Science Fair Journal Guide

Science fair journals, four words: THE STRUGGLE IS REAL!

Students tend to have a hard time organizing their science journal. I certainly, under no circumstances, am speaking for all the past, present and future students, but I do feel the following applies to the majority: 

Students engaged in a science fair do not know where to begin. Literally. They do not know! From choosing their topic, to what they can and can not do for their project (which varies per state), from how to execute the scientific method in real life (though they can recite and explain each step on paper).

I am not saying I blame them. I think if I were to put myself in their shoes, I might look something like this when trying to enter the world of the science fair: 

We’re heading to the science fair!

I gotta tell ya, I think that my first year teaching could have been a sitcom when it came to the science fair. SCIIIENNNCE FAIRRRR. Ooooh. I had visions. Let me tell you, I had dreams. We were gonna get down and nerdy! And then the fear of lawsuits that were translated into Science Fair Rules put my Science Fair Fantasies to a screeching hault. I had to shamefully tell students that the experiments we had both been so excited about were to be rejected if submitted because of those rules. Those constraining rules that made me, a science teacher, think “What the heck is the point of this science fair?!”, in a fit of frustration as I saw all the fun and anticipation slowly drain out of my student’s bodies. Sorry, Jake, you can not run barefoot to test whether or not running shoes actually slowed you down, I know that you are a star cross country runner and you were really looking forward to this, but I’m a new teacher and apparently very naive!

Needless to say, the second year I had those rules down. The adult in me was saying “Yes, of course we need these guidelines”. The sarcastic teenager inside of me might be adding the word “(limiting)” or “(lame)” between the words “these” and “guidelines”. And the scientist in me just died a little.

BUT… the science fair IS a great way for students to execute the scientific method
in a controlled fashion. And, we did have some really fun experiments! Sure, there’s always going to the junior in high school who wants to test how long flowers last in a vase, but we can’t all be masterminds! I say as long as they are doing the experiment and getting a feel for how important those control groups can be, then it’s all worth it.

Though, the paperwork can be agonizing.

Ahem. Back to the Science Fair Journals. The kids really do have trouble when it comes to recording their data. It’s almost as if they are out of their comfort zones because they are literally staring at a blank notebook not knowing where to begin. They have a hard time getting their topic. They have a hard time setting up their journal. However, once they get rolling, they get into the swing of things and they tend to gain confidence. The trick is getting them there. As time goes on, I have noticed a definitely increase in higher quality notebooks as I am better able to get them started on the right foot.

Here are some pointers if you are doing the science fair:
1. Don’t be that guy. Know the Rules. I’m from Massachusetts so this was particular helpful and this is where I get all the paperwork: http://www.massscifair.com/.

2. Give your students time to come up with their topic. One week is ideal, one day is not.

3. If you can help it, rule out students working with students who are not in your classroom UNLESS you have a common rubric and have time to compare grades with other teachers. The best idea is to keep them all in your class- no outside partners.

4. Use the documents I have attached to this post to help students choose topics and to help students understand what their Science Fair Journal is all about.

5. Have your students hand in their journals every 2-3 weeks just so that you can check to be sure they are making progress. You can cut a small corner to see where they last left off and highlight the date. I staggered the due dates since I had 3 classes doing the science fair. Try not to collect notebooks on a Friday. Students usually spend Sunday nights working on the science fair. But please, whatever you do, collect them. Ensure your students are constructing, designing, and DOING the experiment!

6. Ask the students who produced the best notebooks if you can hang on to them as a model to use for the next year’s class. More often than not, they won’t mind. But hang on to them, because you should always have them ready to give back in case they  need them.

Good luck in this upcoming science fair. Show that scientific method who’s boss! And check out the guides!

Science Fair Ideas
Science Fair Journal

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