End the Torture of Science Fairs

Tch Next Gen Science Squad

Yellow, trifold Science Fair poster that reads, "How Much Turmoil Does the Science Project Cause Families?"As a classroom teacher, I used to require all of my fourth and fifth grade students to complete a formal science fair presentation following the scientific process with a tri-fold board and a classroom competition. I made it a big deal and organized many school-wide science fairs with elaborate themes and events. My intent was to get students and our community engaged and excited about science.

When my own children started participating in science fairs, I learned that my actual impact looked a little less like engagement and excitement, and a little more like torture — for the whole family! I was definitely not my best parenting self while trying to coerce my own children to finish their projects, and I realized that it’s time for a science fair revolution.

Check out this hilarious article by Susan Messina, creator of the turmoil project.

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Time for A Shift

The shift from a strict adherence to the scientific process to the Science and Engineering Practices should be reflected in our school science events. There are eight practices and only one of them is Planning and Carrying Out Investigations.

It’s time to broaden our view of a science fair, just like we’ve broadened our definition of the practices.

The “scientific method” makes science into a series of rigid steps — and can lead students to disengage. In contrast, the Science and Engineering Practices highlight how science is a highly social, creative, and iterative problem-solving process, involving a variety of different kinds of intellectual work.

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Facing My Fears: Teaching STEM to Kindergartners

Tch Next Gen Science Squad

Do you ever wonder how you get yourself into some things?

That’s exactly what I was thinking when I stepped in front of 21 kindergartners to teach a lesson I developed with the video camera rolling. I planned on challenging myself and embracing my year of growth mindset and learning from taking risks. I was both excited and terrified by the opportunity to bring my love of STEM to the small scientists.

Did I mention that I have NEVER taught kindergarten before?

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Engaging the Community with Family Engineering Nights

Tch Next Gen Science Squad

“Now I understand what engineering in elementary school looks like!”

A dad raving about the Family Engineering Night

“Easiest and most fun event I have ever volunteered for at school.”

A teacher leading a station

“Loved how it got all members of the family involved in problem solving!”

A response from the parent survey


How much to do you involve your families with school?

If you’re like me, involvement with families consists of newsletters, emails, volunteering in the classroom, attending performances or academic celebrations, and conferences. As I started analyzing and reviewing how I was engaging families in the new science standards, I quickly realized this was purely a one-way system. Families were merely an audience for whatever I deemed relevant.

As I researched more about the traditional family involvement paradigm I’d been adhering to for so long, I realized I was missing an important and critical opportunity to have families as partners. So I started unpacking my beliefs and biases about families, and I thought about ways I could reframe and reshape what I’ve been doing. I was ready to move beyond the status quo and start pushing my practices to move out of my comfort zone!

The opportunity to start this work fell on my plate as a mandate. In my new role as district Elementary Science and STEM Specialist, I was informed that all 15 elementary schools would be hosting a family engineering night, for the first time EVER.

We’ve completed five of our school events and received overwhelmingly positive responses from teachers, volunteers, families, and students — a few of my favorites opened this post.

Here’s how we did it — and you can do it too!

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Jump In With Next Generation Science Standards Deep Dive

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Science is important for students to learn. No, actually, science is crucial for everyone to understand the world and how we interact with it. Teaching Channel, alongside many educators, is working hard to communicate strategies and resources to improve science instruction and allow deeper understanding and broader access for all students.

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