Science Fairs Under the 'Scope

Research Overview


  1. What are the basic models and elements of middle school science fairs? (How do they vary, and how do they function?)
  2. Do science fairs increase students’ interest in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) and/or STEM careers? If so, how?
  3. Does participation in select models of middle school science fairs enhance students’ mastery of the science and engineering practices? If so, how?; and
  4. What costs and resources are required to implement an effective middle school science fair?


In order to answer Question 1, in 2014 and 2015, we collected 185 surveys from science fair coordinators, most of whom were science teachers. These science fair coordinators were sampled from a nationally representative sample of 325 middle schools, resulting in a response rate of 57%. The survey allowed us to describe the variety of science fair models taking place in middle schools across the country.

In order to answer Questions 2-5, we collected data from 21 middle schools located in the Midwest, Northeast, South, and Western regions of the United States. These schools were in rural, suburban, and urban locales, with students representing a range of demographic characteristics. Data collected included the following:

Type of Data # of Responses and Data Source
Time queries (surveys completed on a regular basis documenting time and money spent on the science fair) 762, from teachers, principals, and parents
Surveys 185, from teachers and parents
Interviews 206, with teachers, principals, science fair judges, and others
Science fair observations 20
Student focus groups 19
Student pre-science fair questionnaires 568
Student post-science fair questionnaires 537
Science fair artifacts 20 schools provided artifacts

Our study findings describe variation in science fair approaches, student outcomes of learning and interest, parents’ involvement in science fairs, and the cost of implementing science fairs. More elaborate and detailed presentations of our findings in response to the questions we posed can be seen in the papers authored by our study team.


View our video giving an overview of the study (presented at the 2016 NSF STEM For All Video Showcase).

Download our project flyer. (click image to enlarge)sf-handout