High school science fair: Experiences of two groups of undergraduate bioscience students

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Science fairs offer potential opportunities for students to learn first-hand about the practices of science. Over the past six years we have been carrying out voluntary and anonymous surveys with regional and national groups of high school and post high school students to learn about their high school science fair experiences regarding help received, obstacles encountered, and opinions about the value and impact of science fair. Understanding what students think about science fairs will help educators make science fairs more effective learning opportunities. In this paper, we focus on the findings with two national groups of post high school students-undergraduate research fellows (SURF students) who did research at UT Southwestern Medical Center during 2014-2019 and undergraduates biology students attending the 2019 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Science Education Alliance (SEA) summer symposium. About 25% of the students who completed surveys indicated that they had participated in high school science fair, but more than half attended high schools where science fairs were unavailable. Effectively, 6 out of every 10 students participated in science fair if available. Students who could have participated in high school science fair but chose not to do so identified not enough time and coming up with their project idea as major reasons why not. About half the SURF students favored requiring non-competitive science fair regardless whether they themselves had participated in science fair. On the other hand, less than 1 in 5 thought that competitive science fair should be required. Introduction to the scientific process and general learning were mentioned most frequently as the reasons to require non-competitive science fair; these reasons were mentioned rarely in connection with competitive science fair. Unlike the national cohort of high school students we surveyed previously, who mostly did science fair in 9th and 10th grades, SURF students participated in science fair throughout high school and were twice as likely as high school students to have carried out science fair more than once. In conclusion, our findings suggest that participation of the undergraduate bioscience majors in high school science fairs occurs far more frequently than recognized previously and provide insights into how these successful college students (gauged by the fact that they are doing summer science research) view science fairs. The findings emphasize further the importance of incentivizing rather than requiring science fair participation, especially in 9th and 10th grades, and the potential value of developing non-competitive science fairs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0252627
JournalPloS one
Issue number6 June
StatePublished - Jun 2021

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