Science fairs teach about more than students learning more about their favorite science content. Science fair projects allow students to practice scientific thinking and problem-solving, improvise when a procedure doesn’t work out as predicted, present science findings to others, and constructively critique each other’s work. If the presentation is being judged, it sharpens their skills in communicating science process and content.
Students strengthen math skills through analyzing and graphing data; reading comprehension skills by doing complicated background research; and creative problem-solving skills throughout the process.
Both the National Science Education Standards, p.105 (National Research Council, 1996), and the Mathematics Standards from the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics, Vision and Principals (2004), promote the application by students of science and mathematics processes to real life experiences as a way of making that learning more permanent.
Science fairs involve self-directed learning. A word of advice from Science Fair Central: don’t wait until the science fair project starts to make this the first self-directed science investigation that your students do. From the start of the year, give them opportunities to problem-solve, make decisions and design and conduct their own tests as part of your regular curriculum, and they will be ready for the science fair project.
This site provides practice in science investigation through a pair of virtual labs. These interactive labs allow the teacher to get students involved in science investigation in a controlled environment where they can practice.
While students learn important lessons in the classroom and lab, science concepts become relevant as students see practical applications all around them and delve into scientific investigation of their own. When students control the hands-on exploration, they gain a deeper level of understanding than could ever be possible from a textbook or from following canned directions in a lab.
Science fairs are an especially motivating way to learn. When students are charged with choosing their own topics and designing their own procedures, they are more likely to take ownership of their work and become personally invested in learning. If you think about what really stays with students, the science fair project is something they always remember.
Many students choose topics they’re already passionate about; others discover new interests along the way. Reluctant learners who show little enthusiasm in the classroom may suddenly find themselves driven to find the solution to a scientific problem. Sometimes a science fair project can spark a lifelong interest in a subject and lead to an important career in a science-related field.