Science Fair Projects?  Ugh!

Those of us who grew up in a traditional school setting remember the dreaded science fair project.  Every year, we were required to perform a science experiment following the scientific method, keep a logbook of the process, and come prepared to share our results with the class. No matter how much advanced warning we received about the assignment, it seemed like most students always put off their projects until the last minute. In fact, even though I ended up choosing a career as a scientific researcher (a job that is basically a never-ending series of science fair projects), as a kid, even I put my project off until the weekend before it was due.  Consequently, my projects typically involved growing mold on bread or some other experiment that could be performed quickly and easily.

As an adult, it’s not hard to guess what my parent peers think about their children’s science fair projects. When the entire family stays busy with school, work, and extracurricular activities, who wants to add anything extra into the mix?  With experiments that don’t go as planned, extra trips to the store, and late nights putting the finishing touches on reports and science project displays, it’s no surprise that the photo below makes the rounds on social media each science fair season.

A display board entitled: How much turmoil does the science project cause families?

When I had children, my husband and I made the decision to educate them at home. Given my personal experience with science fair projects as a kid, you might assume that I mercifully spared my sons the stress and anxiety of doing science fair projects.  I didn’t. Why?

The Value of Science Fair Projects

As an adult, a scientist, and an educator, I see enormous value in students performing science projects.  The reasons why are many, but include:

Hands-on Learning

Science projects are a great way to get students out of textbooks and into real life.  They learn how the knowledge they’ve acquired can be applied to real-world problems.

My son and I standing in front of his science fair project. In this project, he worked on creating a desalination system to remove salt and other impurities from drinking water.

The Opportunity to Use a Variety of Skills at Once

Science projects force students to rely on skills they’ve learned in many areas.  These skills span many disciplines, including but not limited to reading, critical thinking, writing, math, and computer science.  The student also learns how to budget and organize time and resources as he works to complete his project by a deadline. If the student is required to share their final project with others, they also get a chance to practice public speaking.

My son competing in our local science fair

The Chance to Finally Understand and Use the Scientific Method

Students are taught the steps of the scientific method from an early age.  However, a science fair project is often the first time a student is required to actually use the scientific method.  This directs the student’s focus to questions such as:

  1. Is this hypothesis testable?
  2. What is the purpose of an experimental control?
  3. What are the experimental variables in my project?
  4. Are my results repeatable?
  5. Are my methods and procedures clear and easy to follow, so that others can repeat my work?
  6. Was my hypothesis correct?
  7. What would I change if I did this project again?

The experience of conducting a science project using the scientific method helps the student become a critical thinker.  He is then better able to evaluate the claims of others and determine whether their results are scientifically sound.

Scholarships and Prize Money

Not only is it incredibly satisfying for a student to see a science fair project through from start to finish, but there are opportunities for scholarships and prize money if your student competes in a local science fair.  Even though we home-schooled, our local home-school group put on a science fair each year.  Winners from each category were then able to compete with students from traditional schools in the regional and state science fairs.  Students from our local home-school group often went on to win at the state level and earned prize money.  According to Science Buddies, students who go on to compete at the international level can earn up to $50,000 in scholarship money (The Value of a Science Fair Project )

Steps to Completing a Science Fair Project

Many resources are available for choosing a science fair project.  The first, best step is to have your student choose a project on a topic of interest that he is passionate about.  My favorite resource for choosing a science fair project is ScienceBuddies.org  and whenever my sons did a project, we’d always make Science Buddies our first stop.  The website has an easy-to-use Topic Selection Wizard   that guides the student into choosing a science fair project.

Based on the student’s age, project due date, and answers to survey questions, a list of suggested project ideas are given.

The suggested project idea gives students ideas for how to conduct each experiment.

My sons found nearly all of their science fair project ideas using Science Buddies!

If your student isn’t in a traditional school setting but would still like to participate in a science fair, you can make it happen.  Reach out to others in your local home-schooling community to gauge interest.  Science fairs don’t have to be stressful.  Your science fair can be as simple as several families coming together in a kitchen so that students can share their work with others.  If you are part of a home-school cooperative, perhaps students can participate in a science fair as part of the regularly scheduled class time.

I hope I’ve convinced you of the merit of science fair projects, even for students in non-traditional settings.

Has your student participated in a science fair?  I’d love to hear your stories in the comments!

There are many benefits to completing a science fair project, even if you home-school. These include the opportunity for hands-on learning, the opportunity to use a variety of acquired skills at once, the chance to finally understand and use the scientific method, and the chance to earn scholarships and prize money.

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