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Exhibitions: Showing What You Know

May 25, 2021 | Melissa McCallihan

In a February webinar Abby Hall Choi, Middle School Director, defined what academic exhibitions are. She stated that “At Mustard Seed School Academic Exhibitions are long term projects. They often last weeks, and sometimes student work grows over the course of months. Our exhibitions require deep inquiry, iterative drafting, and meaningful expression of understanding. Seventh and eighth grade students complete a total of eight Academic Exhibitions as part of their graduation project. Mustard Seed students have been doing long term studies and projects since pre K. And now, they get to show it all off.” 

Soon seventh grade students will share their last exhibition for this year, the literature exhibition. Seventh grade students compare and contrast two pieces of literature, preferably fiction, and seek to draw similarities and consider differences in the following areas: Setting, conflict, theme, imagery, characterization, analogy, perspective, mood, or anything else that the students think would be a good idea. 

Students lean into their Readers Response skills that they’ve been developing for several years. After the 1000 word essay is complete, students create a 15-20 presentation that unpacks the contents of their essay, they talk about the authors, the book summaries, and they showcase their artifact. The artifact is a creation that overlaps between their two books and shows some creativity.

All in all, the Literature Exhibition is a lot of work. However, the students have been preparing for this particular exhibition through their many RRs, hours of reading and comprehension practice, and working essay writing assignments.  

Eighth grade students are also preparing for their last exhibition of the year which also happens to be their very last exhibition of their time at Mustard Seed School. The eighth grade Final Exhibition may seem like an easier project at the outset, but it requires students to have a pretty clear understanding of themselves, which is not always easy. Students need to really consider who they are, who they were, and how they have become who they are now. It’s a practice in metacognition, and it requires a dose of humility and a dose of pride. Students respond to the following two prompts:

  • Part 1 (Memoir): This is who I am. What is your identity? Who do you identify as? Tie in the artifact. What makes you “you”? (500 Words)
  • Part 2 (Reflection): How I became that way. Consider friends, teachers, family, community, particular stories, anecdotes, peer tutoring, exhibitions, failures, successes, opportunities that are unique to MSS? What things about you are “different” than MSS? Family traditions? Holidays? What did this reinforce? (500 Words)

Also, students create an artifact that represents their growth and change. They will present these artifacts in panels of three or four eighth graders. Teachers, parents, friends, students ask questions and hear answers from each eighth grader on the panel. 

Prior to this exhibition, eighth graders presented their math exhibition. Eighth graders researched a mathematical concept and related its importance or researched a mathematician and related their influence in the field of mathematics.  

For this exhibition there are two required ways of sharing their research–an oral and a visual component. They gave a 10-15 minute talk, and answered questions for another five minutes. For this exhibition they created a slideshow or other materials that helped the speaker engage the audience and connect them to the mathematical content. They can choose from the following many options for their visual part of the presentation including:a poster of a famous mathematician whose work is being discussed, an illustration of a math problem that the exhibition is designed to solve, a work of art created by the student, a digital animation, or a game created by the student that supports the math content.

Two other exhibitions that are part of the seventh grade experience are the history and science exhibitions. In the history exhibition students research a topic (a person, event or discovery/invention) found between the years 500 CE to 1500 CE.  There are three student created elements in the history exhibition: oral and visual presentations as well as an artifact.

For the oral and visual portion of the exhibition students speak for 10-15 minutes on their topic, accompanied by a visual presentation.  The visual presentation can be a slide show, a web page, a documentary or any other creative way to present their topic.  The artifact is made by the student.

The science exhibition differs each year. For this year’s Science Exhibition, 7th graders, using the scientific method, carried out an experiment that included controlled and dependent variables. Like the other exhibitions there were also oral and visual requirements. 

Melissa McCallihan

Teacher, Grade 6; Science Grades 6-8

Teaching children to take risks and fail well is important to Melissa McCallihan, who has taught for over 30 years. She believes children learn as much through their failures as they do through their successes. She celebrates both in her classroom. In collaboration with the middle school director, art teacher, and other fourth and fifth grade teachers, Mrs. McCallihan has been instrumental in developing the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) program, an extension of the Lower School’s Shared Space model. “STEAM is where students solve problems and sometimes get it wrong,” says Mrs. McCallihan when asked about risks and failing well. “Students need to learn how to do that with grace, and to try again with grit and determination.” Mrs. McCallihan currently teaches sixth through eighth grade science.

Mrs. McCallihan cares deeply about relationships with her colleagues, students, and families. She works hard to make and maintain connections on a personal and professional level. And follows the mantra “Worship God, Love All.”

When not at school, you can find Mrs. McCallihan searching out a fantastic restaurant or hidden sight to see in New York City.

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