Busy Middle School Students Losing Interest in Science Fairs
St. Clair, Stacy, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Stacy St. Clair Daily Herald Staff Writer
Years ago, science fairs drew hordes of students who transformed gymnasiums into poster board paradises with erupting volcanoes, maze-crazed mice and dissected frogs.
The fairs still attract a little lava and some deranged rodents - but many of the participants have vanished.
Science fairs, along with their judges, ribbons and formaldehyde, don't excite students like they used to.
"They're overextended and they're losing interest," said Linda O'Connor, science literature coordinator for the DuPage County regional office of education.
The dwindling number of students taking part in science fairs these days supports O'Connor's claim.
Participation by students in the Illinois Junior Academy of Science Region 9 Science Fair has dropped 27 percent within the last two years.
Only 575 students from DuPage and southern Cook counties entered Saturday's contest at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, compared with more than 800 in 1994.
Interest is low at fairs sponsored by individual school districts, too. Participation rates at Itasca's Peacock Middle School and Lombard's Glenn Westlake Middle School hovered at 7 percent and 3 percent respectively.
And only 11 percent of seventh- and eighth-grade students at Hubble Middle School in Wheaton entered projects this year.
Although some teachers offer extra credit for submitting displays, kids don't want work on a project if it's not mandatory, said Itasca sixth-grader Amanda Simon. Amanda, who has competed at the regional level, most recently exhibited a project on oil's buoyancy.
"According to some people, it's not cool to be smart," she said. "They don't want to do this."
It's almost a contradiction of the space-age student stereotype. These kids are supposed to be more aware of science, technology and the environment.
In some respects, that's still true. Itasca fifth-grader Ericka Haufe can detail how weed killer shatters nature's delicate food chain, but she refuses to enter her school's science fair. …