In my years of teaching, I have helped to mentor many students for the science fair. At my school, my job was to help students get the paperwork ready for the local and regional fairs. I also helped students who needed a little guidance to design their own experiments and in some cases perform their experiments using proper safety guidelines. One year, I had almost 40 students to keep track of! The science research course was sort of an independent study course. I did not meet them every day and I had to schedule a time during the week to meet with each one of them during lunch periods, breaks, before school, and after school.
Here are a few tips I have for staying organized:
1. Before each year began, I purchase a pocket folder for each student. I look for the school supply sales and purchase them for usually 0.10 cents per folder. It is totally worth $4.00 to make sure each of my students had a folder to put JUST their science fair forms and assignments in.
2. I also keep a manila folder for myself for each of my students. I write their name on the tab and on the front of the folder. And I keep everything that they give me in these folders.
3. Fortunately, many science fairs have online submission of forms now! If your science fair does, definitely take advantage of doing this online.
4. I break the project down into small manageable pieces! It is a big task, to come up with an experiment, to perform it, to analyze the results in written form, to make a poster… It’s a lot for anyone, and especially for a teenager!
I set hard deadlines and have rubrics spelled out for each of the following:
– A topic they are interested in studying
– A page of background research that they typed up, including 5 sources
– An experiment idea and hypothesis
– A detailed procedure with variables, control and experimental groups listed
– Completion of all science fair permission forms
– Preliminary data
– Final data and graphs
– A page of analysis, analyzing their data and graphs
– A page of conclusions and thoughts about how to extend their experiment further
– A completed research paper according to a rubric I designed
All of these items take a different amount of time for each student, so I make sure I give them plenty of time to complete them. Sometimes students come in with half of the experiment done already, sometimes in a university lab over the summer! Some students show up the first week of school and have no idea what they want to do. Having a series of spelled out steps really helps them get started and continue to make progress throughout the school year.
It’s important to note that most science fairs happen in March, April, and May, meaning that many of these projects have to be completed by March! For the rest of the school year to keep them accountable, I work on science reading and writing to encourage them to keep learning about science research until school ends.
5. I am very careful about ethical procedures, especially when it comes to working with animals. Often students come up with cool experiment ideas, but want to perform them on mice, fish, or other small vertebrates. Vertebrates are a big no-no, unless the experiment is done in a university lab that specializes in animal experiments and have a LOT of legal paperwork. So when students want to do something with vertebrates, I almost always say no.
Many of these tips I learned from my new teacher mentor during my first two years. She is truly amazing!
What useful tips do you have for high school teachers who are mentoring science fair students?