Science fairs are one of those quintessential elementary school experiences that students and parents love to complain about, and for good reason. In their worst form, parents do all the work, the artistry of the display board takes on outsized importance, and students lose track of what they are doing and why. But this bad reputation masks the underlying good bones of the idea: giving students a chance to participate fully in the process of doing science.
Our Long-View students are immersed in that experience right now, which will culminate in their participation at the Austin Energy Regional Science Festival next weekend. From the start, they have been immersed in "doing science" as they explore their own ideas, collect their own data, and interpret their own results using the science process skills they are developing. Yes, sometimes their first ideas didn't work out as planned, and needed to be discarded. Some students had data collection challenges, as they realized the errors in their experimental design and needed to make adjustments. Others realized at the very end that their experiments raised more questions than they answered, and that more research is needed. All our students learned about time management. Going through this experience, and being allowed to make mistakes, has taught them a great deal about how science really works, much more than if they had been assigned ideas or followed "cookbook" experiments with easily predicted results.
On Saturday, our students will stand in front of strangers, explain to them the questions they sought to answer with their projects, and defend their conclusions. They will justify the choices they made, and evaluate what they would do differently next time. They will talk to other area students about their projects, maybe even some who investigated similar topics but who took different approaches. And through all of this, they will be learning!