George Lucas Educational Foundation

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Normal Park Museum Magnet School

Grades K-8 | Chattanooga, TN

Using Exhibits as Assessment

Students at Normal Park Museum Magnet School create various types of museum-style exhibits to demonstrate their understanding of academic topics.

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Using Exhibits as Assessment (Transcript)

Trey Joyner: At Normal Park, we focus largely on creating an atmosphere for the students to give them an outlet, give them an opportunity to exhibit the work that they've been doing, the learning.

Emily Pittman: Exhibits are the way that we allow students to take ownership over their learning.

Jamie Tipton: So, each year, the students will put on four different exhibits, and they work with all four of their teachers on that team to have a cohesive theme. In each one of the exhibits, there is a piece from the math class, the reading class, the language arts, social studies, and science. They all work together. In addition to that, we work with related arts teams to add visual arts, art pieces, Spanish pieces, German pieces, and the library will even write text and books with the kids. Each quarter, we sit down as a team and we assess what needs to be learned, and from that, we create the big ideas or essential questions, and so, for the entire quarter, students are presented at the very beginning with the essential questions. They learn in art class ways to incorporate art pieces to showcase one of the essential questions. In writing, they will expand and write persuasive pieces or poems to express that, and at the end of the eight weeks, we put the exhibit on. The exhibit is a way to show every understanding that the kids have.

Jill Levine: Teachers look at the big ideas and then the knowledge and skills, what the students have to know and be able to do. Then they look at, how are we going to assess that? For us at a museum magnet school, those assessments are our exhibits. They are often the labels that go with the exhibits.

Jamie Tipton: Students create exhibit labels for every single piece that's on exhibit to let the audience know what this is and why it's important. Inside the exhibit label, you should see the academic vocabulary, a connection to the content or the piece, and then a personal connection.

Carrie Willmore: When I'm asking them to write a label, I want to make sure that they remember all of the academic language that we talked about, all of the things that we studied, so that they can really show their best understanding of that essential question.

Jill Levine: After the exhibits go up, we have a faculty meeting in which teachers walk through all of the exhibits and they look for evidence of understanding, and then we'll share those out at the faculty meeting. That really helps to get everybody on the faculty on the same page in terms of our expectations for exhibits and what are true understandings. Every nine weeks, we have this big celebration of learning, and the halls will be filled with parents and children who are all here to celebrate what their children have accomplished. For me as a principal, I like to go up to students and have them explain an exhibit to me so that I understand, did they get the big idea? You know, did they just do a project, or did they really understand what they did, why they did it, and what it means in terms of the bigger picture? I think have lots of schools have ballgames and plays and concerts. This is a way to celebrate what goes on in the classroom day in, day out.

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  • Producer: Kristin Atkins
  • Field Producer: Sarita Khurana
  • Editor: Mitch Eason
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  • Sound: David Cone, Kacie Sharon Willis
  • Graphics: Cait Camarata, Jenny Kolcun, Scott Hartwig
  • Production Assistant: David Cone, Graylin Taylor


Creating a Museum of Student Work

As a museum school, Normal Park utilizes student-created exhibits as a way to assess student learning. Every nine weeks, the entire school turns into a museum where student work is on display and the learning students have done over the past quarter is celebrated. Exhibits are a great way for students to take ownership of their learning.

Exhibit pieces include art projects, essays, poems, travel journals, sculptures, and drawings. Each exhibit piece is accompanied by a student-written exhibit label, which describes the piece, its academic content, and the student’s personal connection to the work.

Teachers use the exhibits and exhibit labels as one of the key assessments of student learning.

How It's Done

Designing Exhibits to Demonstrate Learning

Normal Park divides its year into four nine-week quarters. Each quarter, every student studies either a science- or social-studies-themed module. Students may create several exhibit pieces per module; exhibits must include contributions from each of the core subject areas: language arts, reading, math, and science or social studies plus the related arts teams (art, foreign languages, and library).

Here are the steps teachers and students take to create academic exhibits:

  1. Prior to the start of each quarter, teachers sit down and look at the standards connected to that module. Using a backward-design approach, teachers at each grade level figure out the big ideas that students need to learn that quarter. These are put into question format, for example, “How does structure affect behavior?” or “How does where you live affect how you live?” These Essential Questions are the basis for every lesson that’s taught in the module and the questions that students answer in their exhibit work.
  2. Teachers think about what exhibit pieces can demonstrate student understanding of the material and talk with students about possible approaches. Exhibit pieces can include drawings, sculptures, writing, science projects, visual art, audio recordings, and many other types of projects.
  3. Students work on their exhibit pieces throughout the quarter. Exhibit pieces will vary in terms of intensity and sophistication from grade level to grade level. As students get older, they become much more independent with their exhibits, and teachers develop rubrics to go along with a particular assignment. Toward the end of the module, students write exhibit labels for each of their pieces. Modeled on the labels typically found in museums, exhibit labels show students’ best understanding of an Essential Question. Exhibit labels should demonstrate the use of academic vocabulary, a connection to the content, and a personal connection. A well-written exhibit label shows understanding at the highest level.
  4. During the ninth week of the module, teachers and students put up the exhibit work.
  5. After the exhibits go up, teachers have a faculty meeting to walk through all the exhibits and look for evidence of understanding. Each teacher will have a list of the expected understandings and the Essential Questions for that module and will identify the best examples of understanding. Faculty members then compare notes and share what they have identified, so all faculty members are on the same page about their expectations for exhibits and the demonstration of true understanding.
  6. The quarter culminates with Exhibit Night, during which selected pieces of student work are presented. Every student has two to four pieces in the exhibit. On a single night, hundreds of parents and family members come through the doors of the school. It is a big celebration of learning for everyone.

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Patricia's picture

Sounds very interesting. Is it possible to get a detailed instruction/lesson plan of how this is done? Especially for the lower grades, like first. How did they decide on what the module theme would be? Is it the same throughout the school, or different for each grade level? I would love to be able to go to one of their Exhibit Nights!!

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