The Care and Feeding of Science Fair Judges: It’s in the details …

Organizing a science fair is no small undertaking, particularly given the many demands on a teacher’s time. I like blogging about science fairs in the hope that sharing good practices across schools can help all of us create a better experience for students without having to reinvent the wheel school by school. What one school/teacher does well may not have occurred to another school/teacher to do. Perhaps you’ll find something helpful in the ideas below that you can incorporate in your own science fair planning.

Earlier this month I served as a science fair judge at Emiliano Zapata Academy in Chicago. Zapata’s science fair team did a great job of reaching out in advance, sending an email to prospective judges over a month before the event.

“It’s that time of year again! We need your help in attaining Science Fair judges. The Science Fair will be on Tuesday, December 6, 2016 from 8:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. We will be providing our judges with breakfast and a lunch that will not disappoint. Attached is a letter for the judges. Please feel free to forward this email to someone who might be interested in judging. College students are welcomed.

Thank you in advance.”

Attached to the email was a more formal letter. The letter reassured us that “everything you need to know will be easily explained to you during breakfast before you hear student presentations.”

Formal Invitation Letter to Judge the Zapata Science Fair

Formal Invitation Letter to Judge the Zapata Science Fair

To help insure that all judges showed up, the organizers also sent several reminders during the lead up to December 6.

That morning, judges convened in the library, where breakfast was indeed served. Over coffee and pastries, we were given a presentation about the learning needs and styles of the adolescent children whose projects we would be judging, a primer on the science processes (scientific method) that the students were using in developing their projects, and a review of the rubric we would be using to judge. And, more importantly, we were provided with a list of questions we were encouraged to engage students in answering to reflect on their work. The students of Eliza Ramirez, 8th grade science teacher, had developed the questions with her, based on previous science fair experiences and the questions that judges had asked them that helped them think more deeply about their work.

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016
Emiliano Zapata Academy Gym

This is a list of questions for visitors to ask participants. If there are other questions you want to ask, please do! Our participants are ready to share about their research and experiment.

What is your project about?
Why did you choose this project?
Where did you get the materials for your experiment?
How much time did each part of the process take you?
Who helped you with your experiment? How did they help?
What part of this project made you feel like a scientist?
What was a fun part of doing this project?
What was the hardest part of doing this project? What was the easiest part?
How did the project add to your knowledge of science?
What did you learn from this project?
How did your research influence your experiment?
Was there anything that went wrong in your project? How did you adjust or fix the problem?
What ideas for other projects can you get from this one?
If you were to do this project again, what would you change? Why?
How did you prepare to present?

Zapata put on a well-organized Science Fair. Students had been working on projects since the first month of school, and that showed in the quality of their work. All students had papers, and judges had the opportunity to read the papers in advance of hearing the students present. And the breakfast and lunch definitely did not disappoint.

Eliza Ramirez, Zapata Science Teacher and Co-Organizer of the Science Fair

Eliza Ramirez, Zapata Science Teacher and Co-Organizer of the Science Fair

These are my takeaways from my experience at Zapata:

The adults at Zapata honored their students and supported their success by being thoughtful in their own planning and organization. They took the enterprise seriously enough to not make a last minute affair of it, an all too common occurrence. They took the time to reach out well in advance of the Science Fair to secure judges, and they set aside time and created a presentation expressly for the judges to make sure that we too approached the task in a thoughtful and prepared manner. No surprise, Zapata is designated a Level 1+ school by CPS. It’s in the details …

And here is something to consider: If the experience is a good one for judges, they are more likely to agree to come back in subsequent years, making it easier for you to secure experienced judges in the future.

Kudos to teacher-organizers Carmen Reyes and Eliza Ramirez and to principal Ruth Garcia for organizing and hosting an exemplary Science Fair. And kudos to their students for doing a great job on their projects!

If asked, I will definitely be back next year.

~ Penny

You can learn more about STEM Institute here.


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Filed under science fair, science fair projects, teacher resources, Uncategorized, Zapata Academy

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