January/February 2018 – Vol. 31 No. 2

New Research: Just What Are the Benefits of Science Projects?

Posted: Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

For decades, science projects and science fairs have been as much a part of school lore as book reports and dodge ball. Yet little research has been conducted into the impact these projects make on the education of the student participants.

In 2012, the Synopsys Outreach Foundation hired WestEd, a preeminent educational research firm, to conduct an in-depth survey of students who have participated in foundation-supported activities. Since its creation in 1999, the Synopsys Outreach Foundation has supported more than 1 million individual science project experiences. We provide science project support to teachers at more than 600 California schools annually and serve as the major sponsor of the Santa Clara County, Sonoma County, and Sacramento Regional science fairs.

One of the foundation’s goals is to spur young people’s interest in careers in science and engineering, thereby replenishing the supply of these workers in the decades ahead. The results of the survey show that our support of hands-on science learning also helps educate students in non-science-specific skills they’ll need to succeed in a variety of 21st century careers.

The Survey

The online surveys were targeted at three different grade spans: upper elementary (grades 4 and 5), middle school (grades 6 – 8), and high school (grades 9 – 12). More than 1,600 students in Santa Clara County completed the survey.

Students were asked to reflect upon their science project experiences (in class and/or at a science fair) and to rate their skills in several areas, before and after completing their projects. Among these skills were:

  • Scientific investigation: develop an idea, plan an experiment, conduct an experiment
  • Project management: manage a project and meet deadlines
  • Scientific analysis: keep a logbook, analyze data, create a chart or graph
  • Communication: write results, create a presentation board, present and discuss results

Survey Results and Implications

As one might expect, survey respondents consistently rated their abilities in these areas as showing improvement following their participation in a science project. What was surprising, however, was the degree to which they felt they had improved. Students were asked to report their abilities using a 4-point Likert scale ranging from “Very low,” “Low,” and “Good” to “Very good.” In nearly every category, significant numbers of students rated their skills as having improved to “Good” or “Very good” after participating in a science project.

What does this tell us about the science learning environment specifically and about the skills students gain through hands-on science projects generally?

Any teacher who’s ever guided a group of students through a science project can attest to the power of hands-on learning. Freed from the two-dimensional confines of the printed page, these projects routinely benefit students by requiring them to engage in the varied tasks that comprise the scientific method.

One of the respondents neatly summed up the benefits of participating in a science project:

“Science projects are invaluable experiences…It’s like being a detective and it’s fun because the entire project is yours–not some homework assignment…There is nothing predictable about it and it’s a completely new experience from sitting and learning in a classroom…”

Judging from the number of positive responses to the survey, both quantitative and qualitative, it’s clear that hands-on learning, the primary focus of our foundation’s work, plays a key role in energizing science lessons. Equally important, though, were the survey’s findings regarding students’ self-rated improvement in the types of skills that will position them for success in a variety of careers. Skills such as idea generation, project management, communication, and collaboration will be as critical to the success of those in the sciences as to those in financial services, healthcare, transportation, public service, and other industries. According to a report by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a consortium that counts Apple, Intel, and The Walt Disney Company as members,

”Businesses expect employees at all levels to identify problems, think through solutions and alternatives, and explore new options if their approaches don’t pan out.”

Compare that sentiment with the following statement by one survey respondent:

“Sometimes things don’t go exactly as planned, so what do you do then? You have to come up with a new way to finish your project fast.”

To find that students are gaining these non-science-specific skills through their science project work is, indeed, very encouraging.

Conclusion

While science projects may serve to inspire a number of future scientists, the survey indicates that hands-on learning can also significantly contribute to students gaining the 21st century skills they’ll need as they develop into the next generation of business owners, innovators, managers, and employees. As the foundation’s positioning line states, “Science projects. Prepare students for life.”

Gary Robinson is president of the Synopsys Outreach Foundation and Heidi Black is science fair coordinator for the East Side Union High School District.  The complete survey report is available at http://www.outreach-foundation.org/pdfs/SOF_Evaluation_Report_010913.pdf

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

One Response

  1. Thank you for this article and study! I have been the science fair advisor at my school for 11 years, and a career-long believer in “constructivist” learning that is “hands on, minds on”. It is a labor intensive process, and one that doesn’t always “settle well” with students who just want to be fed the information, but I have remained steadfast in my belief that this style of teaching and learning is the right thing to do. It’s nice to have the scientific data to back me up. 🙂 I’ll be sure to share this article with my students, as further justification and motivation for all of their hard work.

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LATEST POST

California Science Test Academy for Educators

Posted: Thursday, February 15th, 2018

California Science Test Academy for Educators

To support implementation of the California Science Test (CAST), the California Department of Education is partnering with Educational Testing Service and WestEd to offer a one-day CAST Academy for local educational agency (LEA) science educators, to be presented at three locations in California from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. As an alternative to traveling, LEA teams can participate virtually via WebEx on one of the dates listed below.

