A science fair
is generally a competition where contestants present their science project results in the form of a report, display board, and models that they have created. Science fairs allow students in grade schools and high schools to compete in science and/or technology activities. A g time to complete and require multiple drafts are fairly common in US schools, large projects in the sciences (other than science fairs) are rare.
Science fairs also provide a mechanism for students with intense interest in the sciences to be paired with mentors from nearby colleges and universities, so that they can get access to instruction and equipment that the local schools could not provide.
In the United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...
, science fairs first became popular in the early 1950s, with the ISEF, then known as the National Science Fair. Interest in the sciences was at a new high after the world witnessed the use of the first two atomic weapons and the dawn of television
Television is a telecommunication medium for transmitting and receiving moving images that can be monochrome or colored, with accompanying sound...
. As the decade progressed, science stories in the news, such as Jonas Salk
Jonas Edward Salk was an American medical researcher and virologist, best known for his discovery and development of the first safe and effective polio vaccine. He was born in New York City to parents from Ashkenazi Jewish Russian immigrant families...
’s vaccine for polio and the launch of Sputnik, brought science fiction to reality and attracted increasing numbers of students to fairs.
The origins of the science fairs in the United States began almost thirty years before the first National Science Fair in Philadelphia in 1950. Its beginnings can be traced back to newspaper mogul E.W. Scripps in 1921. He fathered the Science Service, now known as Society for Science & the Public
Society for Science & the Public , formerly known as Science Service, is a 5013 non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of science, through its science education programs and publications, including the weekly Science News magazine.Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the organization...
, in collaboration with The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Research Council. Scripps created the Science Service as a nonprofit organization to popularize science by explaining technical scientific findings in a jargon-free manner to the American public. Under the watchful editorial eyes of Edwin Slosson and Watson Davis, the original weekly mimeographed Science News Bulletin evolved by the end of 1920s into the Scientific News Letter, a weekly magazine.
Davis used his influence at the Science Service to forward science education for all American children. With sponsorship from the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company in 1941, Watson expanded the science club movement begun 14 years earlier by the American Institute of the City of New York into a national movement –Science Clubs of America. As a result of the Science Service’s efforts, some 600,000 young scientists were organized into 25,000 science clubs. The early efforts of the science clubs were reported in dispatches appearing weekly in the science newsletter. The clubs were inclusive and very much based on the wonder of science and discovery.
The work of science clubs began to culminate in science fairs held locally as part of the science movement. A science fair was originally defined as the followings at the first national science fairs in Philadelphia in 1950.
During the first fifteen years, projects were marked by individual creativity, ingenuity and resourcefulness. Science News Letter contributor, Allen Long argued: “…getting into the competition is not hard. A student decides upon some project and builds an exhibit around it. The project can be something especially thought up for the fair. Frequently, however, the projects are the outgrowth of scientific hobbies the students have been pursuing in their spare time.” Several times during the period, the SNL printed advice on how to complete a project. The advice was void of the scientific method. Students were told to do the following: read widely, question others, and plan carefully, keeping complete records of all your work, both successful and apparently unsuccessful. In such a welcoming backdrop, a vast array of topics was explored and impressive science was conducted.
Some people point to the process of elimination as a factor which may discourage students from taking further interest in the sciences. They claim that traditional science fairs, as well as programs like the Westinghouse Science Honors Institute, place too much focus on competition, a charge which science fair supporters answer by pointing to the real life competitive nature of awarding scientific grants and even the Nobel Prize
The Nobel Prizes are annual international awards bestowed by Scandinavian committees in recognition of cultural and scientific advances. The will of the Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, established the prizes in 1895...
A related source of criticism is the tendency for an inordinate amount of parental contribution to the projects, especially of winning projects. In the desire to see their children win the competition, many parents direct the children to choose projects far above a secondary student's capacity for understanding. Therefore, the parent or a connection of the parent with scientific or technical expertise will direct the development and execution of the project. Not only does this minimize the educational value of the project for the student, but also provides an unfair advantage to students whose parents have the technical connections and financial resources to invest in these projects.
Often, prizes in science fairs do not go to the best science, but to technology that is currently fashionable (green technology or health-related projects, for example). Judges often over-compensate for the possibility of parental involvement and downgrade advanced students who do work beyond what most of their peers are capable of.