The Science Fair can be a student's chance to showcase their creativity, curiosity, and propensity for science, but for some it means stress, discouragement, and an aversion to the process as a whole. For many schools, the science fair is a requirement, although recently, science fair rules and culture have been changing due to COVID-19 and other factors. When given the opportunity, though, students, parents, and teachers should welcome the fair. Participating is an important rite of passage that can pay off for students in big ways, both literally and metaphorically. Some data suggests that about 60% of students overall reported an increase in interest in science and engineering after participating in the science fair. While monetary and scholarship incentives vary at the local and state level, nationally, the chance to be rewarded for research is impressive. Check this link out to see what the ISEF offers to top student scientists here.
While these numbers are "fair-ly " (see what we did there?) impressive, the numbers were significantly higher when students were given the option to participate in the science fair rather than be required to do so. The implications of this are interesting. On the one hand, it makes sense that more students would enjoy and benefit from the science fair when it is not required, as it is more likely that only those who are already interested in science will participate. On the other hand, strict requirements and due dates along with intense competition may deter many students from wanting to participate, even if an interest in science already exists. Incentivizing and emphasizing the importance of the learning experience may be part of the solution to get the less competitive student to "buy-in". Additionally, adult encouragement and support from parents and teachers is key.
For those who do have the competitive bug, there are a few things that presenting in a science fair can do to increase student confidence. In addition to learning about a topic for which they are interested or pocketing cash or scholarships, students learn to speak confidently and competently about their research. Students learn not only to create visual representations of their research in the form of data, graphs, and charts, but they also get to speak extemporaneously to discuss and defend their findings. While the learning implications are vast, the fair can still be a daunting task for those who are more inexperienced or who lack a support network to help get from hypothesis to results.
In an interview on our "Let's Go to Space: BLUE-SKY Learning" podcast, we got the chance to interview with Jennifer Davis, the director for the Palm Beach Regional Science and Engineering Fair in Florida. In addition to hearing about her career journey, we also learned valuable insights and tips on how to increase student interest in the science fair as well as how to increase passion for the projects and experiments they conduct.
Here are the top takeaways:
Start early. Take time to think about the student's passions and how to incorporate them into a project that is fun for the student and interesting for the audience. This reduces last minute stress as well!
There is a project for most passions. Allow the student to incorporate their interests. The top performing projects are those that are "out-there" and creative.
Encourage a student's love for science early on. The science fair is all about the mindset of the child, and the parent's role in encouragement is central to that.
Making the science fair more equitable and accessible is crucial. Whether through monetary, social, or other forms of assistance, this is a major issue that needs to be addressed. This is where support even at the school level or in the community is important, particularly for underserved populations.
For more tips on excelling at the fair, check out this website
At the Aerospace and Innovation Academy, we can provide science fair support every step of the way. Need a new and original idea? Need help developing the experiment? Want advice on how to present info on the board in a way that stands out? Paperwork overwhelming? Consult with science fair expert Kevin L. Simmons to take the pain out of the fair. Check out his BLUECUBE aerospace webpage here or email him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.