CELEBRATING SCIENCE with the Community: An Approach to Science Fairs Intended to Create Learning Celebrations

By Pittman, Jason | Science and Children, September 2016 | Go to article overview

CELEBRATING SCIENCE with the Community: An Approach to Science Fairs Intended to Create Learning Celebrations


Pittman, Jason, Science and Children


Do your school's formulaic science fair projects, in rows of tri-fold cardboard, leave the community's enthusiasm for science flat? Although this model may be easy for teachers and students to set up and execute, the projects may decrease the opportunity for higher-order thinking. Focusing projects on inquiry can be difficult, but learning celebrations can create memorable and meaningful experiences while fostering familiarity with science careers.

Learning celebrations are increasingly common in schools looking to put more emphasis on community and efficacy. Learning celebrations are not celebratory in the same way that a school carnival or end-of-the-year picnic is. The celebration here is in the community's participation and interaction with the learners. Students are the main event, performing as they would in a school play or applying acquired knowledge and skill as they would in a soccer tournament. An authentic audience is essential. As often as possible, the audience should be wider than just the student's' classmates. The inclusion of parents, science professionals, and consumers can dramatically elevate student articulation and reflection. Learning celebrations build important bonds not only between the students and their academic goals but with families and the community as well.

The authentic audience of a public learning celebration brings about genuine problem-solving, communication of ideas, and the understanding, reflection, and revision process. The real-world problem-solving elements of the event inherently elevate the expectation of high-quality work, clarity, and confidence in speaking and a deep understanding of the investigation. Students will be expected to employ these expectations in middle and high school, and I believe it's beneficial to have significant opportunity to practice in the elementary grades.

Last year, my students and I came together to design their upcoming semester-long inquiry. Our content focus was Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes, and we spent much time developing questions and solving problems in our school gardens, including the creation of the school garden! During the discussion, students decided they would like to exhibit their learning by hosting a restaurant for one night. "But not a school restaurant--like something just for parents and kids, a real restaurant!" insisted one young girl.

So, we reached out to an organization capable of creating pop-up restaurants and co-created a science-learning celebration that included a five-course meal prepared and served by students and a gallery of exhibits that would be presented between each course. Although it took much time to prepare my students for this event, it was deeply memorable and was the focus of our learning for the entire semester.

Getting Started

To begin transforming traditional science fairs at my school, I started with a manageable, small event. I discussed the idea with students, parents, and administrators and sought their input. I also spent time planning and practicing with students. As our school community became more familiar with learning celebrations, I became more effective at implementing standards.

To develop the skills students need to be successful in the learning celebration venue, I've found the most success with the following:

* Individual responsibility. Giving students more responsibility in my classroom has led to greater motivation, reduction in behavior problems, and greater independence in solving problems.

* Practice and setting expectations. Ensuring that students know what to expect and practicing those tasks or skills often has been invaluable to me. I have never regretted investing time in either of these areas.

* Create a culture ofjoy around science. Your passion is infectious, and it will spread throughout your school if you are brave enough to share boldly. This is just my approach, but I believe that if you include art and beauty in your stewardship of science, your students and peers will benefit greatly. …

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