Sunday, October 03, 2010

Science Fair: Dream or Nightmare?

Hannah (Mrs. Kolbert's class 2009-2010) shows her project.
crossposted here

Is it every parent's nightmare to have a science fair project assigned? I think often it is but it truly doesn't have to be. With careful planning, following directions and helpful resources, creating a science fair project can (and should) be lots of fun and a great learning experience for kids. The most important thing to remember is that it's not a competition. Oh, well, I guess it is a competition. Let me put it this way: it is a STUDENT competition. Parents should do their best to let their kids take ownership of the project as much as possible. That means coming up with a topic that is interesting to the student yet sufficiently challenging. Parents definitely need to be involved, but mostly to make sure their child is following their plan, the directions, and conducting their experiments properly. A fantastic resource is Science Fair Central. I LOVE the 3 step process that walks you through the entire process. Obviously, there may be items on your school's criteria that is not on the site, but certainly you can make the adjustments.

What's your best advice for parents who are helping their kids with a science fair project?


Cathy Jo Nelson said...

As a librarian over the years I've often been asked for advice or help in the Science Fair Arena. The most successful parent night at school (that wasn't paired with some student performance gig) was the annual pto meeting that focused on Science Fair Projects. We would title the workshop "The Good, the Bad, the Ugly: Helping Your Child with the Science Fair." It was a good time to remind parents that it was a STUDENT competition, and then show them some really good ones, really bad ones (anonymously of course), and offer tips. For these events, the students were encouraged to attend with their parents. I pulled and made a special display of library books that could help as well, and we always had "exemplars" set up to show parents and students what it should look like. After the parent meeting, I took the "exemplars" and the books not checked out that night down to the library for a display. I also did the presentation for any teachers that asked for it with their classes, and this seemed to help everyone understand how to tackle and succeed at their science fair projects. No, you can't eliminate those projects where parents are too involved, but this certainly helped students begin on a more even playing field.

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My best advice would be to challenge the student. It would be so easy to let a student choose a topic, "flop" down an experiment, and consider it an accomplishment. The problem with that is the student did not learn anything. If a student feels a sense of accomplishment for doing a mediocre job, there is something wrong. The parent must ensure that the student is learning more about the project, and not simply copying information. Also, if the student is having fun with the project, he/she is more apt to do more research, add more depth, and develop new ideas to make the project as efficient as possible.

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Mandy21 said...

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