Is your school shifting from an in-person science fair to a virtual one? These nine steps provide an easy-to-follow roadmap for success.

Nine steps to a virtual science fair - image of a web-meeting screen with students and a sample science project being shared

The annual science fair is a hallmark of student science and engineering for many schools, an event where the hard work students put into their independent science projects is on display for peers, family, teachers, the community, and judges. As a culmination of the individual science project process, the science fair gives students a chance to show off their work, answer questions about their projects and findings, and, in some cases, be recognized by judges.

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing, and limitations on gatherings, your school science fair may not be able to be the same in-person event you've done in the past. That doesn't mean that you have to cancel the whole idea of the science fair!

A virtual science fair is a great solution for this year and doesn't have to be complicated to plan.

Science Projects During a Pandemic

With many students at home as a virtue of remote learning or hybrid learning with asynchronous blocks to fill, science projects are an excellent choice for STEM learning. (See our Five Reasons this is a Great Year for Student Science Projects post.)

Just doing and turning in the project isn't always enough though. A science fair adds an important layer to the project because students know the project will be presented and viewed by others. They'll prepare differently, work differently, and think about the project differently with the future event in mind.

So how do you assign projects and run a virtual science fair during a pandemic? We've broken the process into nine steps to give you the big-picture view:

  1. Decide on the project presentation format for your virtual fair.
  2. Decide on the "venue" for your virtual science fair.
  3. Decide if the virtual science fair will be open to the community or will be for your class (or groups of classes) only.
  4. Decide if the virtual science fair will be judged and whether or not there will be any awards given.
  5. Assign the project and set the date for the virtual science fair.
  6. Have students select and start their projects.
  7. Create a project timeline with check-in points.
  8. Invite feedback during the virtual science fair.
  9. Congratulate ALL students for participating.

Nine Steps to a Virtual Science Fair

  1. Decide on the project presentation format for your virtual fair.
    Your virtual fair can take advantage of the tools and systems you are already using with your students. The main goal of your virtual science fair is to give students a way to showcase and share their science projects. Traditionally, students prepare tri-panel display boards to present at a science fair. You may still choose to have students create a display board that they share, but for your virtual fair, having students create digital presentations may be a better approach. The format of the presentation will depend, in part, on the venue you choose for the virtual science fair.
    Note: If students will be creating display boards, share Smart Science Project Display Boards for tips and reminders.
  2. Decide on the "venue" for your virtual science fair.
    Instead of people visiting a hallway or gymnasium to look at science projects on display, they will need to be able to watch or browse projects online. This might mean a virtual event where projects are presented in real time (like a Zoom meeting), or it might mean creating a digital gallery of projects that can be viewed at any time. Some possible solutions include:
    • Hold a Zoom, Google Meet, or similar event where students present their projects one at a time. If you record this event, it can then be shared for asynchronous viewing, too. If you plan to record and share the virtual science fair, you might hold the live event with your students over the course of several class periods and then make the recordings available to viewers.
    • Have students create short videos in which they describe their projects and results. These videos could be shared to a common drive, uploaded to a private YouTube channel, or shared with a platform like Flipgrid. (See Using FlipGrid with Science Buddies for Remote Learning in Science Class.)
    • Have students create presentations using multimedia tools like PowerPoint, Google Slides, or Prezi that can be shared to a common drive. Consider creating a virtual science fair webpage (or email) that lists all of the projects and links to each presentation for easy access.

    Note: You may also have your students complete a research paper or written report as part of the science project, but these reports shouldn't be the basis of your virtual science fair. We recommend these reports be separate assignments.

    Which approach is best? Any of these approaches can work! Choose an approach that will work with the technology and systems your school and students already use.

