Science fairs should be educational, exciting, and tons of fun, but — more often than not — they result in heartache and, if you have competitive kids like mine, in tears. Generally only 1 to 3 kids will place and the rest will go home having no idea why they weren’t selected as one of the best, what they could have done better, or what to improve upon next year. Consequently, many won’t even do a project next year because of the overall negative experience. This post was written to help avoid these issues.
Background: At school fairs, the school usually needs to select a specific number of projects that will represent the school at subsequent, higher-level competitions (e.g., county, regional, or state fairs). Most often, this selection process is based on the ranking of projects from eligible entries. Sometimes it is only first place, other times it is as many as 3 projects in each grade or in each category or some combination thereof. Unfortunately, this ranking becomes the focus of the science fair, but I argue that it does not need to be, because at the upper level fairs, no preference is given to the place earned at the school fair.
Alternative: Instead of ranking, identify the TOP 10 PROJECTS (named “in no particular order”) and then announce the 1 (or 3 or however many are allowed) that has been selected to compete at the next level. In addition, schools could also award as many award certificates as they so choose.
Award certificates for special recognition could be awarded for categories such as:
• Most creative
• Best use of Scientific Method
• Best visual display
• Most unusual topic
• Best integration of math
• Best interview
• Most interesting question/hypothesis
• Best in physical sciences
• Best in life sciences
• Best in environmental sciences
• Best engineering project
• Most disgusting
• Most difficult
• Most surprising results
In the end, the more efforts a school recognizes, the more likely students are to finish with a positive experience and the less likely they are to cry…