Science Fair Mayhem

The last two weeks we’ve continued to work on science fair projects.  I’m trying to work with each group at the stage they’re at to help them make progress each week.  One thing that stood out this last week is that it is really chaotic having around 10 projects concurrently going in each class period.  It made me think that if I was a teacher and didn’t have any assistance in my classrooms, I don’t know if I would attempt to do such open projects on subjects they got to pick.  In most of our class periods there’s the teacher, one or two paras, and me taking a divide and conquer approach to helping the groups.  Even with most groups growing plants, it is extremely hard giving direction to each group.

Some challenges we’re currently facing are:

  • Timing is really difficult.  We needed to have get their experiments set up and started, so we’ve done things like plant seeds, fill and place bird feeders, etc.  One thing that has been put off is background research, which really needed to have been done earlier.  Now, we’re rushing to get them to write their hypothesis before they continue collecting data, but a lot of them haven’t done enough background for them to be ready to make a hypothesis, let alone collecting data.  Whoops.
  • In the same vein, I wish we would have had more time to have them explicitly write out their procedure before starting.  This is something that bugs me even at the college level.  We’re all so anxious to start doing stuff that we don’t always plan out our protocols/procedures.  We have talked with them each week about what they’re doing so that they’re coming up with a procedure and protocols on the fly, but it would be nice if we could get them to think about the big picture and the details of what they’re doing in advance.
  • Sometimes we assume that we’re giving clear directions and that the groups are making progress.  We’ll tell them to take their measurements for that week and record their data, draw pictures, make observations.  Then we’ll walk up to a group and they say they’re done with measuring their plants, but they won’t have anything written in their science fair notebooks.  Where is the disconnect that take measurements and record data doesn’t mean to them that they need to actually *record* the measurements.
  • Seriously, some groups still are pretty lost.  I’m absolutely frustrated when I go up to a group and ask them to remind me what their question is, and they have no idea.  How can they be this far into it and still can’t even remember what their experiment is??  This is only a few groups out of the whole, but still.  Very frustrating.

A lot of the projects are going well so far.  One group was looking at what kind of pumpkins squirrels preferred.  They put out pumpkin samples and weighed the pumpkins every two days.  They did background research and made a hypothesis before they began and have now finished taking all of their measurements.  It seems like groups like this one that are doing the best are doing some work on their own at home.  And going back to my discussion of the mayhem and chaos of doing these projects entirely in class, it seems like it would be much easier to have them be responsible for more on their own.  But we’ve all discussed that the kids really don’t do their homework.  The ones who are struggling in class are ones who choose to not do any of their homework.  But despite the chaos and a few frustrating moments, the students are really pretty excited about their projects and I’m enjoying working with them.  I have three more weeks with them, and wish I could continue with them longer.

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About Megan Peck

PhD student in Computer Science at the University of Kansas. Formerly a fellow in the NSF GK-12 program through KU.
This entry was posted in 2011-2012 GK12, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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