- Science fairs are a rite of passage for almost any middle school student, providing an opportunity to conduct an experiment on their own, but scientists argue that these events don’t really mirror how scientific research works in the real world, where researchers spend long periods making observations and monitoring changes, according to The Hechinger Report.
- Parents tend to get involved in a child’s science experiment, and science fair projects can also be an expensive undertaking, with both factors meaning that the experience is not a level playing field for every child.
- Some schools are changing the model of traditional science fairs, assessing projects on their own merits and removing competition from the experience — a more equitable model that students prefer due to its less stressful nature.
Science fairs are so woven into the K-12 experience that the make-your-own volcano or experiment-gone-awry scenarios are familiar tropes to any movie or television viewer. But they can be a wonderful project-based learning opportunity, which in turn can be particularly beneficial for students from low-income families.
The key for curriculum administrators is to find a way that every child can participate in a science fair and succeed. While removing the competitive aspect of fairs can help to level the playing field, another option may be allocating the necessary funds for student projects. Giving each child a budget not only weaves financial literacy into a science project, but also removes inequity so every student has the same resources when designing their experiment.
Educators could also keep experiment building as a class time activity. Scientific research is often a collaborative experience, where scientists compare notes, confer with each other, and even attend conferences to move their studies further. Schools that mirror this process will make it clear that few major discoveries are made alone while also removing that urge from parents who want to give their children that little additional boost.