Does your school district / region have a science fair? Get one! Even if it means filing your own legislation…

Barnas / aka MisterScienceFair at the MA State House

Barnas Monteith, at the MA State House, supporting bills for science fairs

It can be frustrating to hear from a teacher, school system administrator, school council member or principal that, “Sorry we do not do science fairs here because we just don’t have the budget and we just don’t have the teacher time to deal with it.  Furthermore, our focus is MCAS, SAT’s, or some other form of mandated standardized formal assessment.”   Worse yet, you may hear, “We don’t support science fairs because our union believes they are unfair since most of the time with winning projects the parents do the projects – or they take up teacher time unfairly – or there is simply no budget for things that are not related to formal curriculum!”

I can’t tell you how many dozens of times I have heard this during my time as Chair and Vice Chair of the MA Science Fair.  This uneducated answer is precisely the reason why I have spent so many hours every week, for decades, trying to figure out strategies to help towns & governments see the light that science fairs don’t detract from “real,” “standardized,” “formal,” learning — but rather, they serve as a means of alternative learning that will support not only the Next Generation Science Standards (essentially, the entire section known as “science practices”) but also scientific literacy in the US and other nations for generations to come.

As I went to the MA State House yesterday, once again, (for the umpteenth time – which is apparently not a real number BTW),   to promote a science fair bill I filed in the MA House of Representatives nearly 7 years ago, I met with a group of people who helped me once again believe in what I do.   You see, for many years in the early 2000′s I met with local student councils, city/town councilors, state legislators and governors to try and convince them of the overall value of science fairs (and other forms of STEM inquiry assessment) – from the perspective of teacher unions (learning time, inequity of teaching responsibilities for different subjects, teacher waivers, complexity of ongoing professional development requirments, etc), workforce development, state and local economies, national/international repututation/status, grant opportunities, publicity value at the local level, global partnership/collaboration opportunities — you name it, I analyzed it!  Well, after coming in year after year with powerpoints, whitepapers and speeches/testimony for bills and also serving on working groups and more, I realized that STEM was not yet a popular topic and people did not realize the dire need for better scientists and engineers in MA, the US and around the world.

It turned out the best way to start off in gaining recognition for this need would be to just file my own state bill, or my own barrage of bills (in case you are curious I first filed a bill in 2008 / early 2009, known as H.350 in the MA House of Reps).  In MA, there is a law that allows (private, non-elected) citizens to file their own bills, by themselves (and their State Rep is required to file it “on behalf of” a citizen).  Many other states have similar “petition” laws.  By doing so at the state level, it generates press and it generates recognition from local school, city/town council and other leaders — not to mention your state’s Congress.  It turned out that by filing my bill I also earned a unique distinction of being the one and only person to file a Massachusetts Bill by fax (according to the clerk of the House at the time, by voicemail) — and apparently I still apparently have that odd distinction.

Well, it has taken nearly a decade, with lots of meetings, and my very simple bill (which does not require state or local tax money to approve it, so it does not require a reference to the dreaded “Ways & Means” committee) is still going, with reports, hearings and readings before the Joint Committee on Education.

While it has not yet passed, it has earned attention at the local and state levels, and certainly has people talking (and to be honest although the bill is a statewide bill and has nothing to do specifically with mandating statewide science fairs; it is directed toward allowing local fairs the ability to raise their own, protected funds).  I am proud to say that around the time I filed this bill, Randolph, MA (my hometown) started its own science fair program within the whole school system, after many many decades of not doing so.  (I entered my state science fair on my own as a student, since my state fair allowed 2 students from every school in the state to enter, regardless of whether or not they had a science fair at the school/district level).

So, even if your school says no — and your principal and school council say no — you CAN still have a science fair in your area, if you file a bill, or encourage your local Rep or State Senator to do so!!!  You might even simply bring it up at your school committee/council meeting or town council/town meeting to start off with and see that gains any traction.  Maybe your local PTO/PTSO can try it, or try it on your own, and contact your local paper, and see what happens!  You may be surprised by what you can achieve.

