My class has been hosting a Science Fair every year for the past dozen or so years. I can't say that I always knew why I continued to make time for it, but it always seemed valuable and worthwhile, so I kept it going.
Today, I see why I continued the tradition. It wasn't just because I did one as a child and enjoyed it. It wasn't just because I saw my students explain a scientific discovery in a confident manner. I continued this tradition because it is inquiry at its finest! Students wonder about something and explore it!
In our class, students are regularly given time to explore interests of their own, not specifically focused on science topics. We call this: Passion Time. Passion Time is an opportunity for students to spend a portion of their class time learning about topics of interest to them. They may research their topic, conduct an experiment, or build something! They may integrate the arts, video games, or music into their passion projects as well!
When children spend time exploring topics of interest to them during school, they become much more invested in the learning process. A Science Fair offers students the same benefit, but it focuses their investment on the sciences!
In the image on the left, the Inquiry Process is explained (link). Our Science Fair follows a similar process. Students look through Science Fair topic guides looking for something that sparks their interest. When they find something, I work one-on-one with each student to fine-tune their Guiding Question. Since students are completely in charge of coming up with their area of interest, they are immediately engaged in the process and motivated to learn more!
After those steps and a few more, we take a couple months to allow the experiments to take place. Everyone is expected to complete their entire Science Fair project, including the experiment, in class unless they get written permission from a parent requesting that they experiment be conducted at home.
This allows me to oversee the entire process, provide feedback throughout, and discover what each student is truly capable of doing on his or her own. Conducting the experiment together can be one of the best ways to bond with your students! Take a glance at the video to the right showing Keegan, some of his friends, and me breaking four types of wood with a weight being dropped from increasing heights! What a fun time!
They truly learn that you can't find out if something is an effective change if you have more than one variable changing at a time! This is an important concept in the Scientific Method.
In the image on the left, the Scientific Method is described. I like this image because it includes opportunities to be reflective and adaptable throughout the process. Although students write a formal procedure prior to experimenting, it's important that they stay flexible and make changes if needed so the experiment works properly. No one should be forced to keep a procedure that isn't working!
This graphic also encourages students to continue their curiosity after the Science Fair is over by asking a new question, forming a new hypothesis, and trying the experiment again on their own! This encourages persistence and grit, as students work towards finding the true answers to their questions!
After the experimenting phase, we begin to work together as a class again to complete the rest of the project where we begin to analyze the data and prepare it for others to see.
We create graphs and our final poster board. Graphs help other students see the subtle differences in each of the variables. It quantifies the students data and takes some of the subjectivity out of the data.
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Students also work on an oral presentation that draws people in who are walking by during the Science Fair and gets them to want to learn more about their project! Students are encouraged to have a hook at the beginning that gets people walking by to want to learn more about their project. Of course, some projects are interesting even without a hook. Watch a sample video of Brian teaching us about his Science Fair Project.
I believe that my students are improving their executive functioning skills by carefully planning out their steps in their procedure, and following a calendar of mini-deadlines to accomplish a long-term goal.
I believe that my students are also improving some of the following skills during various stages of this process:
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