Culminating Events for Project-Based Learning

Honor scholars with an authentic audience for their work

culminating events for project-based learningThe culminating event! It’s the lovely finish line of a Project-Based learning unit. The big event. You’ve been planning for months for this event that celebrates the projects and the learning in an authentic, community based forum. All along, it’s been a strong motivator for scholars, grounding the relevant work they’ve been doing.

So. What does it look like to pull off a memorable and meaningful culminating event for project-based learning?

What are the essential elements of a culminating event for PBL?

A culminating event should be:

  • an authentic way to share projects to a wider community
  • the audience is one that is important to the students– they are stake-holders on the issue
  • students see and feel how their work is connected to a wider community
  • students present their work publicly and feel the value in this

What are some different forms a culminating event can take?

Learning fairs & exhibitions

In a learning fair, parents and the school community visit student stations where scholars present their work, or in exhibitions where students share to a whole group of community members and parents. Other invitees can include other students, school staff, members of the community, or specific groups around a topic, such as the school board, non-profit organizations, town councils, policy makers, or professionals in the field.

Students at The Cabot School in Cabot VT and The Edge Team at Essex Middle School both host an annual Exhibition of Learning for their communities. At the exhibition, students bring tri-fold or mobile device-mounted summaries of their project and are prepared to discuss them with the community. Below, we spoke with Hank, a Cabot School student, about Lewis & Clark Expedition project:

Did we mention that it’s a great opportunity for students to build their speaking skills?

But culminating events can also be more informal opportunities for students to present, as well.

Student PBL Presentations

Examples could include presentations to the school board about how to save energy costs at the school, or presenting findings from a survey of community members to a town council, or presentations at a local museum about new student created displays or resources.

Of course, one of the most important authentic audiences for students to present the results of their their project-based learning work is other students!

 

Digital showcases

With so many digital sharing tools, students can create something of value in their PBL projects to share with the wider world. The culminating event can include the act of sharing that creation.

These can include educational YouTube videos, online maps, blog posts, or online magazines and websites. Take a look at these YouTube videos from the historians and newscasters in Proctor, Vermont.

Creations can include creating class books, chapters, public installations of art, models or sculptures, museum displays, gardens, chicken coops, solar water heaters—the sky is the limit! Check out this FlipBook created by Proctor Elementary School third graders in Maureen Dobart’s class.

Also check out this Google Site showcasing the green-screen skits performed by 4th and 5th grade students studying meteorology:

culminating events for project-based learning

Any other event you can imagine

Culminating events can be discussion forums, dinners, talks, poetry slams, public readings, film festivals, learning festivals, game nights, math nights, tech nights, plays, any special event created and prepared for in the PBL process. These can be for local or online communities, of students, experts, parents, or the school community.

Tips on Tackling A Culminating Event

Culminating events are best thought of and planned before embarking on a PBL unit. They take a little planning, it is good to get this date on a PBL calendar or planning document. Work backwards from the date of the culminating event in your planning. You know, the old, “begin with the end in mind” business.

It is important to leave room in the schedule for students to practice and get feedback before any sharing events. Think about dress rehearsals with other classes with time for critical feedback before sharing with wider audiences.

Also choose a separate time for assessing the projects and presentations, as the culminating event is often busy with coordination and facilitating.

For younger student and first time PBL teachers—start simple and small. A parent sharing event might be the perfect culminating event for the first PBL unit.

Don’t forget to have students reflect at the end of the culminating event, too. Likely they will have learned a great deal about presenting to an authentic audience and they might feel empowered about doing so. Here’s a reflection template from the Buck Institute. 

What would a culminating event for your students’ project-based learning look like?


Check out all the stops along the PBL Highway here:

  1. Planning a PBL Unit
  2. Entry Events for PBL
  3. Brainstorming and Research in PBL
  4. Scaffolds to Support PBL Learners
  5. Methods for Reflection in PBL
  6. Assessment in Project-Based Learning
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Katy Farber

Farber joined the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education after 17 years as a classroom teacher in central Vermont. Her dissertation with Northeastern University focused on service learning at the middle level and is called The Doing Revolution: early adolescents, service learning, and personal growth. She is also the author of two books about education: Why Great Teachers Quit and How We Might Stop the Exodus, and Change the World with Service Learning: How to Create, Lead and Assess Service Learning Projects. Her education articles have been published on CNN’s School of Thought blog, Educational Leadership, Edutopia, and the Synapse. Katy has also taught pre-service and practicing teachers in graduate courses at Union Institute and LAPDA. She is passionate about promoting student and teacher voice, engaging early adolescent students, sharing the power of service learning, and creating inclusive communities where joy, courageous conversations and kindness are the norm. She lives in central Vermont with her husband and two daughters and loves being outside with family and friends, listening to music, and jumping into Vermont ponds and lakes.

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