Throughout the month of January, thousands of CPS students will combine research with creativity as they display their talents at the District’s regional science fairs, each vying for a spot at the citywide science fair to be held from March 21-24 at the Museum of Science and Industry.
The process begins at the classroom level, where more than 12,000 students create science projects as part of their local school science fairs.
“One of the hardest things for the kids is coming up with an idea,” said Julie Burke, who has taught 7th and 8th grade science at Cleveland Elementary for the past 15 years. “They all think it should be something really difficult and confusing. We encourage them to make it simpler – to find a concept they’re interested in and that they can get their minds around.”
Student winners from the local competitions represent their schools at one of 11 regional science fairs, where their projects are judged on research, originality, presentation, and their use of the scientific method.
“We look closely at their research, but we also spend a lot of time talking with the kids,” said Faylesha Porter, a math specialist who acted as a judge for the January 10 regional science fair at Kennedy-King College. “We want to see how well they understand and can speak about their projects.”
As she surveyed the more than 90 projects on display at the regional science fair, Porter was struck by the creativity of one 6th grader with a passion for paper airplanes. “His research focused on how being made from different kinds of paper affects their flight,” she said. “I thought it was fantastic to see a student take a genuine interest in something and turn it into his science fair project.”
A vehicle to encourage and motivate young science students, the CPS Student Science Fair has been in existence since 1950 and works to provide opportunities and support for the conducting of authentic research while exposing students to diverse science learning communities.
“There is so much creativity and rigor in the room,” said CPS Principal Vikki Stokes of the science fairs. “It shows how the science teachers in CPS are really doing something.”
The theme of the 2013 CPS Student Science Fair is Meeting Global Needs Through Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) – a focus that was evident to educators as they examined student work.
“The new science standards that are part of the Common Core were definitely alive in these projects,” said Stokes. “The students’ investigation and inquiry were awe-inspiring.”
Student science projects explore everything from chemistry, health science and botany to zoology and environmental science. There abstract, hypothesis and data are displayed on a self-created board which often includes charts and photographs. In addition to this physical presentation of their project, students are expected to be able to discuss their research with a good degree of expertise.
“It builds their critical thinking and public speaking skills,” said Ruby Parnell-Booth, a science teacher from Molison Elementary who acted as chairperson for one regional science fair. “The students like explaining their projects to the judges. They get a kick out of being judged by people who might not be familiar with their research.”
Another benefit of the science fairs is the opportunity students have to meet fellow science enthusiasts and see other projects. “It inspires them,” said Principal Vikki Stokes. “Getting to see the other projects gives them ideas on how they can take their own research to the next level.”
The regional science fairs will continue through the end of this month, culminating with the 63rd annual CPS Student Science Fair, where approximately 300 students from grades 7-12 will exhibit their projects at the Museum of Science and Industry from March 21-24.
“I wish that all the science teachers in CPS could be here to see their students compete,” said Julie Burke, who acted as chairperson for the January 11 science fair at Northeastern Illinois University. “They’re so proud of themselves and so happy to be representing their schools. The looks on their faces makes all the hard work it takes to help get them here completely worth it.”