Rebooting The Science Fair

“An education in science should show that new scientific ideas are acts of imagination, commonly created these days through collaborative efforts of groups of scientists whose critiques and arguments are fundamental to establishing which ideas are worthy of pursuing further”

Schweingruber, Keller & Quinn, 2012, p. 79

Screen Shot 2015-06-13 at 7.51.02 pmSo recently, our middle school held its inaugural science fair.  Showcasing throughout our multi-purpose space were your typical student experiments–ranging from dangerous looking moldy bananas to the amazing electrical conductivity found in pocket change.  In conventional science-fair-style our students stood in front of their cardboard displays impressing the parents with how they went through the scientific rigors of testing inquiry questions. Overall we had a successful evening drawing attention to our future young scientists and bringing the science discipline attention to our community.

Shortly afterwards,  I started thinking about the traditional science fair, and how it hasn’t really changed since the generations beforehand.  Here we are living in the 21st century and yet science fairs all over the world have middle school students set up their poster boards describing the step by step scientific procedure for inquiry.  In fact, the scientific method has become fairly formulaic to most students:  ask a question, come up with a hypothesis, design the experiment, display the data, and then answer the original question.   Certainly with technology’s increasing role in society, today’s creativity and innovations do not come about from following a prescribed recipe.  Rather, our students should evaluate, analyze and explain their scientific ideas. Then they should investigate and test out these ideas to generate new thoughts to be re-evaluated and re-analyzed.  Science is a re-iterative process and schools in general don’t give our students time to completely explore their wonderings.  More importantly schools don’t allow students to investigate an idea, “fail”, and then grow from their mistake.

For this reason, I started thinking about how today’s technology can “reboot” our thinking so that inquiry can be meaningful.  Many middle school students have access to technology such as laptops and mobile devices.  The massive storage of cloud computing makes storage of multimedia such as videos, audio and digital photos feasible for anyone.  Why shouldn’t kids document their thinking throughout their inquiry with video blogs, audio podcasts, electronic mind maps, and self-created websites?  Imagine students videoing their experiments, receiving feedback from a global audience when blogging their inquiry, or coding their own apps to explain their hypothesis.  With augmented reality and QR Codes, students can blend the physical display board with their digital products for public viewing.  As for the teachers, the ability to see their student’s documented thinking throughout this process is invaluable.  The possibilities are limitless.

Our students are digital natives who are comfortable with using technology to communicate their ideas.    New ways exist for our students to imagine, collaborate, and critique with each other about the world around them.  Science is about new ideas worth pursuing.  Let’s take the first step as teachers and be open to new ideas for doing the science fair.

Schweingruber, H., Keller, T., & Quinn, H. (Eds.). (2012). A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. National Academies Press.

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