By th way, the group of people I met with the other day were professional lobbyists, from both major parties, who told me that “the science fair is a cause they can rally around – that everyone can believe in” and they wished that they could help us out in some way, as a long-standing non-profit with good intentions that will benefit not just the students and educators of the state, but which would also be a good opportunity for politicians who can rally behind such a wonderful, low-cost but ubiquitously rewarding concept in the world of supplemental education.  Well, we might take them up on that offer.  And in the words of Stephen Colbert: “– and so can you!”

Remember, your government belongs to you, and you should use it as best you can, to improve the education of your children, and that of your neighbors too.  You don’t need to wait to vote for a person who will file a bill you like and hope that other people will vote for it too — you can just file it yourself, and promote it yourself (or better yet, run for office!)!



Unveiling “Dinosaur Eggs & Blue Ribbons” at the MA South Shore Regional Science Fair


Barnas & Pat at the South Shore Regional Science Fair

Barnas Monteith, along with Pat Monteith, of, unveiling the newest version of “Dinosaur Eggs & Blue Ribbons” (DEBR) at the MA South Shore Regional Science Fair, at Bridgewater State University.  This is the very same science fair featured within the book, where Barnas began his science fair winning streak, ultimately ending up with multiple first place International science fair awards.

“Dinosaur Eggs & Blue Ribbons” is a book designed to inspire children to join science fairs, both for the rich adventures and rewards that can be had.  DEBR chronicles Barnas Monteith’s early days as a field paleontologist as well as a science fair participant.

Pat Monteith at Regional Science Fair

Here you see Pat Monteith, who is also a science fair mentor, along with one of her students, Chad, who entered the South Shore Regional Science Fair, with a project about polar bears.  The study uses publicly available data to track long term climate change and its effects on wildlife.

Here you see Barnas, along with another of Pat’s students, focused on a study to help the blind create abstract art via a special tool which is simple to use and yields stunning artwork, similar to Jackson Pollock’s works.

For more information on DEBR, click here.

If you have any interest in becoming a Mistersciencefair mentee, please contact us via our Contact Us page link above.


BOOK RELEASE at Barnes & Noble, Prudential Center – Boston

Barnas at Barnes & Noble signingBarnas Monteith’s book launch of “Dinosaur Eggs & Blue Ribbons: Science Fairs Inside & Out” – this past weekend was a big hit!  Be sure to visit your local Barnes & Noble and get your copy today.

You can read more about the event and the book in a recent article by the Boston Herald, to be found here. 

As you can see, there were a number of children, interested in seeing dinosaur and reptile fossils as well as eggs and modern skulls from around the world.  Perhaps future science fair participants/winners, or even paleontologists?

Barnas, at the Barnes & Noble launch event for his book


More signing events at Barnes & Nobles and independent bookstores throughout New England to be announced shortly.

The book, which is part memoir, part adventure science, and part how-to-guide, helps children to understand science fairs better, and how to be more competitive.  Unlike many science fair books out there, “DEBR” is written in a story/prose format, and is not full of lists, bulets, diagrams and stuff like that.  It is full of first-hand accounts of working on paleontology field digs, in dangerous but fun conditions, making big fossil discoveries.  It’s also full of first-hand information on how to win local, regional, state and International science fairs – told from the perspective of someone who has won many fairs, and has served as a judge, mentor and fair administrator.  Lots of color pictures, and insider tips!  It’s genuinely good reading for children who may or may not be interested in fairs, children who want to be more competitive, and teachers/parents who want to help their children to succeed in the science fair world.

Barnas, signing books at Barnes & Noble


Homeschoolers & Science Fairs

This post can also be seen in its original and complete form at Supercharged Science here.

Guest post by Barnas Monteith

As a recent former Chair of one of the oldest state science fairs in the country, I can tell you that the topic of homeschool student participation in science fairs has been a major discussion point at many board meetings over the years. In the past, many fairs found it difficult to involve students who didn’t have school mentors to assist in the process, or insurance from their local school districts, to cover any accidents while conducting a project. Or, other various complicated legal or practical obstacles. But, things have changed, and fairs have found ways to work around many of these issues. In recent years, more and more fairs have begun to do more specifically to reach out to the homeschooling community.

