This year I’ve been lucky enough to work at a school that had a well established science fair. It was the first time I’ve been at a school that provided that opportunity for the students and it can be a great experience to experiment and investigate something that interests you. But…there are a lot of students who didn’t click with the opportunity.
So, I turned to my students for feedback. They are in 8th grade and this is their 3rd year doing a science fair project. The procedure gets progressively more complicated in parts, but the basic idea is consistent 6th through 8th grade. Ultimately, my students have far more experience with this than I do.
Before I discuss their responses I will say two things: first, this is only a reflection of how the science fair is at my school and with my students and two, there is a lot I could have looked at seeing how often certain responses overlapped, but I’ve only got so much time.
I got an 83% response rate to the survey, so about 175 responses out of about 210 students (yes, I have a lot of students). My best guess would be that the responses may have skewed a bit more positive than if forced every student to do it. All of the data can be found here (the initial results are removed as they identify students). The last page is interesting as it shows the optional comments some students added.
Question 1: If you were given an option at the start of the school year, would you want to do a science fair project?
I don’t dictate my actions entirely on my students’ opinions, but I think it is significant that only 14.9% of my students would definitely chose the activity. Now, I am not sure the results would have been any different if it was a different type of project, but it at least says the students were not overwhelmingly into the project.
Question 2: Do you feel like the science fair helped you better understand science or the scientific method?
This one kind of surprised me, considering the previous result. They may not have chosen to do the project, but at least far more students thought they got a benefit from the project. My real question is if they could not have gotten the same benefit from an in-class student lead project?
Question 3: Did you find your science fair project interesting?
This result surprised me as well and is interesting to compare with the first. A significant amount of the students thought their project was interesting, but also would rather not do it. To me that says they are able to find a personal connection with science, but maybe the science fair is not the right approach for them.
[The next 4 questions were about how we structured the assignment itself and the class time devoted to it. I will not go into those in great detail here, but generally my students felt like we had the right amount of class time, the worksheets were helpful (mostly), and they didn’t generally feel like they needed more help (though some of them would have liked more step by step help). There were some interesting results there, but those really just reflect how I could structure the time and support.]
Question 8: If you were given an option which would you choose? (They could choose between Science Fair, Research Project, Invention Project, and Genius Hour. I only gave a brief description of each so the Genius Hour option may have suffered from that.)
Ultimately, I had the most students who wanted to do an invention project, this would be feasible enough to combine with our existing science fair project, which is typically more experiment based. (It would be interesting to see what the overlap is with the students in the STEM class and those wanting to do the invention project.) The research project had a better response than I might have expected. It tells me that there are students that would rather do something less hands on. Although genius hour was the lowest, I was still surprised with the number of supporting votes I got. I have a feeling that if I explained the concept more I would have gotten more support as it really could encompass the other options.
I also gave my students the option of adding an additional comment and got some good thoughts. I liked one of the suggestions which was to do the science fair in 6th grade, invention in 7th grade, and research project in 8th grade. I could also see alternating years, so one school year all grades might do one type of project and the next we might do a different type. Or my personal choice would be to allow the students to pick whatever type of project they want, logistically this might be more difficult, but I think it could be done with the proper support. Or maybe we want to drop the science fair all together and use the time for a project based learning activity.
Conclusions: It is hard to say where I will go with these results, but I am always for reevaluating what I do in my class. I feel that as a department we really should consider whether the science fair project is still necessary with our move to more student lead inquiry in class or if we want to keep it whether we should open up the options given to the students.