4 ways to jazz up a school exhibition

Going beyond the gallery walk

community based learningExhibition season is upon us!

And as you’re making ready to throw open the doors of your school and welcome in the community, let’s look at a handful of ways to jazz up any school event: by planning your capturing in advance, making interactive takeaways, going off-campus(!) or setting up a digital guestbook.

1. Plan your capturing in advance

Exhibitions get busy quickly. They’re basically huge parties for your school, a time for students to show off their learning and for families to be completely amazed by their scholars. You might be thinking you’d like to get some video of the event. There are ways to simplify this process!

Ask families to participate

Everrrrrrrybody’s bringing their camera-enabled smartphone to this shindig, so put out a notice in the newsletter, on social media, wherever your families congregate, asking if families would be willing to share video or photos from the event afterwards. Print it on the programs. Send out a reminder after the fact. See what you get!

Throw up a photo booth

Build in a photo opportunity to create mementoes and ease social anxiety at large events!

Put up some unmanned vehicles

Set up a standalone camera and just let it ride. You’ll be amazed what you come away with.

For the below video at Flood Brook School, in Londonderry VT, we set up two iPads on tripods, each in a corner of the gym, and one 360-degree camera right in the middle of the action. Hit record. Then we ignored them and went and talked with students. No one tripped over them and we got some amazing footage to share!

(We also crowd-sourced those stills from other folks in attendance. Shout out to Mr DesMarais and rockstar photographer Jeanie Phillips!)

Important: make sure everyone knows they’re being recorded! You all know your digital media release situations best.

2. Make time for takeaways

Have students prep some digital artifacts in advance that guests can take away with them. Think brochures or postcards, but what about video or audio student reflections as well?

At a recent celebration of learning at Manchester Elementary-Middle School, students created brochures to explain their wind turbine projects. The brochures included a QR code linking out to a video. Students made the entire things: the brochures, the QR codes and the videos, in which they explained their wind turbines in-depth.

school exhibitions
One of the MEMS student-made brochures. If you put your device close enough to the screen, you really can scan that QR code and go watch their movie! (Go watch it, it’s awesome).

And having your students prep a takeaway in advance will help them get more familiar with the material and take the pressure off of them in the moment. It’s a great way for shyer students to participate in an exhibition: a guaranteed talking point for visitors.

3. Get off-campus

It may sound counter-intuitive, given all the time you spend on making your school such an amazing and welcoming space, but hear us out. Partner with a local business or community group to host your exhibition in their space. It can create a whole new vibe and generate more excitement with jaded middle schoolers.

Burke Town School, in East Burke VT, took their exhibition of student work to the local coffeeshop. Besides being a well-known and liked gathering place for the small village, the cafe made students feel an extra level of specialness from the event.

4. Don’t forget the exit tickets

Everyone likes to at least get asked for their opinion, and it’s no different at an exhibition. Including exit tickets give your guests a low-pressure way to close the loop on their visit.

The good old Google Form

For student-led conferences at Brattleboro Area Middle School, the staff set up a table of laptops next to the front door, pre-loaded with a survey in Google Forms. In addition, they provided seats in front of the laptops and set up directly across from the refreshments. Bingo!

how to evaluate the success of student-led conferences
The family member of a Brattleboro Area Middle School student completes the school’s exit ticket Google Form after the student’s student-led conference.

The area quickly became a hub of activity as families took a minute to take a breather and answer a few questions on the new more student-centered conference format. (Spoiler: everyone loved it).

What about a guestbook?

A plain old notebook lying open on a table can serve as a handy guestbook, with a place for guests to offer brief notes and comments. (Pro-tip: bring pens. Lots and lots of pens.)

But what about kicking it up a notch with a digital guestbook?

Set up a “photo booth”: laptop or desktop computer off in a quiet corner (movable office partitions make great sound dampeners), with a mic if you’ve got one. Set up a Flipgrid prompt, and print out one or two questions for visitors to respond to.

  • What’s one word to describe tonight’s event?
  • What did you like best about tonight’s exhibition?
  • How do you think events like these affect the school community?

Make sure the record button is prominently located (cut out a construction paper arrow and tape it to the screen, don’t be shy).

Expecting a large crowd? Make a couple of booths and set up iPads or Chromebooks inside to avoid logjams of happy visitors, all eager to share their reflections. Get some great feedback on the event and help families create some digital mementos.

As students take the reins of their own exhibitions of learning, what other changes are you seeing to traditional events?



Audrey Homan

Audrey Homan is a Vermont-based digital media producer, and producer of The 21st Century Classroom podcast. She's worked in non-profit communications for more than a decade, and in her spare time writes tiny video games and mucks about with augmented reality and arduinos, ably assisted by five dogs. Interviewing students and yelling in PHP are the best parts of her job.

7 thoughts on “4 ways to jazz up a school exhibition

  • hendri@yahoo.com'
    May 1, 2019 at 8:12 am

    in this article mentioned to partner with outside of school. but this is very difficult to advance if what we show off is the media of education. Well, the question is how do we get entrepreneurs interested in collaborating, especially in this education field?

    • May 2, 2019 at 12:44 pm

      That’s a great question! So, when we talk about partner schools in this context, we’re speaking as a non-profit organization that works in long-term relationships with schools around the state of Vermont. We partner with those schools to help them achieve school-wide or district-wide change. Bringing in entrepreneurs as school partners, or business organizations as partners has both pros and cons. Entrepreneurs can bring funding or publicity or industry knowledge, but a relationship has to be established with the school in which those items work in tandem with teachers’ and administrators’ knowledge of what works best for students.

      Entrepreneurs, I think, will be more interested in collaborating if they can see established pathways for them to indicate their interest and see a match for what they’d like to bring to the table. Do you know of any examples of entrepreneurs partnering with schools that you could share?

  • veronicaagustin119d@gmail.com'
    November 6, 2019 at 8:19 am

    Nice article sir . An exhibition is a high-stakes demonstration of mastery that occurs at a culminating academic moment, such as the end of a school year or at graduation. Exhibitions are summative assessments, but the process of building up to a final exhibition includes ongoing assessment, feedback, and revision. This simple guide can help any teacher begin implementing this practice in their classroom.

    • November 6, 2019 at 8:59 am

      Thank you! We’re big fans of the school exhibition as demonstration of mastery of learning. There really is something compelling for students in having to show their learning to their families and larger school community. Thanks for your comment.

  • musuhbatman123@gmail.com'
    November 6, 2019 at 10:43 pm

    Nice Question sir. An Defining exhibition is complicated by the fact that educators use many different terms when referring to the general concept, and the terms may or may not be used synonymously from place to place. For example, the terms capstone exhibition, culminating exhibition, learning exhibition, exhibition of learning, performance exhibition, senior exhibition, or student exhibition may be used, in addition to capstone, capstone experience, capstone project, demonstration of learning, performance demonstration, and many others. Educators may also create any number of homegrown terms for exhibitions—far too many to catalog here.


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