An alternating event with the standard Science Fair
Has anyone experienced or heard of “Science Fair burnout”? I have heard so many parents complain about the imposition of the Science Fair on families. I think for students it can be taxing as well. We have developed a remedy for this dilemma by rotating different events over a three-year period. The students participate in a standard Science Fair one year. The following year they present posters compiled from literature-based research they have conducted. The third year is the Science Fun Night. At this event students demonstrate a fun phenomenon and explain the science behind it.
The project begins with an overview of the upcoming event and the instruction to search for YouTube videos presenting fun science. Faces light up with smiles as the command is given to act on a task they so enjoy: YouTube surfing. Students almost hesitate to open up their computers wanting to be sure they understand the instructions. As soon as it is clear that, indeed, they can freely search through YouTube the exuberance is palpable and the search is on.
“Ah, Dr. Markham, look at this! This is so cool!”
“This is sick!”
Exclamations continue all through the class. Partnerships eventually settle on three ideas they have genuine interest for and can be conducted safely with materials found at home and school. Over time the selection is narrowed to the topic they will pursue for the Fun Night.
Now the task becomes challenging, as they have to master the science behind it. They soon discover that the little explanation often accompanying the video is inadequate, incomplete, or even inaccurate. They have to research, ponder, discuss, analyze. It stretches them. They return to the Internet, to the teachers, to theory, and to their experiment over and over again. Slowly they begin to understand, at a molecular level, what is happening with their project. The understanding gradually “clicks” for each pair of students. The more they understand the more fluid their explanation becomes. As a team they put together an instruction sheet for participants attending the Science Fun Night. They must have a section, in their own words, on the “Science Behind It”. Though they have worked in pairs, they must present individually to the class before the actual event. Each student must demonstrate the project and explain the science on their own.
As with all student productions, there is a moment days before the event when we, the teachers, wonder whether this is going to work. Will the students be prepared? Or will it be a disaster?
All of the school community is invited. Hands-on activities and fun for the entire family has been promised. Student presenters have set the jeans aside and come dressed “professionally”. With anticipation and excitement they set up their stations. Participants begin to filter in and soon the event is underway.
The cafeteria is a buzz with the thrill of cool science and discovery. The parents and elementary students are equally wowed by the mind-bending activities. Laughter and exclamations from impressed participants fill the room. The flurry of activity continues throughout the evening.
Finally, it’s over. The last burst of energy is exerted to wipe up colored cornstarch, sticky glucose, volcanic baking soda leftovers, citric species, and a host of other interesting messes from the tables and floors. Glassware and supplies are washed in the science lab and put away. Student check-out forms are signed, students depart exuberantly, and finally, six science teachers collapse exhausted around a table together reflecting on the entire process and evening. We make a quick list of what worked and what can be improved upon in future years. Overall, however, it’s been a success: students have learned and are excited about science and have proficiently communicated that to the school community.
Science Fun Night. An effective process to immerse students in scientific phenomenon and get them truly excited about science at a molecular level. It is also an opportunity for students to present and communicate in scientific language. It will surely remain in our cycle of annual science events!