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This past week, the Metro Nashville Public Schools hosted its fourth annual district-wide Project Expo. Students from Pre-K to seniors in high school showed their depth of understanding of subject and content knowledge as well as their confidence and ability in talking about their learning with a broad audience. My cheeks still hurt from smiling so much!

Over the course of the two days, 307 projects and over 1,000 students were celebrated for their hard work and dedication to their learning through PBL. Since I was somehow lucky enough to be in attendance and not have any specific duties, I had the chance to really take it all in. I think I’m still buzzed off of the excitement of the two days. As I held the door for students, teachers, parents and community members to enter the Expo Hall at Trevecca Nazarene University, a Kindergartener couldn’t contain her excitement. While in line she asked, “Miss, Miss! Can I talk to you about my project?”

MNPS had videographers and photographers from the Learning Technology Department capturing the event. I hope you’ll check out the photos once they are published at In the meantime, check out the video below (#mnpspbl) to get a glimpse of what awesome work the district is doing through PBL. One of the videographers asked a great question, “Why is the Project Expo important? Why do events like this matter?”



Why Project Expos Are Important

One of the Essential Project Design Elements in BIE’s Gold Standard PBL model is “public product.” Now, this by no means indicates that everything students do has to turn into this big “ta-da” moment. The goal is for the work that students do to be real. To be authentic. To be meaningful. Events like the Expo are important because of the pride students feel when parents and teachers and community members take the time to stop in and check out what they’ve done. When people take the time to ask questions about what a student has learned, and a student can articulate not only the learning but also the “why” behind their learning and the products they have to share, it’s a special moment. The deep understanding that students possess after being engaged in sustained inquiry around a challenging problem or question and the resources they have to use to come up with their solution makes for a lasting impression on students. And the work students showed proved that.

I asked a student at Stratford STEM Magnet School, “Why do you like learning through projects? How is it different?” His reply, “You know that story of Archimedes jumping out of the bathtub shouting, ‘Eureka’? It’s kind of like that. We have to solve problems that are really hard and talk to really smart people from the University and stuff that come in to help with our projects. I have to ask a ton of questions so I can get all the information from them I need to do my work. And I fail a bunch but have to keep working it out until I can figure out the solution because the solution matters. I’m trying to save an ecosystem!” Boom. Mic dropped. When students can ask and answer questions like, “How can drones be used to create and not destroy?” And then work with community artists to create art that is shown in local galleries, portrayed in the March, 2016 Nashville Arts Magazine, and then sold to raise money for their school arts program, it’s kind of a big deal.

A lot of work went into getting this Expo to where it is today and in the “War Room,” where digital feeds were being watched for judging tabulations, there sure enough was poster paper where we captured our “yesses” and “uh-ohs” because we are nothing if not reflective. See you next year, Nashville. Thanks for doing what you do for the students of your district. One thing they can certainly walk away with is that they and the work they do matters.

If you’re interested in hosting your own project expo, here are some tips from the Nashville pros:

  • Message early and often to all stakeholders.
  • Make sure that teachers and students know what “Gold Standard PBL” looks like.
  • Engage the community! Use them as judges and volunteers.
  • Encourage schools to have a site-based Expo before sending project teams to the district Expo.
  • Brand PBL! Then market the heck out of it.
  • Pre-determine your space and share criteria with teachers and students.
  • Train your judges. Make sure they all know how to give helpful, kind, and specific feedback and understand the rubric criteria.
  • Engage all stakeholders in the process (e.g., school board members, central office, administrators, teachers, students, parents, business partners and community members)
  • Utilize social media to celebrate the learning taking place throughout the year.


Do you have questions, tips, or stories to tell about project expos?
 Please make a comment below.