On Friday, I judged 14 chemistry projects at the Houston district science fair. This is a big deal. This was the 50th anniversary of Science and Engineering Fair of Houston. It is a big deal for a student to make it to the judging at the Houston convention center. Advancement to this division means that their project that was one of 30,000 projects entered in the preliminary school/district fair competitions that was chosen to be in this elite group of 1,300 projects from 140 schools. I remember when my daughter's science fair project progressed from from her class science fair, from her school, from her school's region to this large venue - a two day extravaganza.
However, as a judge for over a decade, I can honestly say that the science fair projects, at this level, have never been as dismal as it was on Friday. This was agreed upon by all of the judges in my group. Is it our No Child Left Behind Policy? Is it because the number of students in the Houston Independent School District (HISD) is decreasing while the population of Houston is growing? Are these new students choosing to attend schools outside of HISD? Because of our high stakes testing, I believe that teachers have less class time to devote to science fair projects.
What teachers need to understand is that science fair projects, the posters, and discussions about them, are real. This is really how scientists work. We have poster sessions at meetings where we show our data and defend our findings, seek advice and make connections. Science fair really matters.