Science fairs suck! — Year after year throughout the US, and around the world, when science fair season comes along, I hear these exact words from kids, parents and teachers. I probably hear these sorts of things more than most people, because I served as leader of one of the oldest science fairs — if not the oldest state fair in the country — for well over a decade. Not to mention, I held (and probably still hold) the record for first place science fair wins in Massachusetts, and likely one of the top in the country.
Barnas Monteith was a two-time Grand Award winner in high school at the International Science and Engineering Fair.
I’ve judged and spoken at national fairs in numerous countries, and have written a few books on the topic. Four of my business partners are people I’ve met through science fairs, and I continue to be involved decades after my first science fair in middle school. I’ve pretty much been doing science fairs my whole life (among other science & engineering related things), and I hope you find my point of view valuable.
In my travels around the world to different science fairs, I can’t even count how many times I’ve heard some variation of the following:
Science fairs wreak havoc on families and living room floors. All that rushing around at the last minute, buying materials and making a giant mess. It’s expensive and it’s not really part of school. How can this be educational?
It’s impossible for kids to come up with ideas for science fairs on their own when their life experiences are so short; and, how are they expected to commit to that single project idea for 3 or possibly 6 months?
Most top-winning science fairs are done by wealthy, academic parents. Everybody knows this. How can regular kids have any chance at winning something?
How can a science fair be “fair” when there are kids from so many different backgrounds, and different income levels? There’s no way that my kid, from a poor town, could afford all the supplies and equipment to compete against the kids from the rich towns, who seem to win every year.
With a blog title like this, I suppose there could be a lot of room for different interpretations here. But, for those of you who are worried, I don’t mean that a sentient robot from the future has come back in time to win this year’s ISEF (International Science & Engineering Fair) so that an alternate dimension could be created in order to save the human race from AI. But, with the way student science fair projects are evolving, this could very well happen. And I think that’s actually a good thing.
The Massachusetts State Science & Engineering Fair, held annually at MIT for 70 + years
What I’m really saying here is that science fairs around the world are increasingly being taken over by AI-related science projects. It’s no longer the case that the occasional algorithm-focused AI project is relegated to computer science or math category. Medical, physics, energy, environmental, chemistry and other subjects are now flooded with AI projects at an ever increasing pace. It’s happening at the regional and state level of science fairs as well as the International.
Last year, I did a quick study of the projects containing the terms artificial intelligence or machine learning at the middle school and high school international fairs. I presented the following data on this research at the AAAI (Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence):
Monteith, Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence 2019 Symposium