One sure sign that the school year is reaching its end? The upper division science exhibition. Experiments have been designed and research has been conducted, and students have completed their experiments and presented their results. While social distancing rules have ruled out the traditional science fair presentation, students and faculty innovated, taking the science fair digital!
Led by Upper Division Science Teacher Steven Schwartz for the past 36 years, the science exhibition has included a poster session, where students displayed the results of their experiments to parents, visitors, faculty, and eighth grade judges. This year, students in grades 6 and 7 presented digital slideshows to their classmates over a period of two weeks. During their 5-10 minute oral presentation, students discussed their purpose, hypothesis, experiment, results, and conclusion. After that, the presenters fielded questions from their classmates, who challenged them by identifying potential flaws in their methodology or conclusions. This process, says Mr. Schwartz, allows students to demonstrate their understanding and critical thinking.
Among grades 6-7, there are a huge variety of topics students chose to investigate. In the field of earth science, students explored the effects of different fertilizers or earthworms on the growth of plants and the action of acidification on stones and mussel shells. Some students tackled materials science, investigating ways of blocking wifi signals or the best methods of electricity generation. Other future engineers investigated load bearing structures and the mechanics of lift.
No matter the format, Mr. Schwartz says, the science fair is a valuable part of the science curriculum. “Most middle school students spend the majority of their time in science class learning scientific concepts and terminology and performing activities to illustrate those concepts and learn laboratory skills,” he says. “Some education authorities suggest reducing this aspect of science education in the middle grades to focus instead on scientific methodology. It was learning interesting scientific facts and being able to use them to understand aspects of the natural world around us that sparked my own interest in science.”
The skills and knowledge gained during the science fair are essential for middle school learners, says Mr. Schwartz. “Understanding the nature and nuances of the scientific method is of critical importance for any citizen of our modern science-dependent world; the solutions to most of our problems will almost inevitably come as a result of the scientific enterprise. Our annual science research project is an ideal compromise between the focus on information and the need to learn how to DO science.”