The Ups and Downs of the Science Fair Journey

What a roller coaster ride this year's Science Fair has provided us! 

EMOTIONAL HIGH: Our idea for the science fair was conceived towards the end of the last school year.  Coupling the Science Fair with the Going Green initiative at the school seemed genius.  We envisioned school unity as elementary and secondary schools embarked on the Going Green journey.  A conceptualization of parents, students, and community members participating in the Science Fair event settled into our minds and we knew it would “be awesome”.

IMMEDIATE CONFIRMATION BOOST:  When we introduced the topic, students were completely drawn into the Going Green theme.  Students from years past rejoiced at receiving a reprieve from the typical experiment and report Science Fair.  My colleague and I were convinced that this would be the best science fair ever.

SMALL SETBACK:  Realization hit that the students need guidance in every single step of creating a web site and beginning to blog.  Burning the midnight oil one night I created two podcasts, one for creating a web site and one for creating a blog post.  My colleague and I came up with some blogging guidelines.  Hope returned.

EMOTIONAL HIGH: The initial thrill for blogging enveloped both the students and us, the teachers. I even posted about what an incredible experience the blogging was turning out to be.

DISCOURAGEMENT: As we moved deeper into the project we realized that students simply weren’t equipped to truly research their topics or to find appropriate articles that they could actually understand!  Late nights once again rescued us as we helped students find the articles they needed to begin understanding the topics they selected.

HOPELESSNESS: The writing skills were as weak as the research skills!  Once students reached a point of understanding and could articulate their topic, they still needed a lot of support to put it into the written word.  At this point we’re starting to think that the students will never be ready for the fair.  It seems like an impending disaster and our hope of a successful event vanishes.

HOPE RETURNS: Receiving a lot of support, some of the written work begins to make sense.  The students are making creative blog sites, finding their voice and forming opinions.  We are left with a sense that it might be OK.

DISPAIR: The assignment is to put all of the blog posts together into one document and edit them so they “tell a story”.   We gave some explicit guidelines thinking it was straightforward.  Even the learning support teachers that help in the classroom commented on how clear the instructions seemed to be.  However, the results were a disaster.  Excessive repetition.  Nonsensical phrases.  Contradictions. Plagiarism.  How could this ever be rectified and come together such that students could print out their work and construct posters?  It’s going to be terrible!

EXPECTATIONS LOWERED: We decide to cut out the “Abstract” component of the poster.  We allow Middle School students to cut and paste the URL’s in the Bibliography rather than compiling APA format as expected in High School.  We start to make comments on all those Google documents.  We set up appointments with students.  We consult.  We resist the temptation to simply rewrite their text.

HOPE RETURNS: Students respond positively to their comments and sincerely make efforts to improve their work.  It starts to look like they might pull it together. 

DISPAIR and HOPE: Some students are still struggling with understanding.  We modify.  They smile and demonstrate sufficient knowledge.  They’re eager.  Their confidence and enthusiasm instills hope again.

HOPE and DISPAIR and HOPE: The students are so excited to put their posters together.  Today they start construction.  They print.  They cut.  They paste. They become creative.  They consider their presentation and make some adjustments in their order, seeking confirmation. It’s exciting.  A beaming student holds up a finished poster that she’s clearly proud of.  The placement of the text blocks is crooked and irregularly spaced.  Suddenly the room is full of smudges, tilted titles, and unevenly cut images, despite the presence of four paper cutters.  I search for the positive and give encouragement.  Then, the classroom is quiet.  The posters sit silently on the table. I start to leaf through them and am seriously relieved to notice that the High School posters are, indeed, more advanced than the middle school posters.  I read through all of them.  I realize they aren’t that bad.  I reflect back and remember the students carefully doing what they perceive as their best work and suddenly I feel better.  It’s going to be OK, I think.

During this entire process my colleague experiences the same cyclical roller coaster.  Fortunately, whenever she comes to me exclaiming, “This is going to be a disaster”, I’m feeling pretty good about it and assure her, “No, it will be OK”.  And when I’m feeling the despair she’s hopeful and encourages me on.  Every now and then our highs and lows coincide and we either rejoice or commiserate together.

The greater school community has received an invitation to attend the Science Fair. Posters announcing the event cheerfully decorate the hallways and stairwells.  Today guidelines for the judges, instructions for the students on the night of the fair, and student certificates printed from the big machine downstairs.  The judges’ clipboards sit assembled in the “Science Fair Box”.  The guest speaker is secured.  Our cafeteria business has committed to running that evening, featuring “Eco-friendly” food.  The facilities management team has confirmed its role for the night.  There’s no turning back.

On Friday the students will supposedly practice their presentations.  That could go either way.  On my end there’ll surely be times of panic interspersed with moments of assurance.  Next Tuesday night is the actual Science Fair.  Either a report of success or failure will follow.  Wish us luck!