Having parented my three children and now being an encourager to their children, I’ve been through many a science fair. Projects through the years have been many and varied. Some of them enjoyed science and the scientific process and some did not. Oddly enough the ones who have been interested for reasons more than just a grade are still curious and interested in how and why things function. This is indicative that science fairs and labs serve an important purpose.
As anyone who has ever attended school knows, science, like any other subject, can be as boring as watching grass grow or can be interesting as the best book one has ever read. So much depends on how information is presented, and teachers have learned through the years that “hands” on is an excellent teaching tool.
Of course, science fairs are nothing new. They had them when I was in school back in the dark ages. During that period in history there were always duplicate projects such as, plants that grow well in the local climate, artificial volcanos, and how batteries work. We went to the school library or the city library to do our research. Scientific knowledge has increased to an incredibe degree in the last twenty years. Technology is now in the hands of elementary students on a daily basis. Many elementary students are more computer adept than their parents. Computer labs are in most schools, and even kindergarten age children are introduced to how to “find out things” on the internet. Television news shows now deal with more than just the news of the day. They report on air quality and water quality issues. Opportunities are ripe for children to come up with inventions and scientific demonstrations for things that they hear about and their families deal with.
Two issues that will concern children are global warming and alternative fuel sources. These are nightly televisions news bits and also are covered regularly in their Weekly Readers. The internet provides a plethora of information resources that we certainly didn’t have even twenty years ago. This enables students to delve into whether we are hearing fact or fiction from the media, and how we can improve things on our planet. Astronomy is changing and new stars/planets are being charted – even new solar systems. My grandson once did a project entitled “Why the Milky Way is called the Milky Way”. “How the Tides Affect Weather and Erosion”, How the Ocean Can Be Farmed”, and How Hermit Crabs Change Homes as They Grow” are great topics for coastal kids.
Videography is something that elementary students are experimenting with these days. With a little help from a parent they can make time-release videos to show of the progress of any number of things such as a butterfly emerging from a cocoon or a beautiful orchid as it blooms – or even how different kinds of music affect household plant growth.
The thing that has not really changed is the three sided display board upon which one must identify and explain his/her project. The last few science fairs that my grandchildren participated in still utilized those boards. This part is a viable tool for teachers to recognize just how much the child actually knows about his/her project, and how much a parent or other adult participated in the implementation. Though parents like for their children to succeed, they should only be of minimal help in these projects if they want the child to have a true learning experience. The whole purpose of the “lab experiment” is to invoke the adage “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”. Experimenting is just that. If they take the steps themselves to see what works and what doesn’t – what is understandable and what isn’t, they will keep that information in their minds forever.
Science fair projects today are almost unlimited in scope. Almost anything a child asks why about can be turned into a hypothesis one may prove or disprove through research. The sky’s the limit, as the saying goes.