When I first started teaching middle school science I dreamed of starting a science fair. I did a science fair when I was a 6th grader and loved every minute of it! Lots of people said it wouldn’t work or it would be too much work, but I was determined to create this experience for my kids! I ended up starting, organizing, and continuing a science fair for the three years when I was teaching 6th grade. I wanted to share with you how I did it so that you can create this experience for your kiddos!
MY TIMELINE (You can obviously scale this wayyyy down to meet the needs of your students and classroom. This is just how we did it!)
August: introduce method, inform students of due dates and steps
September-December: give examples, teach experimental design, and prep students to create their own project
December: before winter break I passed out calendars, information sheets, had them create a science fair folder, and brainstorm their project ideas.
January: Full force Science Fair mode at least 2 days per week dedicated to prep. Students knew what their questions and test would be by the end of this month.
February: 3 days a week dedicated to prep
March: beginning of March science fair
It is VERY important, no matter the grade, to START EARLY with teaching experimental design. I’m talking first week of school. My first year I taught straight scientific method, and my last year I toyed around with CER method (claim, evidence, reasoning.) It doesn’t matter your format, just stick with one method and add it into your curriculum EVERY SINGLE WEEK!!! Kids need multiple examples and to hear it alllll the time for it to sink in. The best thing I did was create a “science fair project” that we did in class together. We did a soda can wrap test where we tested different materials around a soda can to see which one kept the soda the coldest temp the longest. You can do any test, I just suggest walking through the steps with them EVERY step of the way so they know what is expected. My students said that this in-class project really helped their individual projects.
You need to have a large space to display the projects for about a week. We would have our projects due on a Friday and set everything up. Then the following Thursday judging took place. We held our science fair in a gymnasium due to having so many sixth graders and projects.
Next step in preparation is to send out an email to people in your community that can come judge your science fair. Let them know the details and what exactly what you are needing them to do. I asked teachers from other schools in the district and teachers at my school to judge during their plan time, administration, and people that are involved with our school in the community. My dad always came to judge also which was really neat.
Real Talk. I hate grading. This is the worst part of this process. It honestly takes FOR-EV-ER to grade all of these projects, but it is so worth it! By my third year of doing this I had it down and realized that I could grade as we progressed through. I created these grading sheets- a progress tracker and a final grade sheet. I printed these front and back and arranged them in a binder that was color coded. I had sections for each of my 4 science classes separated by dividers and each category of the science fair was a different color to keep things more organized.
The things I struggled with that need to be focused on:
- creating a testable question- for some reason my kids struggled with this at first. I said “IT CANNOT BE A QUESTION YOU CAN JUST GOOGLE AND FIND THE ANSWER!!!”
- Thinking outside of the box (I didn’t let my students choose a project that was already made on the internet- they could use the idea, but had to tweak it to make it a different test.)
- VARIABLES!!! Why is this such a hard concept for a 6th grader??
- Choosing a topic they are interested in
DAY OF SCIENCE FAIR
The best outcome is when we lengthened the class periods and split the entire 6th grade into an AM session and PM session. This worked better for the judges and keeping students in the science fair longer so that judging was not rushed. The judging sheets were labeled and grouped into about 15-20 projects per judge in one category. The students explained their project and the judges asked questions. This way they could really tell if the student knew about their project and if they truly learned something.
All judging sheets were color coded by category (that matched the sign) and as soon as the judging was completed the sheets were placed into folders. After the science fair judging was over the other science teacher and I tallied the judging sheets and we announced the science fair winners the day after. We handed out ribbons, and the top 3 students in each category went on to the regional science fair at a college in our area.
I know I’m leaving out something- This is such a complex project, but seriously so much fun and something your students will remember forever!