Everyone agrees that children learning science is crucial, especially in the face of economic and environmental challenges that will require science, technology, engineering and math-heavy solutions in the years to come. But does one of the best-known processes in science education — the science fair — meaningfully support that goal? That’s what a new study is aiming to figure out, backed by a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation.
Science fairs have “never been really rigorously researched,” Abigail Jurist Levy, the leader of the research team, told Education Week April 24. “As valued as they are by some, and as criticized as they are by others, we really don’t know what they offer students in terms of learning experiences and engendering enthusiasm in science.”
Over the next few years, the researchers, from the Massachusetts-based Education Development Center, will collect data on science fairs in order to answer three main questions: whether kids benefit from science fairs, what makes some science fairs better than others, and how much a good science fair costs.
“With an appropriate pedagogy and opportunities to learning, the benefits of learning about science for young kids are endless,” said Margarita Medina from the KLA School of Coconut Creek. “Because the results of some experiments in the field of science do not take place right away, children can learn to be patient and wait for things to take place.”
The first phase of the project, which will last through the end of 2015, involves recruiting various middle schools to complete surveys on their science fairs. The researchers will then choose 40 different science fairs to study in depth over the following two years.
This study comes at a key time as the importance and form of STEM-focused curricula are being debated at every level from preschool to graduate school.
“We’ve got to celebrate the winners of our science fairs as much as we celebrate winners of football or basketball,” President Barack Obama said at this year’s White House Science Fair (which has been held the last five years running). A new science-focused preschool serving 2- to 5-year-olds, Inventor’s Gate, will even be opening this fall in New York City.
“As children are exposed to the processes of scientific experiments they can learn how to form their own opinions, create hypothesis, understand better that sometimes things do not work right away and they can also learn to predict what could happen next,” said Medina.