Science fairs are a rite of passage for many school-age children. In the U.S., schools in over 47 states have offered science fairs reaching students as young as 9 and 10 years old. We know science fairs have their critics, but they also have devoted fans. The trouble is, there is no real research-based evidence to show what kids learn from science fairs. Do they really boost kids’ interest in science and their ability to investigate interesting questions?
That’s where we come in. With support from the National Science Foundation, Education Development Center science educators and researchers are “putting science fairs under the microscope.” Over the next several years, a team headed up by Abigail Jurist Levy, Jackie DeLisi, and Marian Pasquale, will conduct the first real study of science fairs in the U.S. (“Science Fairs Under the ‘Scope”). In 2014 and 2015, we are carrying out a national survey of middle school science teachers whose students participate in their schools’ science fairs. The survey results will allow us to describe the variety of science fair models taking place in middle schools. We will then spend 2 years studying 40 science fairs held in schools across the country to take a closer look at:
1) if and how science fairs increase students’ interest in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) and/or STEM careers;
2) if and how participation in select models of middle school science fairs enhance students’ mastery of the science and engineering practices; and
3) what costs and resources are required to implement an effective middle school science fair.
Our 4-year study will be the first step to understanding the effectiveness of science fairs.