9 April 2009 03:56 PM

Getting Ready for the Science Fair

by Dr. Rick

Spring is here, and that means the Science Fair is not far off.  I’ve been to many a Science Fair in my day, and I must say today’s Science Fair is not your father’s (or mother’s) Science Fair.


Gone are the days when parents routinely – at least for some kids – researched and built the project themselves.  (They often did this to keep peace in the family, but that’s just a sign of poor organization skills.  Plus, it’s no excuse.  Regular readers of my blog know how important organization is.  For a couple of examples, see September 9, 2008, September 11, 2008, and December 29, 2008.)


Today’s Science Fairs are more student-oriented, and they more often than not incorporate other subjects.  For example, students will be expected not only to research a topic of interest – photosynthesis and dinosaurs are still popular, but so are satellites and global positioning systems and video streaming – but to give a short presentation, often with Power Point, to a small audience on the topic.  That involves science, math, technology, writing, reading, and public speaking.  Students need to know their topic and be able to present it.  This is “interdisciplilnary instruction” at its best.  It’s great when students see connections between and among the subjects they learn in the classroom.  Just like the “real world.”


That means organization, time management, and self discipline play a part in today’s Science Fair.  So does the involvement of parents, not in a production role but in a role of supporter, encourager, and occasional nudge.  Sometimes you just have to be a pest.  Payback is sweet.


How to find a topic?  Kids need some guidance, of course, but a good rule of thumb is to let their intrests guide them.  Here are some ideas to keep in mind.

  1. Interests. What are your child’s interests? Spend some time talking to him about interesting topics that might spark his imagination. There are many timely topics that you can point to in newspapers, magazines or on the Internet. Ecology and the environment are particularly timely, and kids of all ages can discover projects that are appropriate for their level of sophistication. Other topics could relate to geology (rock collecting), chemistry (a cool experiment), or biology (a favorite animal). Each one has a wide range of subjects that span elementary to high school talents. It’s important to steer your child to a topic that motivates him.

  2. Research. There are lots of places to find age-appropriate science topics. Again, the Internet is always a good start. You can also go to the library and investigate general interest magazines like National Geographic, Popular Mechanics, and Science. Flip through them for ideas, and visit their Web sites. Check out the Web sites of well-known museums and visit their kids’ pages. The Smithsonian, for instance, has some very interesting kid-centered ideas (www.si.edu, then click on “Kids”). The Discovery Channel Web site is one of my favorites, too (www.discovery.com, then click on “Explore by Subject”).

  3. Teacher.  Ask your child’s teacher for some good ideas.  What projects have been overdone in past years?  What projects are new and exciting and have potential appeal to your child?  Has she noticed that your child has an interest that you may not be aware of?  Can she steer your child in the right direction for information?

  4. “Monitored” Independence. Try to remember, this is your child’s project, not yours.  That doesn’t mean, however, to leave her alone.  Support her, lead her, motivate her, even nag her when it’s necessary (toward deadline time, especially). That’s why it’s important for her to choose a topic that’s interesting and challenging for her age and knowledge.  Working with a “study buddy” can be helpful, too.  The two can help each other along as they each work independently on their projects.  Help her to manage her time, to break down a big project into smaller ones, and to keep on track. If she’ll need to present her project orally at some point, rehearse with her.  Ask her to explain it in her own words, then help her put it in writing.  Remember, the more she practices, the more comfortable she’ll feel when the presentation time comes.  It could very well be fun, even!  When it’s all done, she’ll be proud of herself, her skills, and her project.  Watch her confidence grow.  Celebrate with her.

Do you remember your science fair projects from long ago?  Share your funny, inspirational, or nightmarish science fair stories with us – how you motivate your children now, how you survived your own projects, pay tribute to a teacher who helped you, tell how your memory went blank during the presentation – by clicking on the “comment” button below.  We’d love to hear from you.




Add comment


  • Comment
  • Preview

Blog Posting Rules

This blog is for the good of education - for students, for teachers and for parents. I very much value a two-way communication with you and welcome and encourage your comments and feedback. However, to facilitate a constructive conversation that is beneficial to everyone in this online community, I expect the same respect in your comments that I present in my blog.

Read the full Dr. Rick Blog Posting Rules.