Science Fairs: Makin' Me Crazy, Essential...and Dwindling

Science fair season makes me insane.  As THE science teacher for my school's 6th-8th-graders, I end up taking on an insane amount of work--for my school science fair and as I bring a group of kids to the county science fair.  One might ask the question, "Is it worth it?"  Definitely.

Throughout the process, my students learn to think like scientists.  The early stages--and the redesigns--borrow much from our work in improvisation: I encourage students to try out lots of possibilities, to own and learn from the mistakes.  From the simplest question to the most complex, these kids get to take on a project that is of interest to them--something that they own.  And then they get to present their findings.  Although we all experience a rise in stress during the process, it's the good kind of stress.  We push through the challenges to actually accomplish something.  In the best of circumstances, we innovate.

And then I come upon a newspaper article telling me that science fairs are dwindling in America.  In "It May Be a Sputnik Moment...", the New York Times presents data that I've seen confirmed in the county science fair I attended last week.  As the pressure for high stakes testing increases, fewer schools are participating in science fairs. 

What do we lose when we limit our students to small boxes that lead to narrow testing?  Presentation skills.  Scientific thinking.  The joy of owning one's learning.  Innovation.
Now, those are things worth fighting for.

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