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Ahead of the Curve: A Science Teacher's Guide to Proactive Science Project Planning

In part two of this three-part "Why Do Science Projects" series, we explore how a bit of pre-planning in the spring can pave the way for successful projects in the coming school year.

Why Do Science Projects - Teach Perspective - two students working on a project

Introduction

Are you a middle school or early high school science teacher looking to enhance independent science learning experiences in your courses? Perhaps you've glanced at the local science fair flier, telling yourself 'next year,' only to find yourself stuck in the routine of the same old curriculum. Science projects not only ignite interest but also cultivate essential skills in project management, critical thinking, and communication – skills that transcend subjects and leave a lasting impact beyond the classroom. If you're eager to breathe new life into your classroom, independent science and engineering projects offer an exciting solution for both you and your students.

In this post, we'll delve into how a bit of pre-planning this spring can pave the way for successful and engaging independent science and engineering learning experiences in the 2024-25 school year.

Step 1—Find Your Support Systems (January-March):

  • Visit a Fair: There is no better way to ‘design with the end in mind’ than by visiting a local science and engineering fair for insight and inspiration. Most fairs across the U.S. take place in January-March and you can find one near you by using our Science Fair Directory.
  • Science Buddies Resources: Explore the wide variety of Science Fair Tools and other resources on the Science Buddies website. The Science Buddies' Teacher's Guide to Science Projects is a comprehensive guide that walks you through everything from timelines to safety. Science Buddies also offers a wide variety of Google Classroom-integrated worksheets, quizzes, and other resources that you can use to help scaffold your students to success on their projects.
  • Make a PD Plan: Seek out professional development (PD) opportunities from local fairs, teacher associations, and STEM foundations, many of which take place in the spring and summer months. You may also consider registering for Society for Science’s lottery to attend the Middle School or High School Research Teachers Conference, which are hosted in Washington, D.C. in late September and offer peer-led workshops for teachers in all stages of their student science research journey.

Step 2—Strategic Mapping (April-May):

  • Build Your Framework: Determine the best way to integrate science projects into your classroom. Will they be part of an existing class, a club, or an afterschool program? If it doesn’t exist already, consider collaborating with your administration to start a dedicated class for scientific inquiry or engineering design.
  • Set Goals & Requirements: Define what you want your students to achieve. Whether it's presenting at a science fair, learning the scientific method or engineering design process, or enhancing communication skills, clear goals and measurable outcomes aid in effective planning.
    • Meet Standards: If you are incorporating projects into an existing class, such as Earth Science or Biology, you can use the Science Buddies project library and filter by 'Area of Science' to generate a list of projects for students to pick from that are aligned with the key standards you intend to cover. For more support, check out this resource for mapping projects to NGSS and other Core standards.
    • Differentiate: If you have flexibility in the types of projects students can complete, consider using the Topic Selection Wizard. This tool asks students about their interests and suggests project options tailored to them. The Science Buddies library also differentiates projects based on level of independence. For students new to scientific inquiry, guide them to full-length projects with a predefined roadmap; for more advanced students, encourage them to tackle provided variations (listed at the bottom of many projects) or opt for abbreviated projects marked with an '*'—these require designing their own procedures. You may consider having students complete a series of projects, gradually increasing independence.
    • Presentation Options: If science and engineering competitions don’t feel feasible right now, don’t worry! Class presentations, community STEM nights, and cross-classroom collaboration are great alternatives to full-blown science fair competitions that offer the same benefits in increasing student engagement, agency, and skill-building.
  • Timelines: Create a timeline for the key project milestones. Starting with the date of the fair, expo, science night, or other presentation forum, you can then work backwards to establish deadlines for when students need to complete each project step. You can streamline this process using Science Buddies’ new Project Pathways tool which allows you to input key dates and seamlessly integrate project steps and resources with Google Classroom.

Conclusion

By taking these steps before the school year ends, you can ensure a seamless integration of hands-on learning into your curriculum. Get ready for a new, energized classroom that empowers your students to think like scientists and engineers!

Read More

See the other posts in this Why Do Science Projects series:

See also: Tools to Manage Science Projects and Science Fairs



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