Let’s be honest, presentations are often quite boring.
Whether it’s 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, and I wanted to share this passion with my students. I wanted to help my students learn how to create interesting presentations, and to present their learning to others in a fun, interesting and engaging manner.
The way we chose to approach this with the students was to challenge them to think about their presentation in a different fashion. We asked them to think of their presentation as an experience, an experience that the audience would get to be a part of. An experience that they would create, which would allow the viewer to interact with the Exhibitors, and receive information in unique and creative ways. The goal was to remake the presentation into something that would stick with the audience member, regardless of whether they were students or parents or teachers.
In order to give our students a chance at making their presentation into these experiences I’ve described, we knew that we couldn’t 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 for the first week of Exhibition they found their classroom bare. All of the student work, the posters, and the decoration 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 very start.
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. Here at ZIS we are lucky 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’d 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 all relocated to the hallway, as our students reshaped their classroom. The students worked closely with their Mentors and Specialist Mentors to help them conceive and create their ambitious presentation spaces. It was frantic, as the last weeks of Exhibitions 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. It was a wild and creative frenzy!
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 lifejackets, 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 (powtoons.com), 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 videoed and interviewed teachers and students asking them questions about their downloading habits. After showing the short film they made, they asked them if it changed their opinions. 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 changes their mind. Of course, they created a mini theatre with black out curtains and had a popcorn machine for 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 that takes visitors on an imaginary journey forward and back 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. A cave made of tarps and craft paper where all the information was inside and shared in the intimate setting, under small torches.
People who visited Exhibition were fully immersed in the experience! There were no yawning or bored students. 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, I’ll bet that they will forget that knowledge over time. What they won’t forget was their experience. I hope that when they go to Secondary, they will use their new skill to present different information in unique and creative ways.
Of course they did not do it alone, as many teachers in the school helped them along the way. I would be remiss if I didn’t specifically thank all those who took extra time to help the students on their journey. The Assistant PYP Coordinator (Jordan Rose), the Primary Art teacher (Ron Gresham), EAL/Tech teacher (Danny Glasner) and the Teacher Librarian (A-J Fairey) all helped immensely! In addition, each group had two mentors to help them: Chizuko Matsui and Hanny Luo, helping the Movie Piracy group, Sam Smith and Kimberley Shi, helping the Extinction group, and Lydia Giannakopoulou and Christine Chen, helping the Transport/Tech group.