  3. Decide if the virtual science fair will be open to the community or will be for your class (or groups of classes) only.
    Your decision about how broadly your virtual science fair will be attended will determine how much time you need to spend announcing the science fair. You will, at least, want to promote the virtual science fair in emails (or letters) to student families. We recommend you do this at the outset and then again at least once mid-way through the process as well as 1-2 weeks in advance of the event. If others will be invited to view projects, you might plan to announce the virtual science fair in a school newsletter and/or on social media platforms several times in the weeks leading up to the event.
  4. Decide if the virtual science fair will be judged and whether or not there will be any awards given.
    If you want to have projects be judged, you will need to recruit judges early and plan to create a scoresheet that judges can use during the virtual event. Depending on the format for your virtual science fair, you may need to have a practice or training session so that judges have a chance to see how projects will be presented.
    Tip: Judging scorecard examples for both science and engineering projects are available on the Teacher Resources for Science Fairs page.
  5. Assign the project and set the date for the virtual science fair.
    Go over the plan for the virtual science fair with students so that they know what they will be expected to turn in, how and when they will present their projects, and what, if any, prizes might be awarded. Your assignment and grading rubric should clearly separate requirements for doing the project and requirements for participating in the virtual science fair.
  6. Have students select and start their projects.
    The first step for students is selecting a project. If you use the Topic Selection Wizard, students can view recommendations from our project library of more than 1,100 projects based on their interests. We recommend having students submit their project choice (or a few top choices) for your approval before starting a project. (Google Classroom teachers can assign the project selection form.)
  7. Create a project timeline with check-in points.
    Breaking the project into steps and having due dates for students to submit, turn in, or get feedback as they work on their projects, helps ensure everyone stays on track. With check-in points built into the assignment, you will know that students are all making progress on their projects for the virtual science fair. (No waiting until the last minute!) Working through steps on the Project Guide can help students organize their work. If they need assistance, they can use the free Ask an Expert forums to ask questions.
    Note: To learn more about using the free Ask an Expert forums, see Free science project support in the Ask an Expert forums.
  8. Invite feedback during the virtual science fair.
    One particularly rewarding and educational part of a science fair is the thought process and communication skills that go along with answering questions about one's science or engineering project. If possible, you want to incorporate a question/answer or feedback element in your virtual science fair. Some strategies include:
    • If they will be presenting live to a small group (e.g., classmates and maybe judges): you may want to plan a 3-5 minute question time after each presentation, during which spectators are invited to ask questions directly to the student. We recommend limiting this session by time.
      Note: If you have seen the projects in advance, we recommend having one question written for each student project in the event that no questions are asked. This helps ensure all students get a chance to answer a question at the science fair.
    • If they will be presenting live to a larger audience (e.g., students, judges, and others) with a remote meeting tool: encourage the "audience" to use the tool's chat feature to ask questions. At the end of the presentation, the teacher (or a designated helper) should read one or two of the questions to the student to be answered. Limiting the number of questions will help ensure students aren't overwhelmed with questions and will help with overall timing of your event. Again, if you have seen the projects in advance, we recommend preparing one question ahead of time for each student project. This helps ensure all students get a chance to answer a question at the science fair.
    • If projects are shared online for asynchronous viewing: set up a spreadsheet (or Google Form) where questions or comments can be entered for the student or allow questions to be emailed to the teacher to be collected and shared with students. Classmates could also be encouraged to post questions using Google Classroom (or the classroom tool your school uses). Students won't be able to answer questions directly, but you might have students write responses to questions after the event (and turn them in) as a way of reflecting on the feedback and their project.
  9. Congratulate ALL students for participating.
    Even if awards are given for some projects, recognize the hard work and scientific achievement for all participants. Hopefully, all students enjoyed their hands-on projects and learned something in the process!

The Virtual Science Fair Learning Curve

Shifting the science fair online in response to the pandemic may be the smartest and safest approach for your school. A virtual science fair allows you to continue emphasizing the value of hands-on STEM inquiry and exploration with a remote venue. As noted above, this process doesn't have to be overly complicated and can and should be designed to make use of the tools you and your students are already using for remote learning. Even with forethought and planning, there may be some hiccups in the process and some unforeseen issues. Be patient. Be flexible. And, when possible, run through things in advance to help anticipate problems before they happen.

We would love to hear how you structure your virtual science fair this year and how it goes. Good luck!

"Student" icons from Freepik/www.flaticon.com.

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