Previously I had always ran the science fair like many of my fellow science teachers. The past two years, there have been two major changes with the process which I will detail below. People will ask, well, how do you know if it has worked better than before? Where’s your evidence? Again, I will get to that part below.

First major change – I was able to recruit a few #actuallivingscientist ‘s to help mentor no more than 5 projects over the course of the first semester. Their role was to ask questions, offer advice and be a sounding board for the students but under no circumstance to do the project for them. The communication was done through weekly emails that included the scientist, myself and the students (two reasons: accountability and transparency). There was a teachable moment with how to write a formal email to the scientist.

Over the last two years, the conversations I have watched have been phenomenal. They have well exceeded my wildest expectations. There have been a couple that haven’t taken advantage but, for the most part, the students have enjoyed the conversations and will excitedly tell me they just got a new email or say it has been over a week since they last emailed me. The questions, thoughts, advice that have been shared have been fantastic. I honestly can’t thank the mentors enough for the time and efforts with my students.

Second major change – This change comes at the very beginning. Instead of trying to come up with a question to investigate, the students begin to research a phenomena that interests them. As they research this topic, they begin writing down questions they have about it. From that list, we begin to see which are testable questions and if an experiment can be developed that they can actually conduct. This has been a great change and I feel really helped bring the projects to a higher quality.

How do you know if it has worked? Great question. Here is some of my evidence from the last two years:

  • Of the 30 projects from my school that have gone on to the district fair, 18 have been from my class. The other 12 came from 10 other science teachers in the building.
  • Of those, 4 of mine have ended up at the State Science fair with two of them earning medals (First place in her category and the other Third in her category).
  • Comments from the mentors expressing how well the students are doing and how surprised they have been about it and enjoyed the process
  • Students aren’t complaining as much (not hard data I know but it has been observed)
  • Parents not complaining as much (not hard data  I know but it has been observed)

After all this, I am still looking for volunteer mentors for this school year. What would your role be? Ask questions, give advice, push the students and a time requirement of no more than maybe 30 minutes for the week.

If you would like to be a mentor for a few projects, feel free to email me at patrick.goff@fayette.kyschools.us or DM me on twitter @bmsscienceteach. I would love to hear from you. If you would like to talk to a former mentor, let me know and I am sure one of them would be more than happy to talk about their role with you. This has been a great experience for all involved and I hope you will consider signing up.

 

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