Wisdom Begins with Wonder

I hate science fair

I am a science teacher.

I hate science fair.

Why?

Three main reasons: they only happen once a year, they don’t happen during class time (usually), and only the “A students” and the Science Club kids do it.

Credit: Rich Bower, Flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/rbowen/3266847462/

Credit: Rich Bower, Flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/rbowen/3266847462/

Only once a year

Why do kids only get this rich student-centered inquiry-based experience once a year?  Why aren’t they doing genuine inquiry research and experimentation repeatedly throughout the year?  Why aren’t they presenting their work to an audience outside the classroom more than once a year?  The “science fair” experience (on a slightly smaller scale) could be repeated multiple times throughout the year.  That is how students really learn the process of science!

Not during class time

Why not?  Why do kids have to do this on their own time?  Why not do this type of work during class?  I know some science teachers in some schools do give class time for science fair.  Some even require all students in certain science classes to participate.  My point is this – why does class time have to be so teacher centered and the students only get to do “science fair” type work as “enrichment?”  Let’s enrich the experience for students IN OUR SCIENCE CLASSES!

Only the “A students” and the Science Club kids do it

That’s because it’s almost always an optional enrichment activity for those students who already love science (or whose parents make them do it).  Why not give all kids the opportunity to generate a question that they are interested in and mentor them through the pursuit of an answer?  All kids can do science!

What is good about the science fair concept:

  • Having students do “real science” in an open-ended inquiry format
  • Connecting students to mentors in the science field, whether they are from industry or academia
  • Engagement is enhanced by allowing students to choose the focus of their project
  • Having students present to an audience outside the classroom is a very good thing

My suggestion is that we give students the opportunity to do this type of work regularly throughout the year.  Maybe the teacher introduces the general topic or guiding question, maybe not.  From there the students generate their own questions, do research, design and carry out experiments, and summarize and present their results.  Bring in parents, other teachers, community members, other students, etc. for the students to present to.  Have them present their results in any number of formats: posters, electronic presentations (PowerPoint, Prezi, SlideRocket, movies, etc.).  Rinse and repeat.

Oh, and have fun!



8 comments ↓

  • #   Matt Townsley on 08.05.10 at 6:52 pm     

    “My suggestion is that we give students the opportunity to do this type of work regularly throughout the year. Maybe the teacher introduces the general topic or guiding question, maybe not. From there the students generate their own questions, do research, design and carry out experiments, and summarize and present their results. Bring in parents, other teachers, community members, other students, etc. for the students to present to. Have them present their results in any number of formats: posters, electronic presentations (PowerPoint, Prezi, SlideRocket, movies, etc.). Rinse and repeat.”

    Aside from the optional/electronic formats, you described the science fair format of the high school in my district.
    All 9th and 10th grade science students must complete a science fair project as part of their course. Much (but not all) of the work takes place during class. Students choose their own topic with the guidance and approval of the instructor. Judges are community members, students from the local university and employers of math/science-related fields.

    Boy was I wrong in assuming everyone else did it this way, too….


  • #   Mr. Rice on 08.05.10 at 7:13 pm     

    I think you are rare in what you are doing. Most science fairs I’ve read about or been involved in are outside of class time.

    Do you do it once a year, or more often? If not more often, why not?


  • #   Matt Townsley on 08.05.10 at 7:20 pm     

    Once per semester, but we have a 4×4 block – 18 week courses. I can’t speak for the science department with 100% certainty (I taught math), but from what I understand the amount of time it takes to develop good questions, test it, tabulate results, display them, etc., they feel like a single project is all that can be done due to the amount of in-class time it takes to pull them off. Quality over quantity, I’d guess. In my six years at the school, I can remember at least two projects moving past the state competition. I passed on this post to two in the science department. I hope they’ll comment, too.


  • #   Mr. Rice on 08.05.10 at 7:28 pm     

    My first thought would be to scale down the pageantry of it and do it more often. I find that kids learn how to do inquiry best when they do repeated cycles of it over the course of the year.

    I’m not a big fan of the competition aspect of it either, honestly. I prefer to call these things poster sessions or symposiums and not give awards.


  • #   Shawn Cornally on 08.05.10 at 8:50 pm     

    Mr. Rice – Hello! Great post, I agree with your sentiments entirely.

    I am actually the science fair coordinator at Matt Townsley’s school. What we saw were exactly the same problems that you brought up. So we’ve begun designing our classes around the science fair model, which is of course inquiry in disguise. Pretty much all of our science teachers have adopted these smaller week to two-week cycles of science fair projects in their courses, and it has turned out amazingly! We are currently also making the switch to standards-based grading to better align our assessment strategies with our instructional goals.

    My blog is listed in the information and feel free to click through to the physics section to see what we’ve been doing. I’d love some input!


  • #   Lee Meadows on 08.06.10 at 4:27 am     

    I’m a hater, too.


  • #   Mr. Rice on 08.06.10 at 10:50 am     

    Shawn-

    I’m trying to break the rigid mold of science fair and scientific method. Inquiry, project based learning, and student designed experiments need to happen regularly in science classrooms for kids to learn the process.


  • #   Mr. Rice on 08.06.10 at 10:50 am     

    Lee-

    Why am I not surprised?


Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Tweets that mention I Hate Science Fair | Wisdom Begins with Wonder -- Topsy.com

Leave a Comment