How to Coordinate and Conduct a School Science Fair

Introduction

In a school science fair, individual students or small groups of students work together on a science project. While the topic of choice can be mandated by the teacher or grade level, the most successful science fair projects will be due to the interest in a particular topic by the student(s). Usually science fairs are grouped into three broad, main grade levels – elementary, middle / junior high, and high school. Depending upon your school / grade involvement, the science fair can be solely for one grade level with competition between classes, or you can expand the science fair to competition between the entire school with appropriate age / grade level categories. If you tend to work with upper grades, you can divide the science fair by topic.

Keys to Success

For a school science fair, you need a committee of solid volunteers including other science teachers, parents, and even scientists and engineers in the community. By including this range of people, you are sure to cover all of the science standards required by the state, as well as having people to do clerical / data entry work and technical people to do the judging.

Another important point is that you want to make the science fair, no matter how small, as realistic as possible. Consider referring to a handbook of the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) to see the official rules should you wish to implement them in your science fair. A note though -- should you choose to let your school science fair be a “jumping point” to send kids to a city / county science fair or to the International Science and Engineering Fair, you will need to follow the rules provided by ISEF.

To find judges, you will need to make a few phone calls, but usually industrial scientists and engineers are more than willing to help sponsor and judge science fair projects. Check first among some of the parents in your school to see if there are any technical people among that pool. Check with local colleges and universities for undergraduate and graduate science students – students in these categories usually need service hours for their organizations, and are readily able to provide students to help judge. Finally, check with a few of the science or engineering organizations in your city to recruit judges. Organizations such as the following, as well as several biology and medical associations can offer members for judging depending on scheduling:

American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE)

American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)

Only as a last resort should parents of students from a particular grade level judge that grade level.

If someone within the parent volunteers, school, or science / engineering industry offers to set up a database with the student projects and information - DO IT! This will make your life much easier in the end when you are tallying scores for prizes.

Publicity is always important, whether the science fair is one grade level or the entire school. Check with your town / city newspaper. Many times larger cities will have “neighborhood” sections where news is printed about schools. Check well in advance with your newspaper and convince them to include an article and pictures in their paper about your students and their projects.

Steps to Coordinate and Conduct a School Science Fair

  • Choose a chairperson(s) that will oversee the entire science fair.
  • Solicit volunteers for the committee.
  • At the first planning meeting, set dates and deadlines for the science fair, including the date of the science fair, set up and take down of projects, deadline for student topic / project submission. Decide if you will provide the project board or if the students will need to use their own. Also, work with the school principal and / or teachers to determine if grades will be involved with the projects, if the projects should be mandatory or voluntary, the format the projects should follow, and the rules. Be sure to consider the venue for the contest paying careful attention to the amount of display space and the number of tables available. Allow a table for each project as well as tables for clerical / administrative needs. Draw a layout plan, and determine the number of volunteers needed to manage each area.
  • Once the layout and rules have been established, create an information sheet to distribute to students and parents about the science fair stating general information and the project guidelines. Be sure to stipulate any safety related restrictions.
  • Begin to recruit judges at least three months prior to the science fair. Be sure to keep them updated with reminders at the beginning of each month, the week before, and week of the judging. It is better to accept what you feel will be almost too many judges … schedules do change at the last second and it is always nice to have a back up judge! It is also considerate to give the judge projects in his / her area of specialty. Ask the judge for any preferences in advance, and then have a list prepared to email beforehand to him / her for review. (This is where a database becomes very helpful!)
  • Establish guidelines for how the students are to submit, set up and represent their projects. Distribute the guidelines as well as a floor plan to the students and their teachers in advance.
  • Order any prizes and establish a method for printing certificates. It may take a couple of weeks for the prizes or certificate paper to arrive. Be sure to generate certificates or letters of appreciation to present to your volunteers.

Benefits from Involvement

By coordinating a school science fair, you will be helping students to think “outside the box.” Science fair projects provide students the opportunity to think critically, and address their interests through inquiry-based learning. Family and community involvement, student success, and school recognition are all benefits from a school science fair.