My school requires science fairs for all ninth graders. How do you encourage students to ask questions that don’t just come from books or websites? – L., Massachusetts
I think the objective of a science fair is to learn about the nature of science by designing and conducting experiments in a scientific manner and then publicly presenting the findings. Often, too much emphasis is placed on the mechanics or appearance of the presentation, overshadowing the experimental design. Creating a fair test by identifying and controlling variables in order to obtain meaningful, unbiased data should be the primary focus. Simple questions with narrowly designed experiments and straightforward presentations are great. Allowing students to choose their own topics and how they present their work will often result in less anxiety and less parent involvement.
Unmotivated students are more likely to be engaged in a science fair project if it is meaningful to them. Have all students write down things they are passionate about and then identify some simple questions about each of those topics. If a student says his passion is gaming, what are some questions about gaming that he might want answered? A simple question like, “Does how you hold a controller affect your score?” can lead to several wonderful experiments. They need to understand how their chosen experiment will answer their question with reliable data. Because it is their question, because it is simple, they should be engaged and excited.
Hope this helps!