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Getting Teachers On Board for Our First Science Fair

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Hi. This is Brian again... a science teacher in Chicago and guest blogger at Science Buddies this fall as I work to help organize our school's first science fair.

What I'm discovering is that when you decide to run a science fair, you have to have some clear goals and objectives.

According to Science Buddies' "Guide to Planning a Science Fair," the first two steps in planning a science fair are to set the date and set the goals.

The goals for my school's first science fair are pretty simple:

  1. Get all students to participate in some way.
  2. Help them have as much success and fun doing science projects as possible.
  3. Try to involve other subjects as much as possible in supporting the students.
  4. Build towards better and stronger projects so our students can have success at the national level.

Getting Teacher Buy-In

Now, I love the idea of a science fair, which you probably guessed because I'm writing this blog, and I have this belief that all science teachers should be super excited about the idea of a school science fair as well.

That is not always the case.

Tuesday was my first opportunity to talk with the other teachers at the school about our science fair. In preparation for meeting with them, on Monday I sent copies of two Science Buddies' resources, "Teachers guide to Science Projects" and the "Your Question Handout" for students.

In the meeting on Tuesday, I got some typical resistance:

  1. how much class time is this going to take up?
  2. how are we going to get the students, especially our low income students, the resources they need?
  3. when are they going to get into the lab?
  4. what if the projects are not high quality enough?

I was ready with some answers.

How much class time is this going to take up?

Help them choose the topic in class, but otherwise it is up to you how much time you use in class to work on science fair projects. If you have available class time or need to fill a few days, let them do research in class. Science fair projects are supposed to add to education in the classroom not displace it. It's a good idea to have check-in assignments for the students to complete. This shows they are working on their projects and allows you to ensure no one gets left behind. They can complete those worksheets or check-in logs on their own.

How are we going to get the students, especially our low income students, the resources they need?

Where there is a will, there is a way. And many projects don't cost that much. Here in Chicago, the district actually has micro grants that students can apply for to get their projects funded. Using DonorsChoose is another option, if you plan ahead. All communities have resources you can access for your students to enable top notch projects without breaking the bank, but you often have to start the projects to qualify for resources.

When are they going to get into the lab?

At my school, it is my job as a department chair to be in the lab after school. I think lab time is the best time to build relationships with students that will pay off in the classroom. Pick a day and stay until 4:30 to help your students in the lab each week. It will pay off more than grading papers or making Powerpoint presentations.

What if the projects are not high quality enough?

Who cares? Right now they are not doing any projects. This is a time for them to build the skills of life-long learners. Even if they do a super basic project, they stand to learn something. Eventually, I believe, the projects will get better.

So, I think right now everyone feels pretty good. We came to a few decisions, as well. We decided to allow group projects especially for our ELL and SPED population. We also decided to allow students to build Rube Goldberg Machines as science fair projects. Such projects are not completely science-based, but they involve applied Physics and Chemistry.

Next week, I'm going to try to get into each teacher's classroom for one period to help him or her use the Topic Selection Wizard to find projects with students. Teachers can then use the Topic Selection Wizard with the rest of their classes.

I'll be back in a few weeks to let you know how it goes!

~ Brian


[Science Buddies note: Brian is a guest teacher-blogger from a charter school in the Rodgers Park neighborhood of Chicago. To read the first installment of his adventures in organizing his school's first science fair, click here.]

3 Comments

Brian - this is a great post, and I'm glad to see things are moving along and are on track with your first science fair. It seems to me you had excellent answers for your colleagues and had spent time thinking about what questions they might have.

Another question that often comes up is this one: "how can we keep parents from 'helping' too much with their child's science fair project?" Our "How to Help" chart for parents can help address these concerns: http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/parent_resources.shtml?From=Blog#tc-howtohelp

Send this chart to the parents at the beginning of the project timeline to help set boundaries and guidelines for parental involvement.

Another good way to encourage parental involvement but discourage parental over-involvement is to include an oral presentation as part of project. Teachers and/or judges can ask the student questions about how she came up with certain ideas, theories, or methods in doing the experiment. Of course, the answer 'I don't know, my dad did that part' would not be an acceptable answer!

A science fair project is a fantastic learning opportunity and one that should not be denied to all children over worries that a few parents may become over-involved.

Keep up the great work!

Amy

Hi Brian --

Nice blog post. I look forward to hearing more about how the other teachers in the school are responding to your ideas. I think it's great that you're willing to work so hard to bring the first science fair to your school, and hopefully it will become an annual tradition.

I am the coordinator for the science fair at my daughter's elementary school (K-5), so our requirements are a little different because our kids are younger than yours. Participation is totally optional, and it's not a competition (there are no awards based on quality of project). After almost 8 years of doing this, we are up to a 50% participation level, which I think is very good for an elementary school of 600 students.

As far as parent involvement, we encourage parental involvement at the younger grade levels (KG, 1st grade) but discourage it for the older kids. Since it's not a competitive science fair, there's really no incentive for parents to do the entire project for the kids anyway.

One more thing that might help you ... as part of our desire to move things online (rather than sending home paper forms), we used a service called http://oursciencefair.com, which basically gives you a free website for your school's science fair. This can add a fun angle to your science fair, and it has a bunch of useful features. You may want to check it out.

--Rajeev

HEY my science fair is coming up and i got a project from this site. M&M math anyone use it for there science fair before?? well if you did tell me how it went.

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