This is my twentieth year teaching fifth grade. It is also the twentieth year that I have required my students to participate in a Science Fair. Why do I do it?
I think back to my own experience participating in a Science Fair. As much as I liked the experiment I chose, it was the variety of projects surrounding mine that filled me with awe and wonder. It was the thinking as much as it was the experiment that impressed me. Every step in the process of running an experiment necessitates reflective and logical thinking. That thinking is what dictates the next direction to take. With each project I looked at, I was in awe of what the author observed and concluded. I wondered if I would have followed the same thinking path or been diverted by my own perspective and curiosity.
The experience changed how I thought about science. I let go of my incorrect idea that science was only done by scholars and that most earthly phenomena was pretty much already figured out. Instead I began to see science as an invitation to ask questions. To wonder. To make guesses. To gather evidence. And even when I had written my conclusion and read the conclusions of others, I knew at some level that there was more to be explained. There were more questions to ask.
So that is why I require my students to participate in a Science Fair. I want them to experience what a sense of free thinking there is in the pursuit of an answer. So much of the thinking students are asked to do in a classroom is framed by the curriculum, the teacher, or both. Their thinking is rarely very far from the confines of the proverbial box. By asking students to choose a project and follow the Scientific Method, I am putting the learning in the hands of the student. I am giving them the opportunity to participate in a scholarly scientific pursuit. The smiles you see on their faces are my evidence that it is a worthwhile event.