Is NGSS the End of Science Fair?
Posted: Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016
by Peter A’Hearn
It’s science fair season again and time for my annual love/hate relationship with the science fair.
I love science fair because it gets some kids really excited about doing science and going deep into a topic which is where the real learning occurs. I love that families get excited and do science together—how powerful for kids and parents to work together to learn something new! I love talking to kids who are excited about their projects and what they did. My own daughters’ science fair projects have been among the most powerful learning they have done in their school years. Not just in science, but in reading, writing, learning how to do research, applying math, and being able to present themselves.
I hate the competitive aspect of it and the way parents and families get over involved and do the project. I hear parents saying, “For science fair this year I’m thinking of doing…” which I find totally depressing. I hate the way people fuss over the boards and how they are put together instead of focusing on the science. I’ve seen 6th grade board formatted like journal articles, which I’m pretty sure a 6th grader didn’t do.
I wonder…if we took out the competition, would science fair still be a thing? Would kids still show up just for the love of science?
Into this love/hate mix comes a new question: “Is science fair compatible with NGSS?” I have heard many arguments that it is not. There are all the reasons above. In addition some say that science fair is focused on a narrow view of science that prescribes following a formulaic “scientific method” that is at odds with the organic and social way that science is done in the real world. The NGSS Science and Engineering Practices offer a fuller view of how science works than the cartoon version that science fair follows.
But take a look at the judging criteria for the California State science fair (full text at the end of this post). You will not find any reference to the scientific method in the judging criteria. You will also find nothing about how the board should look, the order of the parts of the project, or any of the other fake criteria that surround science fairs. The criteria ask for things very much in the spirit of NGSS and the Common Core: creativity in design and questioning, asking questions, thorough research, rigorous understanding of the science, data collection and analysis, providing evidence, and clear communication.
Over time, in schools and districts (including mine), many rules and assumptions have accumulated over time. Rules about the layout of the board, what kinds of pictures can be on the project, how many trials are required, etc. These rules are well intended. They are there to help guide students in doing better science, but over time have perhaps become more important than the good science itself.
NGSS is an opportunity to clean house on science fair and get rid of the rules that have made it formulaic. Strip it down to the criteria below. Does there even need to be a board?
Science fair is a great opportunity for teachers and students to dive deep into Common Core standards about research and using multiple sources of information and using technology and speaking and listening as they present. It’s a chance to dive deep into all of the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices. But only if those are the goal of the thing.
Before you decide to ask your kids to do a science fair project ask yourself some questions:
- Give students a due date and ask them to bring back a project?
- Expect parents to do most of the teaching?
- Assume they know how to do this and complain when they can’t?
- Expect projects that follow a very specific set of steps?
- Ask students to choose topics from a list or from a website?
If so… Please don’t do science fair
Or will you:
- Work through a project as a whole class as a model connected to grade level appropriate phenomena?
- Spend the time to do it well?
- Use the opportunity to teach about asking scientific questions, designing experiments, doing research on multiple sources of information and evaluating that information, collecting and analyzing data, communicating clearly, evaluating findings, modeling, arguing, and explaining?
- Have students present and defend their work?
- Ask students to pursue topics that arise from their questions and interests?
If so…you are spending your student’s time wisely, understand how NGSS and the Common Core work together, and getting your students to learn with depth and rigor. You might even learn to love science fair.
California State Science Fair Judging Criteria:
The Judges Advisory Committee has determined the five areas of originality, comprehension, organization and completeness, effort and motivation, and clarity to be important for creating a quality science project. The following information has been sent to the student participants.
Originality Original ideas and the creative use of resources are usually impressive. This originality may be in the scientific concept, a new approach to solve an old problem, or a new interpretation of data. However, an original project must be well executed. Original projects are those that go beyond the textbooks and explore new ground and innovative techniques.
Comprehension Comprehension is the understanding and appropriate use of scientific theory, terms, techniques, and methodologies. Students should have a depth of knowledge about the scientific and engineering principles and practices, which can be shown by the ability to extrapolate what was learned from the project to the subject in general. Depth includes understanding the basic science behind the project topic, comprehension at a finer level of detail, and awareness of the influence that the project has on related material in the subject topic.
