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Celebrating Learning with an Audience

On Wednesday January 18th, my physics class held its first iPhysics Expo. It was a night where students were given the opportunity to present their personal physics project with a public audience. The night was designed to be more conversational 1:1 interactions as opposed to a formal presentation.  Students were assigned a specific space in the cafeteria or Black Box Theater.  The attendees then approached a station and the student manning the station would explain their project.  Students were required to have a presentation aid and a poster at their station.  

The presentation aids varied from student to student. The purpose of the aid was to assist in presentation. The included
  • Sports equipment to demonstrate technique
  • Graphs and data from experiments
  • Physical products students built
  • Computer programs students created
  • A selfie studio
  • Videos presented from chromebooks

The poster could have been created physically or digitally. The purpose of the poster was to inform the audience before or after the presentation.  The poster was not designed to be a formal part of the conversation. Each poster was required to do the following:
  • Introduce the author
  • Present the driving question. What it is and why it is of interest to the author
  • Basic explanation of key physics terms and concepts
  • Resources used
  • Major challenges faced
  • Main takeaways

The night was a lot of fun.  In all of my Project Based Learning Research, I’ve always heard that the culminating event feels like a celebration. Our Physics Expo had a bit of that feeling.  It felt like the most appropriate way to end the course.  

The night was a first step, and there were lots of things to celebrate.  But, there are even more things to learn from and build upon.

The first thing that comes to mind is the setup of the space. We had a few areas for students to present from last night.  They were all relatively close. But without clear signage, the audience was not aware of what was being presented when and where. I think having programs would be great along with a clear set-up of space.  This means, we’ll have to be set on logistics at least a few days before the night of to create signs and programs.  This year we finalized the schedule on the day of.  Also, this year we did not know what the setup would look like until the day of.  I had much more of reactive attitude this first time rather than active frame of mind.  This needs to change next go around if I want to build on our first steps.

When looking at the space, many students chose projects that would allow for interaction in physical spaces (basketball, softball, soccer, volleyball). Without having a gym space to work in, the amount of true sport simulation was cut down for the presentation night.  I’m hoping to reserve gym space ASAP for our June go around. In terms of space, I’d like to do a better job of organizing it to facilitate intentional traffic flow to all presenters.  I could even see organizing the space so that stations by theme.

Timing is another issue to consider, our event was an hour total in two 30 minute halves.  Since we had 66 students presenting, it could easily have been 90 minutes with two 45 minute halves. Also, one of our students was doing a diving presentation in the pool.  For something like this, it would have been nice to schedule it so that everyone would have had time to go to the pool and see it. Since it wasn’t in the main location, it could have been accommodated for and featured as an solo session perhaps during the session switch.  Again, this goes to having logistics in place before the date of the event.

In order to promote an event, there needs to be some lead time.  I hadn’t settled on a final date until about 1 month out.  There are a few reasons for this.  The main one was getting myself to take a chance and put on this event.  Then, I had to make sure it would be approved and determine when the space was free.  Over the next week, I plan on finalizing a date for our June iPhysics Expo.  That will allow for time to start promotion of the event.  Now that the ball is rolling on iPhysics Expo, it has overcome its static friction, so it’ll be easier to move.  

Now that we will have a date for the expo when we introduce the project to students, I think we’ll be able to follow a timeline with appropriate check-ins to keep all students on track so that we will have the logistics down well before the expo night.  This will allow us time to practice our conversations/presentations in class and create signage and flyers for that night. Perhaps even arrange for some refreshments for the night to really make it feel like a celebration.

Creating an event to present products in person to a public audience was always something I shied away from.  Now that I’ve done it and seen how pleasant it was, I’m looking forward to making it a tradition.  I understand how this is where it all leads.  The end of the product is not the grade in the gradebook.  The end is when the product and the learning is shared with others.

I look forward to examining the frameworks for learning that occurs during the project as well as how we share that in this next go around.

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