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.
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.