challenged to take action in authentic ways. I really think your focus on the exhibition as an experience is a wonderful way of developing the presentation process. Thank-you for sharing this with us!

    Kind regards,

  11. Allison 11 October 2018 at 7:51 pm #

    We also do an immersion experience for our Exhibition! Do you still have students formally present as well? We have found that the immersive experience makes for a louder environment and our students don’t really get to formally present. Their expertise is demonstrated through their conversations with attendees, and their activities/’demonstrations.

  12. Heather Ricardi 26 October 2018 at 2:56 am #

    Thank you for sharing the work your students created! They are amazing presentations! I really loved how you approached exhibition and the classroom as a blank slate with space to work! When you had demonstrations going on, did you do one group at a time or were they all presenting at the same time?

  13. Jennifer Turner 6 January 2022 at 5:02 pm #

    Wow! I’m so impressed with how engaging the exhibition is! We’ve been curious at our site at how to make the presentations more elaborate. The only thing we sometimes struggle with is that we have 60 students on average that we are walking through this inquiry process. How do you ensure a genuine inquiry among a larger group of students?

    Excellent work on the presentations!

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