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May 15, 2012 Celebrating Student Success — How to Create an Innovative Science or Academic Fair By Addie Albano
Grades 3–5, 6–8

    May is National Inventors Month, which makes it the perfect time to showcase student work with a science or academic fair. Read on for the essential steps for making any event a success.


    Step One: Establish a Vision

    Whether your school holds an annual fair or you are embarking on your maiden voyage, the first step towards organizing an event is to establish a vision for what you are trying to achieve. What do you want the fair to ultimately look like? Do you want to focus on all subjects and grade levels, or would you prefer to narrow it down to a more specific framework?

    Last year I served as our district’s academic fair coordinator. The prospect of overhauling a district staple initially seemed overwhelming. My first goal was to channel all of our district’s technological resources into creating something unique and attention grabbing. I really wanted to design an interactive or virtual fair, but was unsure how to do so. My friend and IT guru, Mark Carls, suggested that we create a district wiki page that would showcase all of the students' projects by grade level. They would simply submit their topic proposal using a Google doc form and upload a picture and short description of their project. Then our judging panel could easily insert comments, based on the criteria we created, and parents could view their child’s work at any time. However, you may want to start off on a small scale, focusing on a few essential details, and add more features each year.


    Step Two: Create Clear Expectations for Students

    One thing I knew I wanted was to incorporate more 21st century skills and project-based learning, but I knew that students would need some guidance. Consider passing out project guidelines, a grading rubric, and a list of possible topics for kids to choose from. Let your imagination run wild! You may also want to inspire your class by introducing a unit on the scientific method or conducting in-class experiments that appeal to emerging inventors. Students will also need to feel comfortable speaking in front of a group, so prepare activities in advance that encourage public speaking and build up confidence. You may also want to offer opportunities for group or partner projects.


    Step Three: Outline a Detailed Scheduled and Ask for Help

    Essential to any event is a detailed schedule of times and locations. Make sure to create a time line that gives students, teachers, and parents enough time to prepare for the big day. You will also want to enlist the help of your colleagues, parents, or other outside agencies for assistance. Since awards can become very costly, I sent a donation letter to area businesses. In exchange for their help, they received a certificate to hang in their store, a thank you letter, and recognition on a sponsor banner displayed the day of the event and on the back of the program. If you are strapped for funds, consider enlisting help from students.

    As part of our event, I created a districtwide poster contest (see the top image above). The winner's design served as the basis for our advertising poster, as well as for the cover of our program and the award certificate. In addition, they received recognition in our district newsletter and had their design hung in front of the school library. To my surprise, a local printing company offered to create our posters for us at no charge. However, you may find that you can easily create them yourself. If you’re short on help, seek out district clubs or organizations that are in need of community service hours, such as your school's National Honor Society.


    Step Four: Celebrate the Big Day

    The big day is here and your efforts are finally paying off! Take out a camera and document all of the hard work that got you to this point. Since you will be running around in a million different places, enlist students to help capture the moment. Consider assigning a welcoming committee to greet visitors and guide them to the proper locations, or have a large dry erase board that details the event’s schedule. Place a basket at this site where parents can offer questions or suggestions, or describe what elements made the most impact.


    Step Five: Make a Post-Assessment

    Now that the dust has settled, decide what should become a staple and what needs work. I compared notes with my friend and colleague Jeri Baer, who recently ran our school’s first ever science fair, and together we came up with a list of major dos and don’ts:


    • Praise student creativity and encourage participation.
    • Ensure that a point system or rubric is in place.
    • Periodically monitor student progress before the event.
    • Consider dividing your fair up by subject matter or grade level.
    • Make sure there is enough space to fit everyone comfortably.


    • Get discouraged if things don’t unfold as planned.
    • Limit the amount of event time . . . too much leads to rambunctious behavior and too little leaves students and judges feeling rushed.
    • Schedule your event at a time of year when too many things are going on. Give your event the proper time to shine!


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Susan Cheyney