How to run a great Science Fair: A guest post by Rebecca Offer

Earlier in the year our school held it’s fourth annual Science fair for students in years 7 and 8. It was my first year running the project and it was a brilliant success. In previous years we have run the project for year 9 students as well, however due to it being the first year of me running it and my role currently being team leader of only years 7 and 8, the decision was made for it to be these years only. We have 300 students in both years and so it was still a big project to organise and lead. Several people have asked for some more details as to how we run the fair and hence the blog post and the logistical information below.

Our school runs the Science fair as a homework project in the Spring term with the expectation that students will spend six hours over six weeks completing an independent scientific research project of their choosing at home and then present their findings. The project is divided into weekly chunks for the students as follows:

Week 1 – deciding what project they wish to undertake and completing some research to find out scientific ideas behind the project and writing their hypothesis. Students can use the Sciencebuddies website to find a project they are interested in if they are stuck for ideas https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/topic-selection-wizard/background-info

Week 2 – risk assessment and identifying the variables

Week 3 – carry out the experiment either at home or at school in a pre-booked slot. Students record their results and take lots of photographic evidence

Week 4 – start to write up the experiment – including equipment list, method and printed photos from the experiment

Week 5 – conclusion and evaluation of their project

Week 6 – present their work to their class in a showcase event

To accompany week 1, a launch presentation was sent out to all class teachers to show to their classes to discuss the homework project and a letter was also sent home to parents to make them aware of the expectations.

A spreadsheet was set up on SIMs alongside the class register to allow class teachers to check on a weekly basis if the homework was being completed. This tracking enabled teachers to call home and talk to parents about lack of project work before sanctions were put into place.

All students were offered the opportunity to carry out their project work in school during week 3 if they gave their class teachers their equipment lists a week before to allow our technicians to prepare. We had very few students take up this offer and hence most of them picked projects which allowed them to carry out their research at home.

In week 6 of the project, all classes had one lesson in which the teaching of curriculum was suspended and a whole lesson was spent showcasing the projects of the class. Students were given an evaluation form to complete for their project and highlighted any key areas which they were missing (see attached). Most students presented their projects on tri-boards or cardboard boxes and so were easily displayed on the lab desks. Students were given 25-30 minutes to walk round the room and look at their peers’ projects whilst also given each project an EBI and a WWW comment. It was important that the teacher modelled what good feedback would be to eliminate comments such as ‘it looks nice’ or ‘more information needed.’ The students then got a chance to vote for their favourite project within the class and then the teacher picked the best three projects from each class (not necessarily corresponding to what the students had voted for). The three winning students from each class were then invited by letter to the Science fair final a few weeks later, and in total 60 students were invited to the final event.

The Science fair final event was held after school from 3-5:30pm in the main school hall. Students were given an hour to set up their stalls, get refreshments and get ready to showcase their projects to the judges. Teachers, senior leaders, governors and parents were invited from 4pm and everyone except the parents were allowed vote for the top three projects in year 7 and the top three from year 8. Votes were then added up and the winners announced. The third-place prize for each year was a growing crystals set, second place prize was a horrible science explosive experiments set and first place was a national geographic science encyclopedia and the explosive experiments set. We had a budget of roughly £150 for the prizes for both year groups. The winning project from year 7 was a microbiology one where he looked at why it is important that we wash our hands  and the winning project from year 8 was looking at the difference between hard and soft water. Both are shown below.

science fair 1

science fair 2

All 60 students who got through to the final are going on a reward trip at the end of June to the Big Bang event at the South of England showground. The top three projects from each year group are also being entered into the Big Bang Science Fair competition on the day where they will be competing with students from other schools to win prizes and get through to the national competition in Birmingham next March.

Out of 600 students, we had 60 students who decided not to complete/attempt the project work. Since hand in of the projects, they have been given a 40-page Science workbook as a consequence to complete at home which is basic in content and is mainly cloze passages. If the students still fail to engage with the homework, they will be given a series of detentions with their head of year. I am very happy with the homework turn out though with 90% of the students completing it and producing fantastic projects!

Adams thoughts: We now know that two of the projects received an invitation to the national final in Birmingham in march 2020! this is an incredible testimony to the dedication, skill and enthusiasm of the students at The Regis School. It also says a lot about my amazing department and the strong leadership that Becca demonstrated.

From a department leader prospective to set it up you will need about £150 for prizes, to book the hall a term in advance so it doesn’t get taken and support from your SLT to attend the event. I love watching the students faces when they are talking to the Principle, Vice Principles or Governors. They beam with pride. You will also need a slither of admin support to do the invite letters and certificates. We were fortunate enough to get our bus to the big bang funded from our schools careers dept, so that or any STEM funding pots might be helpful. 

I’m not a huge fan of project based work in science, I think it often leads students to focus on format over content and I’m still scarred from the group work projects of my own education. However, I do think the science fair is a really valuable experience for our students and we always end up with some fantastic and unique projects form students of all ranges of ability and backgrounds. It also gives helps support the teaching of the key concepts of working scientifically skills beyond our lessons.

If you want to know more information I would recommend following Becca on twitter and DMing her.

Here is a link to the evaluation form

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