Science Fair

Ah, it’s good ole Science Fair season!  That time when kids delve into projects of interest and pursue their own passionate questions.

That’s one of the things I love about Science Fair.  It invites students to a) ask a question and b) figure out the answer.  Although it’s a little obvious when you wander around projects as to who had perhaps a bit more parent influence than others.  Really?  Your kindergarten kid decided to make their own telescope out of scrap parts in your garage?  And then use it to map the path of comets and asteroids across the sky? (This is an exaggeration by the way – I’ve never seen a project like this -, but you get my point.)

I think it’s this help that has some people grumbling and ranting about Science Fair.  They think it’s more the parents doing the project than the kids, or that it’s too time consuming, or that it’s just one more thing in an already busy schedule, or…..(cringe)….”I don’t have time for Science Fair, I have curriculum to cover!”

No matter what “help” kids get with their project, the idea of exploring a question just so you can find out the answer is what makes me so in love with Science Fairs.  Sure there are awards, and I admit that it can definitely put a damper on things when kids don’t win them.  That’s why we really try to focus on the project itself with our daughter.

This year it’s all about tornados.  She’s come up with a  list of 8 questions she would like to use to investigate tornados.  They range from what a tornado actually is to how it compares with a hurricane and what kind of damage it actually does.  I think this was spawned by a very real threat our town faced regarding tornados last summer.  We were so concerned that the storm around our town could spawn a tornado that we went so far as to gather up water and emergency supplies in our basement, just in case.

She also read a book called, “The Strongest Man This Side of Cremona,” which is all about when a tornado really did touch down in Cremona, AB.  This is the town where I teach and it’s only twenty minutes from where we live in Carstairs.

That’s the real power of science fair: the ability to take something that fascinates you, investigate it, and then share your learning with others.

When they get older (such as my students in Grade 8) Science Fair kind of becomes an “uncool” thing.  They say it’s boring or that only smart kids enter.  And yet last year when I challenged my students to a “Bust a Myth” competition (inspired by the Discovery Channel show Mythbusters) they were all so eager to formulate some sort of question and then run their experiments.  Hmmmm, sounds remarkably like a Science Fair project doesn’t it?  And I left behind my “curriculum” for an entire month so my students could pursue their projects.  Technically I was still teaching them about running a science experiment so it wasn’t a complete departure, but our studies on Mechanical Systems came to a grinding halt.

I wonder if “Science Fair” perhaps has some negative stereotype connotations that we need to work around.  But I believe in the good a Science Fair project can have on a child’s learning and imagination.  I will continue to encourage my daughter to do one each year.  She already has plans for next year’s project.

Lord, help me…….it’s a lot of work.  I admit it.  But so very worth it when my daughter reads something and the light goes on and she exclaims, “Mom!  Did you know tornados come in different sizes!”  Or when my student’s come up to me and exclaim, “Rice really does save your electronics!” (according to their results….)

And really it doesn’t have to be about science.  I’ve soon schools that run Historica Fair, Renaissance Fair, Identity Day, etc.  All of them give students a chance to pursue a passion and share their knowledge with others.  At the end of the day, as a teacher, this is all I ever want to inspire my kids to achieve.

Question, Investigate, Share!

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About Cherra-Lynne Olthof

I've been a middle school teacher for my entire career (which began in 2001). Like my students, I too am a life long learner. My goals include helping my students to achieve their goals, support them in their learning, and to encourage them to think "beyond the grade".
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