A grant from the Cisco Foundation put Science Buddies on the ground floor of Bayside STEM Academy's annual science fair. Science Buddies partnered with the middle school throughout their science fair season, culminating in Science Buddies staff visiting the school to judge the school's science and engineering exhibition.
Thanks to support from Cisco Systems, Inc., Science Buddies provided support and a team of volunteer judges for Bayside STEM Academy's science fair. "Science Buddies proved a valuable resource in the success of our school's science/STEM fair," says James Brunner, a teacher at Bayside STEM Academy.
STEM has become a national acronym, but the local school science fair is a reminder that the need for science education exists in every community, in every school, and for every student. Thanks to community businesses and organizations like Cisco, the STEM efforts at schools like Bayside STEM Academy are being recognized and supported.
With its massive library of Project Ideas and extensive Project Guide that helps students at all levels with the steps of a science project, Science Buddies serves more than fifteen million people a year. This number, and the nonprofit's popularity with teachers, students, and parents, continues to grow as more and more emphasis is placed on science, technology, engineering, and math education in K-12 classrooms and at home.
Thanks to ongoing outreach projects and its many support-oriented resources, including the Ask an Expert forums, Science Buddies is in constant contact with members of the Science Buddies community at various stages of their projects, science fair planning, and classroom science integration. Visibility into both student science project successes and stumbling blocks helps Science Buddies continually refine, update, and expand science education offerings and programs as the organization responds to increasing demand for more hands-on science opportunities, activities, and resources.
Although myriad science learning opportunities may exist for K-12 students, both in class, at home, and after school, the school "science fair" remains a cornerstone of hands-on science education for many grade school students. Both at home and as part of in-class computer time, Science Buddies is a prime destination for students during science fair season. Whether students need help finding a project, determining their variables, setting up a project display board, or navigating other steps of the scientific method or engineering design process, Science Buddies strives to help students complete successful science projects and have positive science experiences.
Each year during science fair season, Science Buddies staff members visit local fairs, an important step in staying in touch with how real students, real teachers, and real schools are responding to the national STEM challenge. This year, staff members had the opportunity to be in the field as they volunteered, as a group, to judge the annual science fair at Bayside STEM Academy, a public middle school in San Mateo, CA. The school's curriculum focuses on the intersection between science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and an approach they call "design thinking," a methodology they believe breeds innovators and creative problem solvers.
As its name underscores, Bayside STEM Academy is a science-focused school. The importance of STEM and creative thinking and problem solving is central to the school's belief system, pedagogy, and core offerings. Not surprisingly, the whole school participates during science fair season. Every Bayside student—6th, 7th, and 8th grade—completes a science project. The top forty projects from each grade are then exhibited at the school's science fair.
This year, a grant from Cisco Systems, Inc. enabled Science Buddies to team with Bayside STEM Academy to further support the school's science fair efforts and to attend the fair and judge the student exhibits.
Science Fair Season
A school's science fair often spans a few days. Students set up their projects, and judges review all entries and determine the winners. Then the doors are opened, and the community is invited to come and see the collective exhibition of student science and engineering exploration and acumen. The public viewing may be a period of hours or days, but during this time, the student body, parents, and the community at large have the opportunity to be inspired and excited by the work of local students and teachers.
In addition to their students' use of the Topic Selection Wizard, Project Directory, and Project Guide, the school used the Science Fair Schedule Worksheet to help plan and schedule the fair. According to James Brunner, a teacher at Bayside STEM, this year's science fair was so successful that they plan to hold a fair again next year and will use Science Buddies resources again both for student projects and for fair organization and planning. "We all [the teachers at Bayside] felt that Science Buddies was a big help to our students," says Brunner.
STEM in Action
"James Brunner and the teachers at Bayside STEM are a proven example of successful science fair organization and implementation," says Claire Hubbard, Science Buddies Product Design Engineer. "The teachers used Science Buddies resources to plan and conduct their science fair, in addition to using Science Buddies Project Ideas to inspire their students."
Hubbard worked as closely with Bayside STEM Academy during their science fair season and coordinated the team of Science Buddies volunteers who visited the science fair to judge the student projects. Hubbard has interviewed and observed numerous teachers and students regarding STEM education and the use of Science Buddies resources. The Bayside STEM Academy science fair gave her a chance to witness the impact of hands-on science and the resources and Project Ideas at Science Buddies on a larger scale—a school rather than a class or an individual finding and doing a science project.
Reinforcing the Value of Science Exploration
In the past, Bayside STEM Academy's science fair has been judged by parents and teachers. Having Science Buddies visit the fair was a welcome change, says Brunner. "It was very refreshing and unique to have Science Buddies' staff members involved with the judging this year."
"A huge thank you to Cisco for making our partnership with Bayside STEM Academy possible," says Hubbard. "It was a wonderful and unique opportunity to see our resources in action, first-hand."
For other Science Buddies staff members, being part of Bayside STEM Academy's science fair was equally rewarding. "It was a great opportunity to be at ground level of the work we are doing at Science Buddies," said Sabine Duke, Chief Controller for Science Buddies. Sandra Slutz, Lead Staff Scientist at Science Buddies concurs. "Attending Bayside's science and engineering fair was a true pleasure. Yes, seeing Science Buddies projects, which there were many of, as well as some creative original projects, in action is always heart-warming, but the real satisfaction came in seeing that the students had done what we always aim for Science Buddies users to do: they'd taken the project and invested their own time, energy, and intellect."
Slutz, who has judged numerous local, regional, and international science fairs notes that the showing at Bayside STEM Academy was inspiring and a positive reminder of the importance of hands-on science in the classroom. "It was clear that the Bayside teachers had motivated and supported their students, enabling them to not just "do a project" but, more importantly, to springboard from the Science Buddies resources to research, digest the background information, and understand their experiment and the scientific principles behind it," says Slutz. "From the projects displayed, you could see that both students and teachers had invested genuine effort, and they deserve a huge round of applause for their achievements."
Photographs used in this story were taken by Sabine Dukes, Science Buddies.