Sunday, November 23, 2014

How I Got Hooked On Science Fair

Tonight I met with several members of the Simcoe County Regional Science and Technology Fair committee. It's only my second year on the committee but I truly enjoy spending time with the other members. On the way home tonight I took some time to reflect on why.

At a glance the members of the science fair committee seem pretty diverse. Although many of us are teachers, some are not. Those who teach do so in public schools, Catholic schools, private schools and colleges. Some of us have young children at home (who occasionally get dragged out to meetings) and some are retired empty-nesters. We often hold our meetings in restaurants and I'm betting it's hard for strangers to figure out what could possibly bring us all together.

Two years ago I attended the regional science fair as a judge. It was my first time at the fair (my school hadn't participated anytime in recent history) and all it took was one conversation with a 4th-grade scientist for me to be hooked. There is something wonderful about an 11-year-old kid who can speak passionately about their science project to a complete stranger. Not all of the students oozed with passion; some of the students were nervous, others robotic in their delivery. I recall one boy who provided one-word answers to every question I asked him (including 'What would you do differently next time?', "What was the most difficult problem you had to solve?" and other open-ended questions). Despite the nervous laughter and awkward moments, the energy in the room was unmistakeable. I loved every minute of that evening and immediately decided to get more involved with this event.

I think that's why I like the science fair committee members so much. At one point in time each one of them had their own 'first' experience with science fair that eventually led them to where they are today. Hours of volunteer time spent organizing the local fair and chaperoning students at the Canada Wide Science Fair are fuelled by the determination and passion of our budding student scientists. The type of person who believes in science fair is someone who believes in the power of young people to create new knowledge and make real change in our world. Who wouldn't want to be in that club?

I look forward to the day when I get a chance to attend the national science fair so that I can see our students perform against a backdrop of the best young science minds in the country. There are students in our county turning their garages and basements into laboratories, forming partnerships with world-class researchers, and designing technologies that make our world better. I'm very thankful for the opportunity to play a small part in helping them get their hard work acknowledged.

If you're curious about what science fair looks like in Simcoe County or wherever you live, volunteer to help out this year. You can be a judge (best job ever!) or simply pass out T-shirts - whatever your comfort level is. These fairs need the help of dedicated individuals to function. They also need teachers in schools to be willing to support budding student scientists, so if you're a classroom teacher who has never 'done' science fair, maybe this is the year. What better way to incorporate student-led inquiry into your science class?

Here are links to a couple of resources if you're curious...

http://www.smarts.youthscience.ca/ (social network for student scientists and engineers with a great science fair guide: http://smarts.youthscience.ca/sites/default/files/frontpage/SMARTS_Guide-E.pdf)

http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_guide_index.shtml (ideas and inspiration)

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