Break the cycle… Be an innovative planner and foster innovation at your school’s Science & Engineering Fair! If you are on the organizing committee of your child’s school Science & Engineering Fair, then big kudos to you! It’s a lot of work, but with big rewards. Innovative planning might involve experimenting with new and different ways of running your fair. The ultimate goal of trying new techniques is to get closer to fulfilling your mission, which ultimately should be to inspire authentic learning experiences in science and engineering that will help students discover their innate ability to innovate.
Innovation is all about new ideas, methods or products. If you want to empower innovation at your school’s Science & Engineering Fair, then your judging or assessment criteria needs to focus on innovation. Innovation on the day of your school’s fair is not all about students demonstrating their ability to follow the “The Scientific Method” – that’s simply a demonstration of a skill-set that some age groups aren’t cognitively developed enough to really grasp anyway. There is no innovation in following a project that a student looked up online and subsequently copies and claims as their own – that simply fosters the unethical and illegal practice of plagiarism, which is sadly a common trend these days.
Follow these simple tips for empowering innovation at your school’s Science & Engineering Fair (SEF):
#1 State your fair’s mission and stick to it!
Write a Mission Statement and keep it front and center, always. Your Mission Statement will help guide you throughout your planning, decision-making and evaluation processes. It will also serve as a guide for those participating in your fair. Your Mission Statement is simply a summary of your vision, values, and expectations for your event and those participating in it. It should be displayed at the top of your Webpage (if you have one) and included in materials provided to students, parents and school staff. If your mission is to foster innovation, then let it be known!
#2 Encourage team projects.
When you get a bunch of children together, they just ooze creativity and innovation! They naturally feed off each other’s ideas and creativity. They haven’t been jaded by narrow thinking and stifling judgment, yet. As an adult, it can be an eye-opening experience to observe children working together to solve a problem. I guarantee they will take a different approach than just about any adult could ever dream of. Let them dream big and encourage them to use scientific or engineering evidence to support their ideas. Some of the World’s most innovative products were borne out of teams of big dreamers who have solid skill-sets.
#3 Define what a successful project experience looks, sounds and feels like.
A successful learning experience does not necessarily result in what many people think of as a “successful project.” There is a lot to be learned from “failure.” Reward creative problem solving, even if it results in a project that doesn’t work out “right.” This will help the child focus on creativity and innovative thinking, rather than presenting “perfect” results. I recommend assessing children on their 21st-Century Skills, namely creativity, communication, collaboration, and problem-solving, and also providing students with your assessment rubrics well enough ahead of the fair so they can use them as a guide.