Article

Approaches for conducting middle school science fairs: A landscape study

Authors:
  • Education Development Center, Inc., Waltham, MA
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Abstract

Although science fairs have been an institution of science education for decades in schools across the United States, little is understood about how students' science fair experiences vary and how these variations relate to student learning. Research on this topic is particularly imperative as new science standards increase emphasis on the teaching of science and engineering practices. Science fairs represent a potential opportunity to engage students in these practices, but may not be effective in supporting the learning of all students. As a fi rst step in a programmatic research agenda, this study employs a nationally representative survey of middle schools to describe the most commonly conducted , broad approaches to middle school science fairs. Using a framework based on teacher support for inquiry, three types of science fairs emerged: mandatory fairs with high levels of teacher support for students' project work, mandatory fairs with low levels of teacher support, and voluntary fairs. Mandatory fairs with limited teacher support were more common in schools with a high proportion of African American students and high poverty, but were also more likely to emphasize goals related to learning. Implications for the effectiveness and equity of science fairs are discussed.

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... It was clear that providing equitable access to the S&E fair opportunity was directly affected by teachers introducing S&E fairs at the local level and their readiness (and insider knowledge) for mentoring students in completing projects. McComas (2011) called for better teacher preparation to help educators make S&E fairs an effective and inclusive learning opportunity (see also Kook et al., 2020). There is limited literature around interventions focused on providing in-service teachers with the knowledge and skills to implement S&E fairs in their schools in order to diversify the students participating in fairs and therefore accessing this opportunity to experience authentic scientific inquiry. 1 The present research addresses this gap by studying the impact of a multi-year project focused on supporting teachers to implement a high-quality S&E fair process in their home schools. ...
... Our observation in the field was that students from low-resource schools or from minoritised backgrounds did not have the same opportunities to engage in meaningful S&E fair experiences and to benefit from the possibilities these fairs offer for success, recognition and even scholarships. This is consistent with prior research that suggests that both school participation in S&E fairs and students' project quality may be associated with socioeconomic status (Grinnell et al., 2020;Kook et al., 2020;Korkmaz, 2012;McComas, 2011). With the STEM-IQ program, our team sought to create a model of collaboration with teachers in low-resource schools that could be scaled to other contexts to support teachers implementing S&E fairs in these contexts to provide a quality S&E fair experience. ...
... Our first research question focused on the impact of the program on regional fair participation. There is scant research on the diversity of participants in S&E fair programs (cf., Korkmaz, 2012), and only recently initiated programs tracking their population (Kook et al., 2020), so we used baseline and follow-up data to explore the diversity of the regional fair. The program overall was successful in increasing the number and quality of projects that were presented at the regional fair. ...
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Science and Engineering (S&E) fairs are a valuable educational activity and are believed to increase students’ engagement and learning in science and engineering. However, due to differences in resources, many schools do not implement fairs to achieve these benefits for their students. This study reports the findings of a program intended to increase the participation of students from low-achieving and under-resourced schools in a regional fair program that feeds into the international fair competition. We found that the number of schools and projects participating in our regional fair increased dramatically since the start of the program. Teachers had mostly positive expectations for the project and expressed buy-in for the effort the project would take. They recruited a diverse pool of students to participate in the school fairs. Quasi-experimental methods allowed us to explore the impact of completing S&E fairs on student gains on science self-efficacy, interest and value perceptions. Controlling for pre-existing differences in these attitudes, we found that students not completing projects showed declines in their science attitudes during the year. Students who completed projects maintained similar attitudes, while those whose projects advanced to the regional fair had substantial gains on all three variables. It is unknown whether this gain can be attributed to the experience of engaging with a quality project, from being the kind of student who completes a quality project, or some other factor. Future research with greater experimental control could address these questions.
... This article reports on findings from the second phase of our study, which utilized a pre-post case study design to provide detailed description of science fair implementation in middle schools, especially students' enactment of the SEPs, teachers' scaffolding of students' investigations and associated outcomes for sixth-grade students. Based on our understandings of approaches to implementing science fairs (DeLisi & Pasquale, 2019;Kook et al., 2020), and using foundational research on student learning as a guide, we asked the following questions: ...
... Our study specifically focused on understanding the experiences and outcomes of sixthgrade students in the school science fair. We decided to focus on only one grade because the first phase of our study indicated that although schools engage students of varying grade levels in the science fairs, the goals for students and the structure of the fairs varied by grade level (Kook et al., 2020). Therefore, to reduce the possibility of confounding variables, we limited our sample of students to a single grade level. ...
Article
