Science Fairs Inside out
Tips for Teachers (primarily for use with in-school science fairs)
You’re a science teacher because you have a love for science.
Do you remember how you first got interested in science? Was it from that really cool teacher in the 7th grade who gave you a frog to disect? Or, maybe a parent or relative took you to work with them in a lab? Did you watch science shows on TV, or special events like space shuttle launches?
Aside from any requirements you may have by the school to plan an inquiry-based science program for your students, your primary goal with assigning a science fair project should be to get your students to understand that science can be fun and exciting.
There are also many other great reasons to assign science fair projects to your students such as:
- Encourage them to find out more about their favorite subject
- Get them involved in critical thinking and reasoning
- Teach them to identify questions that can be answered through use of the scientific method
- Help improve their reading comprehension and writing skills by doing research
- Improve math skills by analyzing data and creating charts & graphs
- Learn time management
- Learn presentation skills
If you’re excited about the science fair, your students are sure to share your enthusiasm. Maybe share stories with your students about your own science fair experiences. If you didn’t have the opportunity to participate, let them know what you thought you lost by not being in a fair.
What are their interests…what are their questions?
We won’t get ino teaching or content standards here, as these are dictacted by your school district.
But hopefully, you will be able to allow your students to come up with their own projects even if it’s within a particular subject area. If so, encourage your students to pick a topic or project that’s of interest to them, personally. Get them to come up with a list of things they’d like to know more about in their topic area.
After the students have done some research on the subject, have them come up with a few questions they’d still like to have answered about the subject. Help the students narrow down their questions. Consider sharing good questions and having students who understand how to come up with specific questions, help others who are struggling.
An important decision that you will need to make early on in the process, is whether or not you will allow group projects, or if this will be an individual effort. While students will gain teamwork experience if you do allow groups, it may be difficult to assess individual contributions to the project.
Then, this is where you teach them about the scientific method and how science questions can be answered this way.
It’s extremely important to have a timeline for the science fair project, especially if the due date is a few months away:
- In your classroom, post the science fair timeline and a corresponding check-list of what needs to be done by specific dates
- Remind students weekly, of what they should be doing to stay ‘on track’
- Send a note home to parents with the timeline, to get their cooperation in helping students complete the project on time; send home one or two reminders for parents to remember the most important due dates. Or, if time permits provide the parents with a progress report of their child’s science fair project
- If the student is expected to include charts and graphs in his or her presentation, make sure they know how to do this, or find a way to help them learn.
- Make sure that you have created a standard for yourself to judge the projects such as is used at regional or state-wide fairs [link to page on Judges and Judging], and share this with your students so they’ll know what their being judged or graded on. Will the students have to maintain a notebook, create a display board, do a report or do an oral presentation?
- If your students need to create a display board, what kind of guidance will you give the students about what should be included on the board? Will there be any physical size limitations or other display rules (such as don’t bring animals)? Will parents be able to attend the science fair, if so when?
Simplified Sample Timeline for students
Due Date Assignment
Week 1 Students propose and get approval for their topic
Week 2 Background research; come up with question & hypothesis
Week 3 Propose/get approval for experiments to test the hypotheis
Week 4 Conduct experiments and record data
Week 5 Analyze data and draw conclusions
Week 6 Create charts and graphs
Week 7 Create display board
Week 8 Write report
Week 9 Present project at the science fair