Often homeschooling parents will be frustrated both with the lack of information and support, and the sometimes overwhelming bureaucracy of science fairs . And fairs at different levels don’t necessarily talk to each other or work with each other (i.e. districts, regions, state and national/international fairs). There are pre-approval forms, science review committees, and various safety checks and other things to do, before even starting your project. Often, fairs discourage parents from “too much” participation in a student’s project. It’s viewed as a way of making things fair for all students; the same policy applies to all parents to ensure that students are doing their own work. It’s understandable why some homeschooling families don’t want to bother with whole science fair process. Well, the climate seems to be changing rapidly, as traditional fairs, math competitions, robotics/maker fairs, virtual science fairs (Google has a great one) and other types of STEM-related informal educational activities have been competing to get more student participation. At the same time, fairs and other competitions have been offering ever-increasing prizes, to attract and reward top science talent. At the MA State Fair, we offer around a half million dollars in prizes, including some full patent awards each year (which can cost upwards of tens of thousands of dollars) to the most patentable ideas. Science fairs are no longer just about demonstrating the understanding of scientific method, as they were in the recent past. Now, science fairs have become a place where real-world science and engineering gets done, where students get their work published or patented, and even as Freshmen, are sought out by the very top research institutions and companies in the world. It’s a very rewarding experience in many ways, andit is wonderful that homeschooling families are participating in ever-increasing numbers each year.

Yet, one of the other major concerns I’ve heard over the years, especially from homeschool parents, is that access to lab resources is sometimes geographically challenging and also, often, costly. It’s hard to find projects where you can do something meaningful without spending lots of time and money obtaining data. This too is changing!

As a student, my own project looked at the evolution of dinosaurs into birds, using both microscopy and biochemical data, with real fossilized and modern eggshells. I would then crunch the data using algorithms I set up in mini-databases. It was very cross disciplinary, and that is where things seem to be heading more and more. The more disciplines you can include in your project, the more your judges believe that you are not just a deep scientific thinker, but a broad scientific thinker, who can link and bridge common ideas from otherwise very disparate subjects. While I did use some resources and materials that had a cost to them, nearly all of these were donated. Getting the data was indeed difficult, but the most innovative portion of my work was really done on computers. Admittedly, obtaining rare fossils and getting access to fancy equipment is certainly a barrier to entry and an impressive feat. But, I do think judges focus on innovation rather than the work done to obtain the raw data.   Now, both as a science fair judge, and an administrator/policy maker, I can tell you data doesn’t win fairs.

Since that time, I’ve gone on to do research and business in various scientific and technical fields. Whether it’s been working on diamond-based solar cells to new types of electrosurgery tools to planarization techniques for semiconductors, one of the key things that I’ve noticed over time is that things have gotten much easier to connect research data to the people who need that data. From simply sharing scientific experiment results / engineering tweaks more freely, to sharing rich data that demands large storage space, to crowd-sourced data, to publicly funded data, the DATA itself is becoming simpler to access. Maybe not entirely trivial to the research community, but for science fairs and the world of inquiry based education in general, it’s becoming less and less important as time goes on. And that’s a really great thing for science fair parents who don’t have funds readily available to contract out lab work, or to set up their own labs at home. There are now very compelling, top award winning science projects (including this year’s very top ISEF winner, who also happens to be from Boston, MA), that require nothing more than an Internet connection. So, if you’re reading this, then you’re all set to go win lots of science fairs.

Read the rest of the article here

MisterScienceFair co-founder Barnas Monteith slated for Winter season science fair book release

Dinosaur Eggs & Blue Ribbons: Science Fairs Inside & Out, published by Tumblehome Learning and distributed by IPG, Independent Publishers Group (so you can purchase library and school copies through Baker & Taylor, Follett, etc. or major retailers/e-tailers) is lined up for IPG’s winter season release.

