Open Letter to Science Teachers

Dear Science Teachers,

As a long time science fair judge, I recognize you as a key figure in the success of the kids you send to be judged by me and my associates. Therefore I think we need to clear some things up.

First of all, just because a kid uses a computer in his project does not make it a computer science project. Don’t let your student enter into computer science category just because he uses a computer. We have to judge on the computer science aspects alone and cannot consider the kid’s stellar work in physics or chemistry or microbiology. It is very frustrating to have to discount a very good project because it is in the wrong category.

If computers are the sole subject of study, enter it in computer science. If computers are just a tool used in the study of another subject, don’t enter it in computer science. Simple, huh?

I know there are fewer projects in the computer science category so kids will be tempted to enter it there to “improve their chances.” Don’t let them. They’ll get slaughtered.

Second, there are two kinds of science fair exhibits — experiments and projects. Please don’t try to make all of them seem like experiments. It is a Science *and Engineering* Fair, after all. Some projects don’t fit into the “Problem, Hypothesis, Results, Conclusion” model. Some kids don’t want to do a bona-fide experiment. They just want to build or invent something. Please let them.

And when they do, don’t make them shoe-horn their project into a scientific method format. I know it makes it easier to grade, but it is very wrong from the judges’ viewpoint. I don’t ever want to see another project that goes like this:

Problem: “Can I build XXX?”
Hypothesis: “I can build XXX”
Results: “See, I built XXX.”
Conclusions: “Yes, I can build XXX”

Please just let them build it and talk about how they went about it and what they learned.

Oh, and a tip, if a kid is going to do an actual experiment, encourage her to use the scientific method to answer a question to which she does not already know the answer. That makes for better science. That way it’s a true experiment and not just a demonstration. I know you can’t find such project ideas in one of those science project books, but your brighter students will have no problem coming up with an original idea.

And, lastly, the Bubble-gum chewing “How long will the flavor last?” types of experiments should be banned outright.

Just my opinion.

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