Science fairs are a rite of passage for many school-age children. In the United States, schools in over 47 states have offered science fairs reaching students as young as 9 and 10 years old. However, there have been few rigorous, systematic studies of whether science fairs boost kids’ interest in science and their ability to investigate interesting questions.
With support from the National Science Foundation, we conducted the first national study of science fairs in the U.S. In 2014 and 2015, we surveyed middle school science teachers to better understand the variety of science fair models taking place in middle schools. And in 2016-18, we collected data from science fairs held in 21 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.