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I was not fond of school but I enjoyed tiffin breaks and games we played in that time. It was a regular class on a regular day until our school in-charge entered our class and made an announcement about the science fair. He shared that the fair was was scheduled couple of days later and we could submit our science project to our class teacher.  A regular day turned into a special day and rest of the day was well spent with exciting discussion about possible science projects. For my school project I created a paper house with room designs inside the house. I also made small paper furniture to put inside the house. It was a wonderful experience where I learned to make paper crafts and use tools like scissors, glue, colors carefully. I wanted to use some kind of light but I didn’t know how to do that and I thought I wouldn’t be able to do that.

Science fairs or science exhibitions are almost like carnivals for students. Students work on their projects, showing their work to their peers, discussing with teachers, preparing for the exhibit  and explaining the projects to the visitors all day long. As an educator when I look back, those were some golden moments as a student. It had all the elements of a good learning experience: a challenge to motivate students,  an opportunity to collaborate doing hands on activity and presenting the project, and consolidating the knowledge at the end by reflecting on the whole process.   Our teachers were our mentors and they would help us realize the projects and our guardians would help us work on the projects at home.

Despite being such a great learning opportunity, science projects had some shortcomings too. Some of the students would get their project entirely built by their guardians, some of them would bring an already built project as their science project and would spend hours memorizing the concepts used in those science projects. Of course, it is very important that a student is supported and guided while making a science project. A guardian/teacher can help the student understand the science concept s/he is using in the project  and can give some hand on building the project which would encourage the student continue the project. But entirely depending on the guardian/teacher or someone else to complete the project totally undermines the objective of science projects. Today, I want to share some reasons why it  should be avoided and  fixed for a better learning experience.

  • It is a school level science fair, not the Olympics
    • As simple as it could be, it’s not the Olympics and students are not trying to break the world record. It is a school level science fair. The level of work and projects will be that of school level. It might be incomplete, unfinished, and may not be attractive and we should expect the same but be proud that a student tried something on his/her own. The expectation on them should be simple and should focus on the effort they would put on it and not about creating a ground breaking invention.
  • It is a science project fair not a full product/gadget showcase
    • Again, it is a school level science project and not a sell-able product. It’s about students working with their skills and ideas. They may take a science concept and prove it practically, or take a hypothesis and test it or try to create a fun way of doing an experiment. I have seen some students bring a complete product to show as a science project which is wrong in many levels. Student should understand that this is a platform to showcase their effort not the product.
  • It’s a learning experience and challenge not stressful work
    • The reason these science fairs are organized is student get a platform to build something while having a wonderful learning experience. There shouldn’t be too much expectation on them which would put them in a stressful position rather than them focusing on learning the science through the experience. Students should be motivated and challenged to work on the science project and learn as much as they can from it.
  • It’s more about collaboration between students not competition among them
    • Science fairs are another perfect platform for creating collaborations among students. Not just between members from same project but also between students from different projects. Just imagine a space where kids are working on their own projects and also helping each other with their projects, sharing their finding and moments. Whereas focusing on the competition makes them isolated and puts their focus on winning rather than learning which would be against the objective of science fairs.
  • It’s about understanding the science concept not memorizing them
    • Its simple, as the heading itself.. I feel so sad to see kids giving a practiced memorized speech about their project and whenever people ask  further questions they get lost and feel embarrassed. if they had done a simpler project and understood the concept behind the  project they would have been much happier and satisfied.
  • Science projects should help develop confidence not demotivate students
    • I am often asked by different schools to visit/ observe science projects of the students where I get to see many wonderful projects. But when I ask them questions about the projects they get very defensive and embarrassed because they cannot answer my questions. Then I realize either they didn’t do the project themselves or the focus was on completing the project rather than on learning about it and enough research has not been done. Then there are some students who would be so happy to answer questions and confident about their project. I think a small project which was done with lot of research and hard work is far better than complex projects which was just done for the sake of doing a project..
  • Failed projects are equally important as successful projects in science fairs
    • I have seen so many science projects which works and very less projects that are half complete or have failed while building the project. Let us take an example, if there was a project about reflection of light on an aluminium foil and because the aluminium foil is not smooth there is not good reflection. If as a science project one would explain me that for a good reflection there has to be a smooth surface I would be happy from that learning as well. For learning and showing the science  , the project shouldn’t always be successful , failed project can teach same level of scientific concept or sometimes even more.
  • The process in the science fair is important not the final product
    • Similar to my previous points, the process of making the science project is more important that coming up with the final product, The final product is just a secondary objective of these science fairs . The amount of experience and learning one student would have while trying , failing, learning, and working on the project is far more important that coming up with the final project. If there is right effort made working on the project the final product is just icing on the cake.
  • Buying the projects does more harm, just buy the components and materials
    • Please never ! never! buy projects for students. Instead of helping students for their future you are teaching them wrong value. They would think that it’s ok to buy projects like that and value for learning would be less for them. If you a smart parent/guardian you should be happy with a simple project done by your kid than a complex project that you have bought for them. But yes, if they need some components or materials, support them by buying them and also ask them to use something that can be found at home which would make them more creative.
  • Students should feel accountable about projects not parents/guardians
    • While doing these projects, student should feel accountable for their output , as a guardian/parent your job is to help them, support them with their ideas, help them research the project. Student should feel responsible for the progress, they should manage the resources and get help and should own the project not the guardians. Students should know that they can get guidance, support from seniors, guardians and teachers but at the end of the day they are responsible for the work they have produced.
  • Student should feel supported with guidance and should be taught in those moments
    • While making different projects student will face challenges. Mistakes and failures are inevitable and these are the great moments to teach students new ideas, concepts and motivate them. I have seen many student feeling demotivated and stressed on making mistakes and getting stuck,not finding ways to continue their project and they start to look for shortcuts. I think if students can feel supported they would be more than happy to put in the hard work  required.

  

These are just few ideas I wanted to share from my observation and experience. Also the ideas might have been little pessimistic but hands-down science fairs are amazing events and should definitely happen. Student should participate as there are lot of advantages of participating on one. I am sure there are others ideas too and if you want to share some other reasons/opinions please do so by writing me in my email pavitra [at] karkhana.asia. I love science fairs and the feeling it brings with it. Let’s create a better society where we value science as a tool for life not just as a school subject.

References

http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/03/why-science-fairs-arent-so-fair/387547/

http://www.sciencemadesimple.com/science_fairs_parents.html

http://sciencefair.nd.edu/about/benefits-of-participating/

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