There is a type of adventure particular to this time of year, when our children are in school, or in the throes of academic achievement, shall we say. It is a unique adventure, often fraught with unseen obstacles and gnarly messes, but ultimately enjoyable and rewarding.
It is found only in schools, particularly the upper elementary grades, as well as the middle-school and high-school grades.
It is: The Science Fair.
There are arguably actually two types of adventure within the broad category of the science fair: helping one’s son or daughter put together a science project, and organizing a whole science fair for a school.
As it happens, I have had experience with both.
I organized a successful science fair at my son’s elementary school last year, in which he participated, and am beginning the process of organizing this year’s fair as well.
While I have found many websites that offer suggestions on science fair projects, there are few that cover all of the complexities and nuances of organizing a fair, so let me offer a few tips along those lines for those who would consider heading up a school science fair.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Organizing a Science Fair
- Do offer a really good kick-off assembly. This is where you get kids excited about science, introduced to the basic idea of what a science fair project entails, and familiarized with the details of entering the fair. Our local university chemistry club, YChem, provided a professor who put on a fabulous “chemistry magic show” with fire tornadoes and all sorts of big booms. It worked well.
- Don’t expect teachers to carry most of the weight. While it is important that you communicate with them, and get their input on dates for deadlines, etc., you should not expect that they will bend over backward to incorporate any particular science fair rubric or curriculum. I organized my first science fair naively expecting every 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teacher to be gung-ho about it, since there had been no science fair at our school for decades. While there were a few that were helpful, the rest were decidedly not so. If you go in with low expectations for their involvement, and plan accordingly, you have a better chance of having a successful fair.
- Do allow both science and engineering projects in your fair, but make sure you have judges proficient in both areas. ScienceBuddies.org, a site that I rely upon heavily in planning science fairs, provides ideas for both types of projects, as well as different judging rubrics. Start asking around early, amongst your working friends and at your local colleges and universities, for people willing to judge.
- Do check to see if your school district and/or region hosts science fairs of their own for the winners of the school-level fairs. If you schedule your fair at least two to three weeks before them, you can provide extra incentive (and maybe cash rewards) for kids to work hard on their projects.
- Don’t be afraid to approach local businesses for prizes, particularly if you have a small budget. While I could write an entirely separate post on tips and techniques for doing so, suffice it so say that you will be more successful if you approach businesses that sell science-related products or services well in advance of your fair.
Seeing the amazing projects your science fair participants come up with, as well as the smiles on their faces when they receive a compliment from a judge or a prize from a principal, will make following these tips worthwhile in your science fair adventure.