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How young is too young for a judged science fair?

Posted by on February 15, 2012

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This is my first guest blog from another Science Blogger and provides an additional perspective on the Science Fair experience in schools.

Leave the Judging for Middle and High School Students

By Susan Wells

Susan Wells is a mother of two girls in first and fourth grade in the Denver metro area. She organizes her school’s science fair and works hard to encourage all students to participate. Susan also works as a blogger and social media specialist for Steve Spangler Science, a science education company in Englewood, Colorado dedicated to helping students and their parents not only survive the science fair but also learn to love it.

Susan Wells

Let Elementary Students Learn to Love Science First Before Judging

For the past several years I have organized our elementary school’s science fair. The science fair is completely optional. Projects are not judged and awards are not handed out. Each child gets a certificate and ribbon. A few weeks later, we hold a science party to celebrate the students’ accomplishments.

Many elementary schools in the Denver metro area run their science fairs in a similar way.

I know many elementary science fairs across the country are judged and winners advance to state competitions. I’ve considered turning our science fair in to a judged competition to give those who stand out additional recognition, but always decide against.


It is my opinion and those of my colleagues at Steve Spangler Science that elementary school science fairs should be practice and learning experiences for young students. They shouldn’t have to feel pressured to do award winning work in addition to working on a large science project outside of the classroom.

Elementary school is a time for gaining understanding of the scientific method, practicing with variables and mostly importantly nurturing a love for science and independent learning.

Every student at the elementary school level is a winner for entering the fair. I’m always so proud of the students that sign up and work hard. Maybe some choose better and more relevant projects; some put hours upon hours of work into their project while others spend only a few; some have beautiful, stunning works of art on their project boards while others lack some creativity and artistic ability; and finally some have gained a vast knowledge on their subject, while others dropped a few Mentos into Diet Coke and didn’t take the time to really learn about the reaction that takes place and why.

Science Fairs should be fun for younger students

I want to find a way to acknowledge the students that don’t just go the extra mile, but go several extra miles to make their project one of the best. I struggle with recognizing these students over all of the students that have put in the work.

One way that I do recognize the best of the best is to display some of the best project boards in the school’s display cases in the front hallways for a few weeks after the fair. This is a very small scale judging that helps give extra attention to the standouts while not crushing everyone else.

Those students get some extra recognition and hopefully inspire other students to consider joining next year.

After students have nurtured their love for science and learning in elementary school and head to the upper grades, then it’s time for judging, grading and a little pressure to do your absolute best.

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