Last weekend the girls participated in the Washington State Science and Engineering Fair. I participated in science fairs from sixth through twelfth grade, so it was a familiar experience to me, at least in some ways. The basic premise is the same, which is that kids learn about the scientific process by doing experiments, creating a display, and presenting their work to a panel of judges.
Our girls are at the age where learning and building up excitement over science is more important than winning, but in the high school division the stakes are higher than I remember them being. When I did fairs, the top rewards were some kind of monetary award in the $50-$100 dollar range, and the chance to compete at the International Science Fair (now the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair). There is still all of that, although the slate of special awards is much much longer. Also, there were a number of college scholarships (some of them for 4 years) being awarded. Several students won enough scholarships to go to college several times over. Julie told me that last year an 8th grade girl won one of those scholarships. Another significant change from my science fair days, was the number of women participating. The gender ratios looked much better than what I remember, and the top two students, the ones going on to the Intel Fair, were women. The Kitsap Sun did a pair of articles on the fair.
A few notes about homeschoolers, since our girls are homeschooled. The people that organize the fair made a big effort to get homeschooled children involved. Apparently, kids in regular schools are too busy, between trying to pass the WASL (thanks No Child Left Behind) and sports, to participate significantly in a science fair. Indeed, the two top ranked academic districts, Mercer Island, and Bainbridge Island, were barely represented, if at all. In contrast, homeschoolers took 1/7th of the 35 first place awards given in the 1st-6th grades, a pretty impressive showing. It will be interesting to watch how/if these children progress over the years.
These fairs are an important way to expose kids to science and to help them develop enthusiasm, curiosity, and an understanding of how science works. If you’re reading this blog, you are aware of the importance of science and engineering for the future of our country and for all mankind, really. I just wish that there were more kids entering these fairs.