Edutopia on Facebook
Edutopia on Twitter
Edutopia on Google+
Edutopia on Pinterest Follow Me on Pinterest
WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
Subscribe to RSS

Learners Thrive with a Public Audience

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

I drove over to Bates College, in Lewiston, Maine, this morning. I had been invited to see a set of culminating presentations of collaborative research projects by college students and alternative-education students from a local middle school.

As I sat in the small audience -- one of about five outsiders who had responded to the invitation to come be part of the event -- I was struck by how important it was that we were there. Yes, there were only a few of us, but the kids knew we were there. They saw their principal and a former teacher who now works with technology at the school district level, as well as three others they didn't know -- one of those three being me. But we were adults, and we were there, and we were all leaning forward and listening intently to their words. We cared.

I did not know the kids. I was there because of an invitation from my friend, Gretchen, a wonderful middle school science teacher just finishing a year as teacher in residence in the education department at Bates. These projects were done during a short-term course she had taught around research-based fieldwork in a middle grade science program. They had done research at a nature preserve Bates owns that contains forest, rocky shore, and sandy beach on the Atlantic Ocean, near Bath, Maine.

These were middle school kids, and so I watched their body language and social interactions to see how the audience affected them. What I saw was a uniform desire to do their best, and a willingness to engage not only with content but also with their audience in a mature and thoughtful way. I am confident that the presence of a few extra caring adults in the room made a difference.

One group had studied the beach, paying close attention during a week's time to the movement of sand. They measured erosion and deposition of sand at various points on the beach and used their results to eloquently describe how a beach -- a place that appears to the nonscientist to just sit there -- is actually very much in motion.

The audience applauded at the end of each presentation, and, once the students were all done presenting, asked serious questions about the research -- not simply out of politeness but because we had been engaged. These teams -- college students working with kids involved in alternative education programs -- had done interesting work and had produced informative presentations.

So, this made me want to ask, how do we get other adults into your classroom to be part of our kids' audiences? Or do you take the kids' work on the road? Have you seen the presence of nonteachers and nonparents who care about the work make a difference for kids? Have you seen what I saw that day at Bates College, in room G-52? Please share your thoughts.

Was this useful?

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

Comments (17) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Cassie Brooks's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Teachers who set up these types of real world learning activities are to be commended for their efforts. It takes a lot of creativity, time, research, and collaboration to pull off these projects. Yet, they can be so rewarding for the student participants in developing the problem solving skills they will need in the future, and shows them that they can have a valuable impact on the world around them.

I agree that an authentic audience is essential in building student interest and encouraging them to invest their efforts in creating an outstanding product. In my experiences with seventh graders, I have noticed that my students are excited to prepare for any audience, but their attention to detail seems to be better when preparing for an adult audience.

I am a health and physical education teacher, so my content lends itself well to practical applications. However, there are certainly times when my creativity fails me and I cannot think of projects that are rigorous but also relevant. In those instances it is so valuable to me to hear of the successful projects of other educators. Even if I learn of projects in different content areas, it still jump-starts my brainstorming and gives me ideas for how to incorporate some of the same concepts with my content.

My students recently finished a service learning project in which they joined other classes in developing a health fair. They created activity and information stations for several different target groups in the community, all related to heart disease prevention. They chose the topic due to the heart trouble experienced by our principal at the beginning of the year. It was great to see the kids so interested in showing the public what they had learned, but also with the added inspiration of delivering potentially life-changing information to the people around them. They were so proud to display what they had learned, and the knowledge that their work would be viewed by so many was a great motivator to bring out their best efforts.

J.R. Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Pat -

What a wonderful thing, to involve kids in the election as you did. I think a lot about the importance of helping kids understand the power of brief statements - aphorisms - such as you mention. In a twitter-mad world, we need to teach how to put power in 140 characters. Mmmm... How about that as an assignment - the 140 character meaningful story. I know a fellow who does a wonderful writing program online in Vermont for middle and high school, and he shared with me a "seven word" assignment - asking kids to write something that mattered in seven words.



J.R. Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

John -

Thom Markham, in the Edutopia video "Engineering Success: Students Build Understanding" says something along the lines of "reflection equals retention."

So it is the preparation for this or that presentation that delivers the value - as the kids prepare, because they care, they are reflecting on content. The more we re-read, re-consider, re-word, re-think, the deeper we set the learning, don't you think?

