Zoodles Blog Learn and Play Every Day

February 25, 2010

Judging the San Francisco Science Fair

Filed under: Family Activities,Schools and Learning — Erin @ 3:32 pm
Contributed by Mike Portuesi, Zoodles Engineering Team

Contributed by Mike Portuesi Zoodles Engineering Team

When I’m not building new product features here at Zoodles, I’m very involved with Astronomy as a hobby. It gives me the opportunity to engage the public, especially young people, and share my excitement with astronomy and science in general. One of the joys of my work as a citizen science educator includes judging duties at the San Francisco Middle School Science Fair.

02242010071This year’s fair included 210 entries, pooled from the winning projects at twenty-nine schools across San Francisco. Around 30 volunteer judges with career experience in science and technical fields break into teams of three to four people to judge entries across three grade levels (6th, 7th, and 8th) as well as three categories (Biological Sciences, Behavioral and Health Sciences, and Physical Sciences).  I was the team lead judging 7th grade Physical Sciences, which included 22 entries.

02242010049Every year, I’m impressed by the thought and creativity that go into the projects, and this year was no exception.  Some of the more notable entries I encountered include:

Clouds in a Jar – inspired by the notion of catching and bottling a bit of ‘magic’, the student tried generating clouds in a jar with a crafty process involving water, a match and a rubber glove.

Can my Laptop Get Better Reception? – in this case, the student, wanting better wireless network connectivity for his computer, built radio antennas from cookie sheets, wire strainers and Pringles cans, and judged their effectiveness.

02242010056Singing Wine Glasses – The student investigated how liquids alter the sound produced when you run a finger over the rim of a wine glass.  The student experimented with not only the amount of liquid, but the viscosity, including such odd ingredients as almond butter!

02242010064Our team rated each project in three areas:

Methodology – Did the student come up with appropriate “controls”, or standards of comparison for the experiment? Was the experimental procedure sound?  I look for experiments where the student investigates the “whys”, or the science principles behind the experiment, rather than just demonstrates an effect or makes simple measurements (as in one project that simply timed the speed of popular web browsers).

Creativity – Is this an original, offbeat idea, or did the student pull the project from a book like “101 Science Fair Projects”? The most creative projects, like “Clouds in a Jar”, were motivated by a student’s real-life observation, which piqued their curiosity and spurred them to learn more through discovery.

Communication – How well did the student present his or her hypothesis, procedure, experimental data and conclusions?  Are the charts and graphs clear?  As judges, we value clarity and completeness over slick presentations produced with fancy graphics software.

Science Fair Do’s and Don’ts

02242010061A science fair project is a perfect way you and your child can have a rewarding, enriching experience together, and maybe produce one of tomorrow’s generation of scientists and engineers.

Here’s some ways you and your child can work together to produce a winning entry:

  • Gently urge your child to come up with their own idea from real life that will motivate them and make them excited. These projects get the most time with, and discussion amongst, the judges.
  • Photos are a great way not only to spice up the look of the project, but also to give the judges a real flavor for what the student really did.
  • Let the child lead, and drive the direction of the project. You can assist the child with trickier bits, and suggest resources for more information, but don’t give them answers outright or do their work for them. Trust me: the judges can tell.
  • Make sure your child provides proper credit where credit is due, if he/she includes materials from elsewhere or gets help with various aspects of the project. Judges always react positively to honesty, but will mark down projects where they suspect another’s work used without attribution.
  • It’s okay to include background research in your final presentation, such as a report.  Even quoting Wikipedia works for me, if I have a feeling the child actually read and learned from it, rather than just hit copy/paste.  But make sure the background information is not the centerpiece of the offering. Judges want to see more than a book report, they want to see true creative, experimental effort on the child’s part.
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