Exhibition Night at Pittsfield Middle High School: Where Students Take Ownership of Learning

July 6, 2016

On the evening of June 9th, anyone looking for a student in Pittsfield, New Hampshire would have found all of them together in one place – at school. It was Pittsfield Middle-High School’s annual Exhibition Night, where every student in the district gathers to share something that they have learned that year. The event offers the entire community a chance to witness the variety of student-centered experiences available in Pittsfield’s elementary and middle-high schools.

Each student was given the choice of what work to share, and their exhibitions reflected the wide range of student interests. Students shared essays, wood turnings, screenplays, comic books, business plans, tests, and science experiments. They shared work completed individually and in small groups. Each presentation showed how students had taken their learning deeper by pursuing their own interests.

The flexibility of the school system to accommodate and support those interests was very clear in Pittsfield Senior Lucas Conway’s exhibition. Lucas was interested in taking a robotics class offered as an elective, but for graduation he needed to cover more learning competencies than that class was designed to cover. Rather than being forced to abandon his interest in robotics in order to chase credits, he was able to pursue robotics as an Extended Learning Opportunity (ELO).

At Pittsfield Middle High School, ELOs are made available to activate student engagement and allow students to take ownership over their learning. The school connects students to resources outside of the school – whether that be interning at a radio station or with the local police department – aligning competencies to course curriculum to ensure rigor.

Lucas’ ELO allowed him to work one-on-one with the robotics instructor to design a year-long course of study that covered 15 specific competencies in physical science, robotics, and writing. During his ELO, Lucas designed and programmed two robots and developed a detailed record of what he learned during the many trials it took before the robots were able to successfully complete their tasks. Lucas plans to build on the skills and knowledge of this ELO in the fall as he attends NHTI, Concord’s Community College, to study electrical engineering and computer engineering.

At the Exhibition Night, Pittsfield Superintendent John Freeman noted that, “Rather than asking students to sit quietly and absorb everything they’re told, we’re more and more asking them to be actively involved in researching, experimenting, and talking about what’s important to them in the context of both traditional school subjects and subjects that interest them as they grow to become successful learners in their post-high school learning and in their careers.” Exhibition Night was a great chance to see student ownership in action in Pittsfield.

Lucas Orwig is a Program Officer at the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.

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