Science fairs have a long history in the United States and internationally. Their implementation varies greatly (Kook et al, 2020), yet few empirical studies have examined the outcomes of these experiences for student learning. Research indicates that authentic scientific inquiry that focus on students' agency in investigations can contribute to students learning (e.g., Houseal, Abd-El-Khalick, and Destefano, 2014). However, teachers have been challenged with implementing inquiry-based investigations (e.g., Anderson, 2007; Harris & Rooks, 2010). As new science standards increase the demand for science investigations in classrooms that afford students opportunities to engage with science and engineering practices (SEPs; NGSS Lead States, 2013), research is needed to understand the role of teachers and how these experiences can contribute to student learning. In this article, we describe the results of a national study that included data from 21 middle school science fairs. Data included observations of 20 science fairs, pre and postscience fair assessment data from 343 sixth grade students, and interviews or focus groups with 131 students, 122 teachers, 16 administrators, and 29 science fair judges. These data enabled the exploration of features of science fairs, including opportunities for students to engage in SEPs and the teachers support for SEPs through the science fair investigations. Findings reveal that science fair implementation varies considerably across schools. HLM analysis indicates that teachers' support for critiquing practices, particularly when it included students' engagement in evaluating the work of their peers, are positively associated with students understandings of SEPs. Qualitative findings highlight the ways in which teachers structured students' experiences and supported their enactment of SEPs as they conducted their science fair investigations.
... The question of how science fair outcomes vary in relationship to the type of science fairs in which students engage has received little attention. For instance, recent research on middle school science fairs identified three major types: mandatory science fairs with high support (curriculum, class time, teacher engagement) (23% of students); mandatory with low support (57% of students); and voluntary with low support (20% of students) [12]. We found that 60-70% of students who participated in high school science fairs were required to do so [13]. ...
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In this paper, we report ethnicity trends in student participation and experience in high school science and engineering fairs (science fairs). Science fair participation showed significant ethnic diversity. For survey students, the approximate distribution was Asian-32%; Black-11%; Hispanic-20%; White-33%; Other-3%. Black students made up only 4.5% of the students who participated in science fairs beyond the school-only level, whereas students from other ethnic groups were more equally represented. The lower percentage of Black students resulted from a combination of lower science fair participation and lower percentage of students advancing to science fairs beyond the school-only level. Students who advanced to science fairs beyond the school-only level frequently received help from scientists, coaching for the interview, and were not required to participate in science fair. Black students received the least help from scientists and were most likely to be required to do science fair. They also were most likely to receive no help from parents, teachers, or scientists. Asian and Hispanic students (63.8% and 56.8%) indicated greater interest in careers in science and engineering (S&E) compared to Black and White students (43.7% & 50.7%). The most important experiences that correlated with students indicating that science fair increased their interests in S&E were getting help from the internet and/or books and magazines; getting help fine tuning the report; and overcoming obstacles by doing more background research, making a timeline, and perseverance. Black students did not report a positive effect of any of these strategies but experienced time pressure as more of an obstacle than did other students. Our findings identify a wide range of student experiences associated with positive science fair outcomes that could be enhanced for all students but especially Black students. More involvement of scientists in helping science fair students would be particularly valuable.
... Furthermore, as heterogeneity of students Keywords: OST, STEM, science fair, student research, diversity, science processes, SEP, phenomenology included in the category of "minority ethnic groups" is too great to be considered a homogenous group (Wong, 2016), individual perspectives become even more important when examining student experiences in research. Our approach will expand extant investigations of OST scientifi c research and, especially, the potential impacts of science fair participation (Kook et al., 2020). ...
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Out-of-school time (OST) science research can be an important part of a student's decision to pursue a career in STEM. This article reports on the fi ndings from a transformative phenomenological study of what secondary students experience while completing OST scientifi c research. The purpose of this study was to use an emic research lens to better understand the contexts and content of student experiences. We collected data from in-depth interviews with an ethnically diverse group of eight students who previously participated in science fairs, and fi ve sponsors who supported science fair students. Major themes were found to be consistent through the student experiences, including opportunities to explore their own interests, deeply learn and apply science, and being supported by mentors and other professionals. The interplay of these themes seems to be critical to the experience as a whole. These fi ndings hold implications for expanding out-of-school time science research opportunities for a more diverse group of learners.
... However, if students are required to participate in science fairs and are not provided adequate support, they may not have positive experiences with science and may perceive science negatively. This is often the case as science fair participation is most often nonvoluntary, and teachers typically provide minimal support to students in their investigations [19]. The support and encouragement students receive in noncompetitive environments also impacts outcomes. ...
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