SEM closeup titanosaur eggshell

SEM micrograph closeup of titanosaur eggshell – some of the microstructural morphology science featured in ‘Dino Eggs & Blue Ribbons’

The book is a personal look at science fairs through coming up with an idea, to going out in the field and collecting data (in this case, the field is the desert in Arizona and Montana), and entering science fairs for 6 years, to winning multiple International Science Fairs and breaking various science fair records.  Part memoir, and part how-to, Dinosaur Eggs & Blue Ribbons is a must-have book for every would-be science fair participant in upper elementary & middle school grades.  Suggestions and tips are informed from the perspective of both a participant and leader of one of the USA’s first and currently fastest growing science fair organizations, the MA State Science & Engineering Fair, held annually at MIT for the past 65 years.

Below is an early artist’s conception of the book cover, featuring a cartoon layover, on top of the real science project display boards used during Barnas’ early science fair years:

Dino Eggs & Blue Ribbons: Science Fairs Inside & Out

Stay in touch with us to find out when the ‘Dinosaur Eggs book is coming out and we’ll put you on a list to receive a special pre-order discount price.  Contact us here 

Help Support MisterScienceFair! With Gifts & Schwag!

Cool science fair, scanning electron, military shirts & interplanetary T-shirts, mugs & more – to help & it’s mission.  Available now at  Every purchase helps to support MisterScienceFair’s online resources, mentorships, awards, books & more. Visit now & get some cool shwag for your kids, friends and colleagues: "I'm a Science Fair Trooper" T ShirtsScanning Electron Microscopes Rock! Tees

Practice, Practice, Practice! Next Generation Science Standard Practices, Synonymous with Science Fairs…

I recently gave a talk at the 2013 Massachusetts STEM Summit, held at the Foxboro MA Patriots stadium, focused on STEM and innovation/entrepreneurship.  One of the key focuses of the talk was the upcoming Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), following the US-wide adoption of the Common Core Math and English standards.  26 of the 50 states have agreed to be part in the drafting and adoption of these standards, and more are expected to participate as well.

So, in the coming years, science departments across the US will be looking to find new ways to align their curriculum with these new standards, which include more rigorous and deep science content as well as logic processes/methods.  One such method we all know very well in the science fair community is the scientific method.

However, the term “scientific method” appears to have been replaced by the term “practices”, which encompass the very same processes promoted widely by science fairs for the past nearly 70 years.  However, by incorporating the “practices” more concretely into a national set of science standards, we may soon begin to see science fairs institutionalized in the American educational landscape.  Half a century ago, science fairs were ingrained in the US formal school culture, but due to a variety of factors (decreased funding in education across the board, more focus on a smaller subset of frameworks to improve standardized testing scores nationally, fewer school hours and less lab time, etc…) science fairs have become less of a national priority, despite the best efforts of the current administration to highlight the very best STEM students in the US.

Currently, it is thought that less than a quarter of all US students participate in a science fair of one kind or another — however, thanks to NGSS, this number may soon be on the rise as science departments grapple with a way to fulfill the practice standard requirements.  The science fair, was once seen as an innovative way to offer real world experiences to students in the sciences, and perhaps inspire them to become scientists or engineers.  Now, the science fair has re-emerged as an innovative way to

For those who doubt that the NGSS practices are in fact science fairs by another name, take a look at the following slide I presented at the Summit, which contrasts the 8 NGSS practice areas against the typical science fair process:

NGSS Practices & Science Fairs

Looks like for US science teachers and public school students alike, the next few years will be the time to pick up their old science fair curriculum resources and practice, practice, practice!

- Barnas Monteith

3 Great Videos About Entering Your State Science Fair!

Brought to you by the Massachusetts State Science & Engineering Fair, Inc. (MSSEF) – one of the oldest dedicated science inquiry non profits in the nation, started over 65 years ago.  Hosted by WBZ Meteorologist and science education activist, Mish Michaels:

The Anatomy of A Science Fair Project:

This Isn’t Your Father’s Science Fair!

About MSSEF & State Science Fairs

MSSEF’s Board of Directors has been Chaired by MisterScienceFair’s Barnas Monteith for 5 years, recently and he is now heading up a team of people to revitalize the organization’s mission and strategic plan.  One of the new missions of the organization is to spread the word about science fairs through social media.  Help us out by liking this post and tweeting about it.  Every link makes a big difference — thank you!