Monday, March 2, 2015

The Case For -- and Against -- Science Fairs

It's Science Fair week. Oh, joy. I have very mixed feelings about the Science Fair thing.

On the one hand, I understand that it is very valuable for students to go through the process of the scientific method -- generating a question and hypothesis, designing a study to test it, testing it, analyzing the results. It's one thing to understand the method in your brain; it's another thing to actually put it to use. It's a thing to be used, not merely understood.

On the other hand, the scientific method is a laborious, meticulous process, and for those who are not naturally so inclined, it is exhausting. I suppose once a year isn't too much to ask of a teenage student, but . . . sigh!

On the one hand, I realize that coming up with your own original question that you want answered should make the project more interesting and more practical.

On the other hand, "original" and "practical" hypotheses are challenging to come up with -- and often end up being very challenging and difficult to test, which only serves to make the whole experience a negative one for the student.

On the one hand, I understand that science teachers and science fair judges get very tired of seeing the same "old reliable" projects year after year, to the point of wanting to puke.

On the other hand, there's a reason that those old reliable projects are old and reliable -- THEY WORK. And they are doable for the less scientifically inclined. It is better for such students to have a successful project from which they learn the necessary skills and concepts than that they have a flop of an experiment that only teaches them that they hate science.

On the one hand, I realize that knowing how to present your information creatively is a valuable skill in itself, one that will serve our students well in the marketplace. And I know of students who live for the making of their presentation board -- that's their reward for trudging through the actual experiment.

On the other hand, the time and energy and money and stress that goes into some of these tri-fold boards -- and the parental one-upmanship they put on display -- is unnecessary and unbeneficial. Maybe even harmful.

My girl's experiment is done. Her lab report is written. She just has the presentation board left, but that's the part we both hate. I figure, we'll print up stuff and tape it to the board and leave it at that. Her best friend is the Pintarest-type who will have the tri-fold that blows everyone away, and we'll step back and give her that glory. It's not worth that much stress to us.

And then next week is Spring Break. Whew! Summer will be here before we know it.

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