Our school's science fair packet is voluminous. This document is an intimidating, multi-page series of rules and procedures. The following is an actual exerpt from our school's science fair packet
No live animals, preserved animal, dangerous chemicals, dangerous equipment, cell cultures, bacteria, molds, microorganisms, soil, mud, liquids (including water), or solvents may be exhibited at the fair. However, if approved to use in research, pictures may be used on the display.
If any of these materials are to be used, they must approved by the school or in some cases the district. Link to complete packet is on my class homepage: http://kjanderson63.googlepages.com/home
Each year I see our 3rd & 4th graders eyes light up when they know science fair is approaching. They excitedly announce they want to research a topic, usually an animal, that they are curious about. Then they are told that "No." This is not a research project, but a project that requires variables and measurable, replicable results. The light goes out of their eyes, they get that "huh?!" look and science has become not a mystery to discover, but yet another overlly coreagraphed production of perscribed necessity. The project packet is well structured, organized, but for an Elementary student it is daunting. It is overwhelming for their parents adults, too, many of whom have limited education and language barriers. Some student's are completely prepared and interested in structuring a legitimate experiment, but many student's just want to learn more about a topic or answer some questions.
Since Science Fair is required for all students, it would seem appropriate to play to the various intelligences and allow some students to begin an independent, in depth research project.
When a student is told "NO" to their student's initial Science Fair idea, their curiosity is curbed and their sense of ownership and wonder disappears. Science Fair has taken the fun out of learning, squelching natural curiosity in the interest of teaching the scientific process over encouraging exploration. Wouldn't it be better to take a young student's interests and let them flourish? Is it so wrong to allow a part of the Science Fair to be research based? All I can say is that something is wrong when the educational arena diverts independent learning in the interest of its own agenda. Especially in elementary grades.
Also, look at the list of items restricted without prior approval. Last year, one student wanted to see what car exhaust would do to plants growth. The experiment was declined because car exhaust was rated too hazardous. The student was crushed (emotionally, not by a car). To satisfy the Science Fair requirement, the student did a different project they weren't too fired up about. A negative experience replaced a great oppotunity for learning.
When has risk aversion become the moderator for science? Reasonable caution and common sense should suffice, but now the attitudes about risk have become absurd and an impediment to learning. When did encouraging a child's natural curiosity about their world become so difficult? Isn't exploration and discovery about taking risks?
The purpose of the Science Fair should be to develop scientific inquiry. For some students, the standard scientific model fits with their modus operendi, but for others, a more open ended course of study is a better fit. We need to expand our objectives for the science fair, especially for the younger students who come to us with questions and curiosity they want to explore. Sometimes, there might even be some risk involved.