School Science: Changing the Game or Simply Circumventing It?
There have been many benefits to going to school, but for science, a school science fair is not one of them. The primary reason is that there are simply too many tasks involved with science projects. This isn’t the case for other subjects such as math, where a number of student projects are primarily just a means of improving the material they are studying.
For science projects, there is often very little repeatability, which means students need to keep updated with current information in order to succeed at the competition. This means they need access to advanced technical resources that are much less available to other students. Not to mention, they require around 8-10 years to produce an annual, fully developed project.
In the long run, school science fairs are unlikely to produce enough PhDs, to paraphrase A.D. Holland. Many students who are concerned with funding issues, or who want to devote more time to their studies, simply opt out of these competitions and head for university courses, finding that doing so not only results in more time at university but also a better learning experience overall.
A clear reduction in student interest in the subjects is one of the reasons science fairs have declined considerably, although there is still some concern that these competitions serve to encourage students to develop a particular career instead of finding the best way to utilize their potential.
But the more important thing is that science fairs are likely to be a waste of time. A number of students have opted out of school science fairs, but this increase was already noticeable prior to the advent of computers.
The days of a 45 second video clip being screened to analyse a small amount of room temperature are long gone. You may very well see a few booths set up at a university science fair, displaying iPhone apps in front of students, but these projects are not often accepted by judges who want to see how well the latest breakthrough in wearable technology can be implemented into everyday life. Instead, they end up looking like par-tay; something that came out of an undergrad and got kudos for showing how good their fourth year final project is.
The changes going on in the schools also mean that a school fair entry is not as easy as it once was. If you are preparing for a science fair contest, you need to give your entry time to a committee with the right intentions. Unless you have the time, a lot of people will simply not get involved, no matter how good a project is.
If you want to change things, it is important to know what kind of impact your work could have on your classmates. Even the best projects, no matter how deserving, only receive a few more entries than they could reasonably expect.
In order to actually excel at science, you need to create the kind of buzz that will get other students to join in, before it’s too late. The same goes for the competition judges, who need to see projects with more scale than mere digital tools, or feedback that could be used in the classroom.
Technology just isn’t enough to make up for all the shortcomings of school science fairs. Just look at how many inventions companies are forced to use Apple-based kits now. And while a device of this nature could often be seen as a last resort, there is a solution which could solve the problem of insufficient time and power.
There are other solutions, too. For example, the impending public and online spaces that are taking over the subject of education. Projects such as Teacherbot, which aims to replace teachers, and the new Responsive Classroom, which allows teachers to use student reports in their own classrooms.
The future of school science is therefore different from the past. Here at least, students will find it easier to come up with interesting experiments, using the added features of technology, on their own rather than relying on the class to provide access to more resources. This, combined with active student participation in the projects, may lead to a transformation that many school science fairs never expected.