The dates and locations for the CAST Academy are as follows:

  • Monday, April 23, 2018—Sacramento
  • Wednesday, April 25, 2018—Fresno
  • Thursday, April 26, 2018—Irvine

The CAST Academy will help participants develop a deeper understanding of the assessment design and expectations of the CAST. The academy also will provide information and activities designed to assist educators in their implementation of the California Next Generation Science Standards and three-dimensional learning to help them gain an understanding of how these new science assessment item types can inform teaching and learning. The CAST Academy dates above are intended for school and district science instructional leaders, including teacher leaders, teacher trainers, and instructional coaches. Additional trainings will be offered at a later date specifically for county staff. In addition, curriculum, professional development, and assessment leaders would benefit from this training.

A $100 registration fee will be charged for each person attending the in-person training. Each virtual team participating via WebEx will be charged $100 for up to 10 participants through one access point. Each workshop will have the capacity to accommodate a maximum of 50 virtual teams. Each virtual team will need to designate a lead, who is responsible for organizing the group locally. Registration and payment must be completed online at http://www.cvent.com/d/6tqg8k.

For more information regarding the CAST Academy, please contact Elizabeth Dilke, Program Coordinator, Educational Testing Service, by phone at 916-403-2407 or by e‑mail at caasppworkshops@ets.org.

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Accelerating into NGSS – A Statewide Rollout Series Now Accepting Registrations

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

Are you feeling behind on the implementation of NGSS? Then Accelerating into NGSS – the Statewide Rollout event – is right for you!

WHO SHOULD ATTEND
If you have not experienced Phases 1-4 of the Statewide Rollout, or are feeling behind with the implementation of NGSS, the Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout will provide you with the greatest hits from Phases 1-4!

OVERVIEW
Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout is a two-day training geared toward grade K-12 academic coaches, administrators, curriculum leads, and teacher leaders. Check-in for the two-day rollout begins at 7:30 a.m., followed by a continental breakfast. Sessions run from 8:00 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. on Day One and from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Day Two.

Cost of training is $250 per attendee. Fee includes all materials, continental breakfast, and lunch on both days. It is recommended that districts send teams of four to six, which include at least one administrator. Payment can be made by check or credit card. If paying by check, registration is NOT complete until payment has been received. All payments must be received prior to the Rollout location date you are attending. Paying by credit card secures your seat at time of registration. No purchase orders accepted. No participant cancellation refunds.

For questions or more information, please contact Amy Kennedy at akennedy@sjcoe.net or (209) 468-9027.

REGISTER

http://bit.ly/ACCELERATINGINTONGSS

DATES & LOCATIONS
MARCH 28-29, 2018
Host: San Mateo County Office of Education
Location: San Mateo County Office of Education, Redwood City

APRIL 10-11, 2018
Host: Orange County Office of Education
Location: Brandman University, Irvine

MAY 1-2, 2018
Host: Tulare County Office of Education
Location: Tulare County Office of Education, Visalia

MAY 3-4, 2018
Host: San Bernardino Superintendent of Schools
Location: West End Educational Service Center, Rancho Cucamonga

MAY 7-8, 2018
Host: Sacramento County Office of Education
Location: Sacramento County Office of Education Conference Center and David P. Meaney Education Center, Mather

JUNE 14-15, 2018
Host: Imperial County Office of Education
Location: Imperial Valley College, Imperial

Presented by the California Department of Education, California County Superintendents Educational Services Association/County Offices of Education, K-12 Alliance @WestEd, California Science Project, and the California Science Teachers Association.

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

The Teaching and Learning Collaborative, Reflections from an Administrator

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

by Kelly Patchen

My name is Mrs. Kelly Patchen, and I am proud to be an elementary assistant principal working in the Tracy Unified School District (TUSD) at Louis Bohn and McKinley Elementary Schools. Each of the schools I support are Title I K-5 schools with about 450 students, a diverse student population, a high percentage of English Language Learners, and students living in poverty. We’re also lucky to be part of the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative with the K-12 Alliance. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the California NGSS k-8 Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

2018 CSTA Conference Call for Proposals

Posted: Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

CSTA is pleased to announce that we are now accepting proposals for 90-minute workshops and three- and six-hour short courses for the 2018 California Science Education Conference. Workshops and short courses make up the bulk of the content and professional learning opportunities available at the conference. In recognition of their contribution, members who present a workshop or short course receive 50% off of their registration fees. Click for more information regarding proposals, or submit one today by following the links below.

Short Course Proposal

Workshop Proposal Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

CSTA’s New Administrator Facebook Group Page

Posted: Monday, January 15th, 2018

by Holly Steele

The California Science Teachers Association’s mission is to promote high-quality science education, and one of the best practice’s we use to fulfill that mission is through the use of our Facebook group pages. CSTA hosts several closed and moderated Facebook group pages for specific grade levels, (Elementary, Middle, and High School), pages for district coaches and science education faculty, and the official CSTA Facebook page. These pages serve as an online resource for teachers and coaches to exchange teaching methods, materials, staying update on science events in California and asking questions. CSTA is happy to announce the creation of a 6th group page called, California Administrators Supporting Science. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.