How To Panic-proof Your School's Science Fair
by Anne Wallingford
Lucky you! You've just found out that you are in charge of the science fair this year. No matter whether it's your first science fair, or your 10th, you have a lot of work to do. (We hope that if it's your 10th time that you've saved all your notes from the previous years!) But regardless of whether you are a novice or a seasoned veteran, we hope some of these ideas will make the task easier for you.
One of the first decisions your school needs to make is whether to have a science fair or a science project exhibition. If this is a first for your school, or you have younger students or students without much of a science background, an exhibition might prove to be the better choice. In a science exhibition, students may simply do demonstrations or prepare models rather than perform controlled experiments, but they should still do independent research and prepare their exhibits just as carefully as they would in a science fair. A word of caution: show-and-tell exhibits no longer qualify for most state competitions.
If your school decides to conduct a bona fide science fair, instead of an exhibition, your students will be entering a formal competition. They must formulate a working hypothesis, research the topic, conduct controlled experiments, write a report, prepare an exhibit, and perform a verbal presentation for the judges.
And don't forget to ask for support from fellow faculty and staff members. Competition requires strict adherence not only to scientific methodology and research, but also to documentation standards. A Language Arts/English colleague might be willing to work with students on preparing their research papers, showing students how to find library books, rent textbooks, or research the correct information on the Internet. School custodians can see that set-up day runs smoothly. A well-liked coach could give a pep talk about competing successfully.
Both science fairs and science exhibitions require a lot of preparation and work, but with careful planning, both you and your students will be proud of a successful science fair or exhibition.
The following checklist and guidelines can help you plan the big event.
Step-by-step Science Fair Checklist
__Contact your local Board of Education for display safety, research guidelines, and deadlines.
__Decide on either a science fair or science exhibition.
__Involve faculty and staff in scheduling and curriculum support.
__Inform student, faculty, staff, and parents of all deadlines.
__Contact parent groups and local businesses for sponsorship and help.
__Watch a science fair video or DVD with your students. The NSTA recommends How to Prepare a Science Fair Project by AGC/United Learning. This video compares scenes of last-minute panic by unprepared students with scenes of confident students who are organized and have worked steadily to prepare for the science show.
__Review research and experiment methods with students and have resources available. Remember, a science fair is an excellent way to introduce young scientists to scientific methods and processes!
__Have students choose topics.
__Monitor student progress.
__Order award ribbons and certificates.
__Review exhibit areas with custodian; determine location of all outlets, placement of tables, etc.
__Review student research papers and projects.
__Send out press releases.
__Arrange for volunteers to help with setup and supervision. (Older students are great at being gofers.)
__Arrange for a photographer.
__Have students set up their displays for your review.
__Review exhibits; double-check adherence to safety regulations.
__Students present their exhibits to the public.
__Entries are judged.
__Photograph winners and their displays.
__Treat yourself to dinner out! You've earned it!
14 Subject Areas, 63 Possible Topics:
Behavioral Science stimulus and response of organisms
Biochemistry properties and reactions of proteins, carbohydrates, hormones, or drugs
Botany plant structure, seed germination, effects of gibberellic acid on growth
Chemistry gas laws, atomic theory, analysis of organic compounds
Computer Programming analyzing a program, writing a program, computer languages
Conservation solar energy, pollution, soil chemistry, water testing, ecological effects of populations
Science rock formation, fossils, fossil fuels, landforms, erosion, ocean currents, weather forecasting, clouds
Electronics transistors, radios, circuits, lasers, motors, solar cells, amplifiers
Engineering practical application of scientific theories, bridges and road construction, stress testing
Health Science nutrition, dental care, hygiene, biofeedback
Mathematics probabilities, scale drawings, statistics, graphing
Microbiology bacteria, yeast, viruses, fungi, protozoa, cells and tissues
Physics Newton's Laws, gravity, force and pressure, motion studies, energy, light and optics, sound, magnetism
Zoology structures of vertebrates and invertebrates, evolution, heredity, embryology, gene splicing
Science Fair Safety Guidelines
Every teacher is aware of the many hazards students must face in today's society. However, science teachers have even more to be concerned about when it comes to safetyespecially if they are organizing a science fair. The following safety guidelines, established by the Illinois Junior Academy of Science, should be helpful.
For more information on cultures, contact the American Type Culture Collection, a global nonprofit bioresource center that provides biological products, technical services and educational programs to private industry, government and academic organizations around the world.
- GLASSWARE: To prevent breakage, substitute plastic labware for glassware whenever possible. Polymethylpentene (PMP) and polypropylene (PP) beakers and flasks, plastic microscope slides, and plastic Petri dishes are good alternatives to glassware.
- CHEMICALS: To protect students from potential chemical hazards, consult either the NIOSH/OSHA Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards 1997, DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 97-140, GPO Stock No. 017-033-00483-8
or the National Research Council's Prudent Practices for Handling Chemicals in Laboratories.
For display purposes, try substituting sodium chloride or sugar crystals for actual chemicals. You can use food coloring in water to replace displays of liquid chemicals.
- HAZARDOUS MATERIALS: Do not bring rocket propellants, pressurized aerosol sprays, cylinder gases, or automobile storage batteries into the display area.
- FIRE: For heating purposes, use a hot plate with embedded heating coils and thermostatic controls. Do not use an open flame or a burner in the display area! Disconnect all electrical plugs before and after judging.
- RADIATION: When using cathode ray tubes, x-rays, or radioactive substances, consult federal safety regulations. You can get information from the Center for Devices and Radiological Health, a division of the Dept. of Health and Human Services. Contact their Consumer Affairs Office.
- LASERS: Lasers must normally be registered with the state. Check with your state's Board of Education for registration forms. Use only Class I and II lasers. Class III and IV lasers should only be for display, not for use at a science fair.
If a Class I or II laser is operated during the judging, a warning sign is required. LASER RADIATION DO NOT STARE INTO BEAM. Access to the laser should be restricted, and the power source should be disconnected before and after judging.
- ULTRAVIOLET LIGHT: Be sure to properly shield UV lights. Students and judges should wear ultraviolet safety goggles during operation of the UV light.
- ELECTRICAL: Electrical equipment must conform to local electrical codes. Restrict public access to all wiring and switches. Use only insulated toggles or pushbutton switches, not knife switches. (Knife switches are uninsulated.) Make certain all equipment is suitable for the current used.
- BIOLOGICALS: Normally, live animals are not exhibited. Some states even forbid displays of preserved vertebrates. Check with your state's Board of Education before exhibiting animals. In most states, animal permit forms must be submitted to the Board of Education for experiment approval.
- CULTURES: Use only non-pathogenic cultures. Do not use cultures from any warm-blooded animals, including humans. This includes skin, mouth, or throat cultures. Incubate wild cultures at or below room temperature.
Cultures should be treated to prevent accidental contamination of the display area. All cultures, whether mold, fungi, or bacteria, should be sealed in plastic Petri dishes or in plastic culture tubes.
Whenever possible, substitute photographs for actual cultures. Do not display culture-growing accessories, such as hypodermic needles, syringes, or surgical tools.
When working with microbiological specimens, always use proper sterilization methods.
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