Science Fairs Under the 'Scope

Research Overview

The 5 research questions this study hopes to answer are as follows:

  1. What are the basic models and elements of middle school SFs? (How do they vary, and how do they function?)
  2. To what extent does participation in a particular model of middle school SF enhance students’ mastery of the science and engineering practices and/or their interest in science and/or their interest in future science education or careers?
  3. What student-, teacher-, and school-level factors contribute to or inhibit students’ gains in SEP mastery and/or their interest in science?
  4. What resources are required—human, financial, and otherwise—to implement an effective middle school SF?
  5. What are the most cost-effective aspects of the SF experience? (How can they be applied by SF leaders and/or adapted by classroom teachers in order to strengthen students’ mastery of the SEPs?)

There are two main phases to the Science Fairs Under the ‘Scope study:

PHASE 1 (2014-2015)
In phase 1, Science Fairs Under the ‘Scope developed a survey designed to find out more about the elements and models of school-level science fairs. Using the Common Core of Data, a random national sample of schools was generated and these schools were contacted by project team members to determine their eligibility. Schools that were part of the sample, served grades 6-8, and held a classroom or school-level science fair were asked to take the Science Fair Inventory survey.

PHASE 2 (2015-2018)
In Phase 2 of the study, the research team took an in-depth look at the science fair experience (from the assignment of the project to the event) at schools across the country. In addition to learning about the science fair experience as a whole, the team is also focused on 6th grade students’ mastery of the science & engineering practices and interest in science.

During school year 2015-2016, the team selected 3 schools in 3 different regions of the United States, to participate in the pilot year of the study. The purpose of the pilot year was to test the instruments being developed by the research team. Instruments included interview protocols, surveys and observation protocols.

Using lessons learned from the pilot year, surveys, interviews and observations from the pilot year were revised for the full data collection year. During the school year of 2016-17, data collectors worked with 21 participating schools in 4 different regions of the U.S. More than 200 participants (parents, teachers, administrators, and judges) were interviewed. Parent and teacher surveys were completed by 185 participants, and 130 teachers and parents completed time queries. In addition, 20 school science fairs were observed, 19 student focus groups were held, and more than 500 students took our pre- and post-science fair questionnaires.

The data from the full data collection year will be analyzed and reported in 2017-2018.

Results from the study will be shared with teachers, science fair coordinators, researchers and the public. A few of these items are listed below:

  1. From the Science Fair to the Classroom: Cost-effective strategies for adapting the best of the science fair experience to build your students’ science and engineering practices. Based on our findings regarding the most cost-effective components of SFs, and the joint discussions with our SF partners and project advisors in the fourth year of the study, this handbook will be designed for classroom teachers. It will serve as a practical guide to creating opportunities to adapt the components highlighted by study findings for their classroom use in order to develop their students’ SEP mastery.
  2. Science Fairs and the Next Generation Science Standards: Cost-effective strategies to help your science fair strengthen students’ science and engineering practices. Like the above handbook, this handbook will be designed for the SF community, including SF leaders, judges, volunteers, funders, parents, and informal science teachers.
  3. Science Fairs: What are they, really; and how do they work? This article will summarize the results of Phase 1 and will be adapted for diverse audiences including the education research community, formal and informal science educators, and the SF community. This will be the first research-based description of SF models and their associated design elements based on both large-scale survey data and expert opinion.
  4. The Science and Engineering Practices and Interest Inventory (SEPII). This instrument will make a significant contribution to science education research as the field is making every effort to develop measures of science learning that are aligned with the NGSS.
  5. The suite of data collection instruments and scoring rubrics developed to systematically describe SFs as well as measure their impact on student learning.