Some children hate bath time. The hide, they yell, and they stomp their feet. As much as their parents might wish it, just giving up bathing isn’t an option. So what do you do? Most parents come up with a plan to make bath time better, and often with some changes and some time, the whole process becomes less of a struggle. Sometimes, a little music and a rubber duck can even make the bath fun for a toddler.

For the science department, science fair was “bath time.” Even the most accomplished students, level-headed parents, and dedicated teachers could hide, yell, and stomp their feet. As a science department we have examined science fair, done some serious work, and come up with a process that we feel improves the experience for everyone involved.

Much like bath time, we understood from the beginning that not having science fair isn’t really an option. This process of doing science is critical to not only our IB curriculum, but to developing quality science students. Whatever changes we made had to make the process better, not eliminate it.

As a team, we have been examining the science fair every year and making small changes. Our goal has always been to increase the authenticity of the experience. We truly believe that science and science fair is about the process, not the product.

To improve the experience, students are doing more and more of their science fair projects in school. In fact, in 5th grade, students do not participate in the Middle School science fair. Instead, they attend the fair with their science teacher, Jen Klemunes. Jen does a wonderful job of leading the class through the process behind a science fair project as a class experience rather than just as a competition.

Sixth through 8th grade participate in our school science fair with individual projects on a topic each of them chooses. This year, Denise Hurst and Lakshmi Shrikantia have introduced a new approach to science fair to the students. The change was implemented to place more focus on good experimental design and planning. Although we still encourage research as part of the science fair experience, this shift in focus is more authentic and helps to develop our young scientists.

Even with all of these changes and guidance, not every project yields the expected results. We stress to students, our goal in science fair is to analyze the data in front of us, not to meet a particular outcome. To us, struggling through the design of quality methods, working with unexpected data, and discovering how to make projects better the next time around are the exact experiences that make our students better scientists and critical thinkers. It would be wonderful if science fair caused no stress, but coming face-to-face with challenges can be stressful. We want to help students work through these difficult processes successfully, and our focus is to help students discover that success lies in the effort they put into their work.

We feel that each year our Middle School science fair process and projects are getting better and better. We are also excited to see science fair participation growing in the Upper School as part of the Center for Experimental Science. Although science fair may always be our “bath time,” as a department, we will be sure to keep bringing the bubbles and rubber duckies that make it a little more relaxing for everyone!

Learn more about Harrisburg Academy on our school website.