Science Fairs, are they worth it?

Science fairs, they are an event where students get to show off their new knowledge, experiments and studies to their fellow classmates, teachers, parents and community. After weeks of stress, planning and frustrations the 5-8 students at my school were able to, on Friday, present their science fair projects. Here is what I have learned, for 90% of the projects do not, in anyway meet the curriculum, yet teachers are always so stressed because they do not have enough time in the school year to teach the curriculum. This made me start to question, if science fairs are really worth the stress, work and time commitment.

I only participated in two science fairs while in school, one in grade 8 and one in grade 9. This was after months of  learning process, terminology, research, data collection, and proper scientific paper writing. At the time I found it very beneficial, and it helped me greatly while taking university science classes. However, I did not see these same skills being used by my students. I seen students throwing together last minute projects, that they borrowed from the internet, students that had no idea how to write a proper, or even a slightly proper paper that demonstrates knowledge of the scientific process and reasoning behind why we use the scientific process to draw conclusions,  and why those conclusions do not have to be right.

Science fairs, if done right could be an extremely educational and beneficial experience for students; however, I do not believe that schools should have science fairs, just for the sake of having a science fair.

In my opinion, if a school wants to do a science fair than the teacher that decides to have their students participate needs to be willing to take on the extra work, not just to expect students to be able to make the connections themselves. Science fair is a big project, and like any big project the teacher needs to take an active role in the project. This means having times to check in with students, to have deadlines for specific sections, and having students fully understand why the different sections of the scientific process are valuable and need to be carried out throughout the whole  project. Students are smart, and can learn any information that they chose to learn; but they cannot learn, if they are not taught. If a student fails at the graphic organizer, than they are guaranteed to fail at the whole  project; that is how inquiry works. It is different parts of the assignment, being used to create one final, strong project that shows the learning and knowledge developed throughout the project to other students.

Some students really benefited from experiencing science fair, but I think that more students felt stressed about what they were doing, rather than learning from what they were doing. When the goal of a science fair is to just get it done, is learning really happening? The grade 5s and 6s, did not benefit from experiencing the fair; many of them did not understand the reasons behind doing the fair, and many of them relied primarily on their parents to assist them because they did not understand how to conduct an experiment, or collect data, or present the data. Having young students participate in a science fair requires the teacher to be prepared to assist in major ways, this is even more so for students who are younger.

For the science fair, guest judges were brought in as well as staff from different areas of the school, many of the judges were from the community and did not have any teaching/ grading experience which resulted in marks being most students failing, or doing way below their personal average. This caused frustrations for the teacher, as well as for the students. The work completed by the students did not show evidence of their learning, but rather highlighted any flaws or missing information that the students should have included/ not included. After spending a lot of my own time helping the students, I found it frustrating to see the students work be pulled apart so much.

If I was to do a science fair in the future, there would be some major differences; students would know at the start of the year that we would be doing one, as we learn different skills they would start applying this to their science project. It would not be a three week project, but a project that took place at random times throughout the year, with pre-determined deadlines for different components of the project, but it would not be rushed. The topics that they chose may not have to do with the curriculum, but the processes that they use, or background information would relate to the curriculum. Students will also get a cross-curricular component of english with paper writing, and researching skills. If science fair is taught correctly, than it can be beneficial for higher middle years students, but if the students are able to see the real world applications and uses for what they are learning about than it may expand their thought process. One thing that I would ensure is having students come up with an idea before looking on line, so that their idea is authentic and not a reproduction.

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