Science Fairs Under the 'Scope

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Education Development Center, Inc.
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This project is funded by the National Science Foundation, grant # 1421112. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in these materials are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Tell us about your science fair experiences
While our study focuses on schools serving grades 6-8, we’ve had a lot of interest in our work from parents, teachers and judges of all grade levels. Feel free to share your science fair experiences with us here:


  1. I teach Science to grades 7 and 8 (in a K-8 school). The IJAS has two options for participants statewide in Illinois – Experimental Investigation and Design Investigation (a new option). Last year I gave my students a choice, which was instructionally challenging. This year all my students did the Design Investigation. From my experience this is a huge improvement over experiments for Science Fair. Teaching it was a challenge, since students are not at all familiar with the engineering design process, but the results were great. The projects were creative and complex and the connections to established curricular standards in Science were strong (which is not always the case in many Science Fairs, where about a third of the projects are based on behavioral and consumer science, which aren’t covered by any standards.) A lot of the competitions these days have a problem solving / engineering approach, and I hope Science Fairs start to veer that direction, too.

  2. I teach in a smaller, rural school in northwest Iowa. We have a local science fair for the 8th grade at our local community college. and then judges choose projects to go on to our Iowa State science and Technology Fair in Ames, Iowa. My students have to use the scientific method and experimental design to create a project designed to collect numerical data. Then, they create graphs to communicate the results of their testing, etc. The one thing I like is that our school has purchased backboards, paper, signs, staplers, etc. This means students put their boards together in school and not at home. Students can do their experiment at home or in school- depends on the nature of their topic. I don’t use a lot of class time for this; students work during study halls or other free time. I probably average 5 class days/year for the science fair. They have a choice to either work by themselves, or in groups of 2 or 3. I have to approve their experiment before they start and parents need to sign a form to show they are aware of the project. If students can’t get together after school or on weekends to work together, they have a school option. Also, by putting together their boards at school, it “levels the playing field” for all students. The supplies are funded by our local Education Foundation, which I am very thankful for! The content of the students experiments show through more with everything else equal.

  3. I started a local science fair for my community because, as a scientist, I was sad to see so many schools moving away from doing science fair. I wanted the children in my area who have a real passion for science to have an opportunity to be recognized for the things they can do. My experience with science fair has been nothing short of terrific. The things that the kids come up with to investigate and their passion for doing it is amazing. I’ve had 3rd graders taking apart foam “missile” fins so they can figure out what will happen to the flight of the “missile” when the fins are placed in different places; 2nd graders investigating how effective hair is for cleaning up oil out of water; 4th graders estimating the amount of “oil” in pre-packaged food based on the size of the grease stain; the list goes on and on. All of these projects were initiated by questions the kids came up with *themselves* and were completely done by the kids. Kids, particularly the girls, that started with the fair when they were in 2nd grade have persisted through middle school which, as we know, is the real difficulty. As they’ve grown, their projects have become more complex but they are still a direct reflection of the students’ interest. The girls in particular have been very good at consistently winning awards and prizes at District and State Competitions. Their success seems to fuel their interest and they keep coming back . In fairness, I think part of this success occurs because the kids that participate in this fair CHOOSE to do so (they are not forced to do a project by their teacher). The students that I have interacted with in the upper divisions have also persisted and have continued to study science in college. Finally, I like the fact that both our District and State Science Day have judging criteria which DIRECTLY correlate with the inquiry based state science standards and seem to be even better aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards. There may be other ways to engage kids in science but science fair, by far and away, emulates – and in the process teaches – what I *DO* as a scientist (i.e. problem solving) better than any other competition or activity I’ve been involved with. I’ve been involved with many.

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