Yes, special events are great. But at my house it is the fact that folks are coming over for dinner that convinces me (via my wife's reminders) that its time to clean off that desktop and put those extra pairs of shoes back in my closet. Yes, the dinner is fun, but the hard work happens before the guests arrive!



J.R. Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thomas -

I spent some time poking around, and am struck, once again, at how much I don't know about the great stuff happening in my own Maine backyard. By asking the kids to not only learn about the realities of the world, but then to take action, you are providing the biggest of lessons... Sort of like the back of the shampoo bottle: "Think, learn, act, reflect, repeat."


Thanks for sharing.


Cathy McDonald's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This week I received e-mail from a professor at the university that I attended. He had a vodcast he wanted me to watch. Freshmen at the college, from all content areas, were exhibiting their research -- mostly using the tri-fold backgrounds. There was a little copied and pasted stuff that had been printed up and mounted on the backgrounds. There was a lot of personal research and definitely much pride in what the students were presenting. The competitive student will always showcase their work if given the opportunity.

Having just returned from NECC where I participated in the Global Gallery poster sessions, I had the opportunity to show what we as teachers were doing -- but more importantly, I was showing what the students were doing. My kids -- the ones I teach every day and the ones with whom we collaborate -- knew early on that their work would be showcased. They put their best foot forward to show their collaborative efforts. They were excited to be publishing their book of poems.

I believe an audience, whether it is other students or adults, adds a degree of accountability to the students' work. They really want to show what they can do. Knowing the revised NETS for Students emphasizes collaboration, I hope that having a public audience will continue to grow in our classrooms. Research supports it, so I would hate to find that it is just another trend.

Michael Griffin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

For music educators public presentation is often the end point of work, and inspires performers to give of themselves, and of their best. Witnessing the far reaching and wide ranging benefits that students (and their families, and their peers) receive through public musical performance, it is perhaps surprising that more faculties don't show an interest in the music education model to seek an adaption for their learning area. Social and emotional learning is being addressed. The other point which I don't think has been addressed, is that its not just adults that children enjoy performing (presenting) to, but their peers. Kids inspire kids. When a peer does something well, it seems achievable.

School music concerts are generally very popular. Time permitting, there is no reason why other disciplines cannot be included on the bill. For example, art work might be displayed during the interval with the young artists on hand to discuss take questions, and poetry recited as part of the concert program. The possibilities are endless.

Michael Griffin

J.R. Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Michael -

Thanks for the comment - I agree wholeheartedly that other curriculum area educators could benefit from observing and adopting the "performance" behaviors of music & the arts! Your words reminded me of this post I wrote about other educators learning from how coaches and sports teams go about getting what they need to succeed - The Classroom Booster Club.

Cheers, and thanks again.


Traci Cowdin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

After reading about the experiences in using public audiences in the classroom, I plan to implement this strategy in my mathematics classrooms. Presenting real-world problems with solutions to peers is a strategy I have used frequently in the past. However, after reading the comments on this subject, I believe the quality of the presentations would be much higher and learning related to this activity much richer if students presented to a public audience and not just their peers. I welcome any advice or ideas other mathematics educators might have on this topic.

Rebecca Mashitz's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Jim, Thank you for bringing up a simple and yet sure way of getting kids to learn and enjoy their learning at the same time. I have used this idea not quite in the way of a public presentation, but I found that putting together a cookbook that was then sold by the class to families and friends really got many of my 7th grade students motivated. The project includes writing skills since the students had to write the instructions in their own words , as well as math. We then treat the class to something the class all votes on with some of the proceeds, and the rest goes to an agreed upon charity. After reading your comments, I think I would like to try a cooking class presentation to the parents and community. I am really excited about putting your ideas into practice. Thanks again. Rebeccca

Lisa Barber's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am currently a Walden student living in Wyoming, but was an orchestra teacher in upstate NY and PA. As reflected in other posts, music demonstrates the effectiveness of public performances in motivating our students to achieve. In one of the middle schools I taught we did integrate a lot of public performance / displays with what started as an art show. Our orchestra and band kids prepared duets, trios, etc so there was music for people to enjoy as they looked at the art work. The next year the home ec department involved their students in preparing and serving refreshments. It was a great experience for participants and those who attended. Having a something tangible that you are preparing for helps keep the kids very motivated. Our third graders often present essays to other third grade classes and the effort they put into the essays they will be publicly presenting to their peers is noticeably more diligent and careful than the effort some put into the essays for their journals or that only their teachers will read. What a great tool to use to keep our kids involved and motivated!

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.

Join the movement for change