Why do we have science fairs and are they really important?
Science fair projects are displayed by students in order to compete in grade school or high school in science activities.
Classes in school are usually short, perhaps an hour or so. Because of this, it is virtually impossible to
do a science fair project. Most science fair projects take a lot of time, some as long as a month or more. In order for the student to experience the scientific method and to do a science fair project it takes much more time than that which is provided in the short classroom periods in the school systems.
Science fair projects provide the environment where students with real interest in the science can work with mentors from other schools, and even from universities in enable access to equipment not available in their grade schools and high schools.
A whole new interest in the sciences came to pass when atomic energy and later when space travel became a reality. Science fairs became popular in the United Sates in the early 1950’s.
Some science fairs began as early as the 1920’s. In the 1940’s there were as many as 25,000 science clubs with over 600,000 young student scientists. Early projects exhibited individual creativity and resourcefulness on the part of the students.
The work of science clubs began to culminate in science fairs held locally as part of the science movement. A science fair was originally defined as the followings at the first national science fairs in Philadelphia in 1950. Frequently projects were the outgrowth of scientific hobbies the students had been pursuing in their spare time.
Because parents are often very competitive, they contributed much too much to their children’s projects to help them to win. Not only does this minimize the educational value of the project for the student, but also provides an unfair advantage to students whose parents have the technical connections and financial resources to invest in these projects.
Schools all over the country now have science fair. Parents and young students look for just the right project and how to do them and possibly win an award.
It has been argued pro and con for lo these many years. Just what should the schools teach our children about science? They teach biology, chemistry, physics, environmental and computer sciences, and many other disciplines. But is there some consistent background framework that all of these scientific teaching should fit into?
Following are some of the basic constituents that are necessary for a good science educational program.
For any discipline to be properly taught and learned we need Organization. Scientists have made the study of science manageable by organizing and classifying natural phenomena. Natural objects can be assembled in hierarchies such as atoms, molecules, mineral grains, rocks, strata, hills, mountains, and planets. Objects can be arranged according to their complexity such a single-celled amoeba, sponges, and mammals. We must be Organized. Youngsters can be taught to sort objects like leaves, shells, or rocks according to their characteristics. Intermediate grade children can classify vegetables or fruits.
Nature behaves in predictable ways. Searching for explanations is the major activity of science; effects cannot occur without causes. Children can learn about cause and effect by observing the effect that light, water, and warmth have on seeds and plants. Children can discover that good lubrication and streamlining the body of a roller derby car can make it run faster.
A system is a whole that is composed of parts arranged in an orderly manner according to some scheme or plan. In science, systems involve matter, energy, and information that move through defined pathways. The amount of matter, energy, and information, and the rate at which they are transferred through the pathways, varies over time. Children begin to understand systems by tracking changes among the individual parts. Primary children learn about systems by studying the notion of balance—for example, by observing the movements and interactions in an aquarium.
Scale refers to quantity, both relative and absolute. Thermometers, rulers, and weighing devices help children see that objects and energy vary in quantity. It's hard for children to understand that certain phenomena can exist only within fixed limits of size.
We create or design objects that represent other things. This is a hard concept for very young children. But primary grade children can gain experience with it by drawing a picture of a cell as they observe it through a microscope.
The natural world continually changes, although some changes may be too slow to observe. Rates of change vary. Children can be asked to observe changes in the position and apparent shape of the moon. Parents and children can track the position of the moon at the same time each night and draw pictures of the moon's changing shape to learn that change takes place during the lunar cycle.
A relationship exists between the way organisms and objects look, feel, smell, sound, and taste and the things they do. Children can learn to infer what a mammal eats by studying its teeth, or what a bird eats by studying the structure of its beak.
To understand the concept of organic evolution and the statistical nature of the world, students first need to understand that all organisms and objects have distinctive properties. Some of these properties are so distinctive that no continuum connects them. For example, living and nonliving things, or sugar and salt. In most of the natural world, however, the properties of organisms and objects vary continuously. Young children can learn about this concept by observing and arranging color tones.
In elementary school, youngsters need to begin understanding that diversity in nature is essential for natural systems to survive. Children can explore and investigate a pond, for instance, to learn that different organisms feed on different things.
The science fair project is one step on the road to a broader understanding of the world we live in, much of which may be changed by the very students that we teach today.