Organization and Completeness The project should have a well-defined goal or objective. The materials, methods, and experimental design should be sufficient to answer all the appropriate questions. A second component of organization is thoroughness, which includes not only the issue of how well the original questions have been addressed, but also the issue of how fully questions arising during the project have been addressed. It is the duty of all scientists to provide evidence in support of their claims. The burden of proof does not rest with the observer. Without supporting results or data, the science project is not a completed work.
Effort and Motivation The amount of time a student has spent doing the actual science project and the amount of time the student has spent reading and learning the subject should both be considered. While motivation and effort are not the same, the amount of effort that goes into a project is usually an indication of a student’s motivation. It is important to know if a student enjoyed the experience and is interested in learning more.
Clarity Written and oral communication skills are very important in science and engineering. Ideas should be clearly presented and easy to understand. The experiments should have well-defined goals which indicate clear understanding of the basic science. A well-written abstract, easy to follow visual aids, and clear and concise answers all add to the quality of a project.
Posted: Saturday, January 14th, 2017
The Council of Math/Science Educators of San Mateo County will be hosting the 41st annual STEM Conference this February 4, 2017 at the San Mateo County Office of Education. This STEM Conference is the place to get lots of new lessons and ideas to use in your classroom. There will be over twenty-five workshops and a variety of exhibitors that provide participants with a wide range of practical and realistic ideas and resources to use in their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs from Pre-K to grade 12. With California’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards, we are dedicated to ensuring that we prepare our teachers to take on these educational policies.
Teachers, administrators, and parents are invited to explore the many exciting aspects of STEM education and learn about and discuss the latest news, information, and issues. This is also an opportunity to network with colleagues who can assist you in building your programs and meet new friends that share your interests and love of teaching. Register online today!
Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017
Achieve has launched and is facilitating an EQuIP Peer Review Panel for Science–a group of expert reviewers who will evaluate the quality and alignment of lessons and units to the standards–in an effort to identify and shine a spotlight on emerging high-quality lesson and unit plans designed for the NGSS.
If you or your state, district, school, or organization has designed NGSS-aligned instructional materials, please consider submitting these in order to help provide educators across the country with various models and templates of high-quality lesson and unit plans. Learn More…
Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017
An upcoming Perry Outreach Program on Saturday, April 22, 2017 at the Orthopaedic Institute for Children in Los Angeles, CA. The Perry Outreach Program is a free, one-day, hands-on experience for high school and college-aged women who are interested in pursuing careers in medicine and engineering. Students will hear from women leaders in these fields and try it for themselves by performing mock orthopaedic surgeries and biomechanics experiments. Learn More…
Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017
by Jessica Sawko
January 2017 has proven to be a very busy month for science education policy and CA NGSS implementation activities. CSTA has been and will be there every step of the way, seeking and enacting all options to support high-quality science education and the successful implementation of CA NGSS.
California Department of Education/U.S. Department of Education Science Double-Testing Waiver Hearing
The year started with California Department of Education’s (CDE) hearing with the U.S. Department of Education conducted via WebEx on January 6, 2017. This hearing was the final step in California’s efforts to secure a waiver from the federal government in order to discontinue administration of the old CST and suspension of the reporting of student test scores on a science assessment for two years. As reported by EdSource, the U.S. Department of Education representative, Ann Whalen, a senior adviser to U.S. Secretary John King Jr., committed to making her final ruling “very shortly.” Deputy Superintendent Keric Ashley presented on behalf of CDE during the hearing and did an excellent job describing the broad-based support for this waiver in California, the rationale for the waiver, and California’s commitment to the successful implementation of a new high-quality science assessment. As previously reported, California is moving forward with its plans to administer a census pilot assessments this spring. The testing window is set to open on March 20, 2017. For more information visit New CA Science Test: What You Should Know.
Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017
by Jessica Sawko
The early-bird registration rates for the 65th NSTA National Conference on Science Education in Los Angeles is just days away (ends Feb. 3). And as the early-registration deadline approaches excitement is building for what is anticipated to be the largest gathering of science educators (both California and nationwide) – with attendance expected to reach 10,000 or more. If you have never had the pleasure of attending the NSTA National Conference, I recommend you visit their website with tips for newcomers that describe the various components of the event. A conference preview is also available for download. Learn More…