commented, Curious what do you think makes for a great science
fair? Top 5-10 elements.
Really good question. The
of the Washington Academy of
judges for many school science fairs every year. I started as a judge
in the program and succeeded the founder several years ago. I am pro
...so thank you fer askin!’
The science fair is a social ritual of
learning, like sports competitions or the prom. Everybody should get
to blow something up, that’s education.
Science fairs allow scientists to use
method. Like many good formal processes (say, knowing how to set
the table or how to sit
out), practice makes improvement leading to mastery, and repeated
practice allows people to use a process to improve their results.
Education has changed
Where once finding information was a
rigorous, time consuming process, involving travel (from travail,
meaning painful or laborious effort), libraries, and reference books,
today finding information is easy. Using information for a
specific purpose is the new goal of education. Since information is
so available, good education should include making something with
A course without a project is a survey
course. Making might mean not all parts of a survey course are
studied, but what is learned holds together in a larger, project
context. Projects provide an energetic context for learning
information as well as practicing social skills for achieving results
I mean, who really cares about Grendel?
I spent more time looking at aspects of Beowulf that are never
going to matter. A survey course tries to prepare you for any
eventuality, and ends up teaching little of value. However, I needed
to learn a lot about Grendel when completing a project on
I asked Jack
what he learned in basic training. He said, “They taught us how to
march. Never marched after basic. Wished they had showed us how to
shoot a water buffalo. That would have been useful.”
Father Guido Sarducci has
a video about the value of survey education, discussing what we
remember from survey courses five years after college graduation. He
offers to sell you the value of a university survey education, five
years later for five dollars. Integrated learning comes from
School science projects are like
batting practice. It takes several attempts before you start to get
the hang of the process. A good coach can greatly improve your
results. Parents and teachers can take your batting practice for you,
but you’ll eventually have to start somewhere.
An hypothesis is NOT a conclusion
We start the scientific method with an
hypothesis, what we think is going to happen. The hypothesis anchors
what we are experimenting. However, the results are what is
important, and it’s important not to confuse the two.
I was interviewing a young scientist
who had an hypothesis that a certain gene would have an effect on
lowering Body Mass Index (BMI). She constructed an elaborate
experiment, separating the right type of gene, introduced it in the
right type of rat, and SHAZAM the only things that lowered BMI were
diet and exercise. She was disappointed her hypothesis didn’t match
her results. I thought she had discovered something that is very
important to me every morning at 6am.
One of my science teachers, Enrico
Fermi said, Experimental
confirmation of a prediction is merely a measurement. An experiment
disproving a prediction is a discovery.
Let the results fit the data
A great coach teaches that science is
deductive, that conclusions comes from analyzing data, not inductive,
starting with a conclusion and then gathering data to support that
St. Bumpersticker wrote, Social
Science is Neither. However, I think he was commenting on the
amount of inductive reasoning done in social science research. That
means that someone trying to repeat the experiment is unable to get
similar results. I researched this in The
Science of Liberty, by Timothy
Ferris, while doing research for a project on improving
science fairs several years ago.
The social sciences are about us! This
is the good stuff! Reading a dedicated deductive social scientist
Murray may show provocative results, you know where he got his
data and you can repeat his experiments. He almost got lynched once
for insinuating that half of all children are below average.
So what is a good science fair? It’s
setting a date for having as many people as possible try to prove
something and then honestly report what happened. It’s using your
limited learning focus to create something, and we aren’t attached
what you create.
If I had my way, young scientists
wouldn’t have a science fair every year, they would have them every
month or every week! Of course if they spent that much time blowing
things up, they would all end up as fluent practicing scientists.