Put It To Practice: Exhibition Last year I was discussing our school wide Exhibition with my director, she seemed slightly disappointed in last year's Exhibition. She said she remembered when the Exhibition transformed the entire school and became bigger than anything that had been done all year. Last year's seemed solid to me as it was my first school wide exhibition to witness. However, the concept of complete transformation of a school got stuck in my head. This year, on our new 12th grade team, we decided to use an Environmental Engineering project as our team's exhibition. The students have been working on 7 separate projects spread out among 4 different classes of seniors. In total there are 100 students that are: building a greenhouse, building a shed, powering the shed with wind turbines, building a model of a green city, growing a traditional as well as a vertical garden, making an aquaponics and hydroponics station as well as converting a car's engine to biodiesel. These ambitious projects were all taken on by our Environmental Engineering teacher who is also a first year teacher. As part of my Put It to Practice I wanted to help him with the process of planning the Exhibition. I am hoping that I will be able to transfer this idea of a physically transformative as well as academically transformative concept to the students and this exhibition.
Senior Team Meeting
I love our Senior Teachers meetings on Mondays. It allows us time to consistently realign our thinking so we start each week off on the same page. At the beginning of this process of planning Exhibition, I felt it was essential that we all had the same idea of what we wanted the Exhibition to look like. At our first meeting, it was a lot harder to do this than it has been for anything else this year. One teacher wanted to display the work wind the 4 elements as a theme, one wanted to set it up as a museum, one wanted to set it up as a tour of a city and one didn't have a plan in mind of what the space should look like. As we got further into our brainstorming and discussion, it became apparent that we were trying to make decisions for the students when they were really the ones that should be planning the layout and theme. We agreed to wait to move forward on the planning until we could consult a group of students. With promises of a pizza lunch, we got confirmation back from a diverse group of 8 students who agreed to tune the layout of Exhibition at lunch on that week's Wednesday.
Protocol Gone Awry I pride myself on being an excellent facilitator so I figured I could do a modified protocol for lunch where I would skip a few parts since we only had 35 minutes. I should not have skipped setting the norms for the protocol because after Chris Morissette explained his idea for the project and his dilemma, the rest of the meeting was simply a group discussion. It wasn't as efficient as it could have been, and we left the meeting with more dilemmas instead of resolution. From our discussion though, the students raised some good points. One said that we should go with the name of the project, which was “Building a Sustainable Community”. She suggested that the projects could be built to look like something that you would use the items for in a real community. She gave an example of the biodiesel group converting the classroom into an auto shop and the garden group converting their products into a grocery store or a restaurant. Another student suggested picking one part of a community or a theme, and finding a way to connect the projects to the theme. The example he gave was farming. He suggested that we build a farm and display together on this farm. Chris Morissette expressed his fear that this might not truly showcase how innovative the technology is that the students are building. We agreed to meet with the entire Senior class the following day during our one-hour senior seminar. All Senior Meeting We met as an entire senior class the next day, and didn't make it much further with our plans. However, I think it was critical to have all of the seniors thinking about layout of the Exhibition. It allowed us set the bar as high as possible, but still leave the creativity in the hands of the students. We gave the students some breakout time by group to brainstorm. When we reconvened, some groups had made progress while some of them had gotten off track. Students explained their overall Exhibition ideas and pushed us to take a vote. Before voting, I spoke with one of the other teachers who agreed that we should simply hear the options and that the teachers would make the final decision. Although at this point we were still 6 weeks out from Exhibition the students were starting to see the reality of this March deadline.
The Senior teachers took a look at the proposals the next day and realized we still didn't have a solid unifying way to present this Exhibition. Some of the initial suggestions for layout were: distribute the projects in line with population distribution of a city. This would mean putting projects in different rings around our urban center. Another group wanted to make our 'sustainable community' that of High Tech High. It would show how the different projects could be used within a school community. We discussed ways we could combine these two, but nothing seemed truly transformative. Last week we decided to take it back to the students to really push their thinking. Mostly I wanted to see them really excited about an idea. Up until this point we had some brainstorm ideas thrown around, but nothing that got their excitement levels up. The Layout
Last Friday, during the last hour of the day we decided to have another Senior meeting. The odds were against us to actually get anything done as it was the last hour of the week. Usually this time is excessively unproductive, but we made some breakthroughs in the group I was working with. I randomly had the greenhouse and shed group. We discussed the actual space we have available and that we would need to figure out a way to time our audience so that they would move efficiently through the limited space. The group started drawing out some plans on the board. They decided the best way to link all of the projects was to go with the idea of a sustainable community, but not limit it to any one type of city.
Outside of the Environmental Engineering room they are planning that the green city group will have their model and be the welcoming group. They will arrange for people coming to the Exhibition to be in groups of 10. While waiting the green city group will give an overview of what it means to be sustainable and green. The groups will be entering the community in 5 minute increments. There will then be a welcome center set up in the room, similar to when you drive into a new state. In the room there will be a video and with two of the groups ready to be tour guides. Just like before going on some rides in an amusement park they make you watch a video first, we will have them watch a 5 minute video in a movie theater set up so that they will get an overview of the projects in the “city”. The tour guides will then take them on a tour of the city, spending only 5 minutes at each station. They are still working out some component of a gift shop and perhaps photos taken at the beginning of the tour which you receive at the end. I was really grateful for this idea, mostly because the students were finally excited about something. Reflection
Although there are still a lot of lingering questions about the Exhibition itself, this process of working with another teacher on his Exhibition has been interesting. I questioned myself a little in how I framed me swooping in on him. I think because this will ultimately be a representation of the Senior class, I had the built-in legitimacy to be able to get involved as a senior teacher. I wonder if I could have provided some more warm feedback about his initial idea before jumping in to try and “fix” it. I know that he felt like I opened up a bigger can of worms ultimately by inviting the entire senior class in. However, my reasoning behind that was student buy-in. I know from past experience that if they are not bought into the format and idea of the exhibition then they have no personal stake. There still might be good work, but maybe not great work. Those authentic transformations happen when students are fired up about what they are doing and want to show it off.
I know my approach can sometimes be abrasive. I have a good working relationship with Chris Morissette, but one thing I've been working on with all of the 12th grade teachers is that I don't want to come into something and feel like I'm trying to take over. I think it would have been a good idea for me to sit down with Chris before the initial tuning of his idea and ask how attached he was to the idea of a museum. I also would have broached the idea about student buy-in so that instead of me telling him that we need student input, he would have come to the same conclusion through our conversation. Overall, I think our final idea for Exhibition is going in a good direction, and I feel that the students have more of a stake in the final project. I know they are ultimately going to craft a truly classy exhibition.