High school science fair: Student opinions regarding whether participation should be required or optional and why

Frederick Grinnell, Simon Dalley, Karen Shepherd, Joan Reisch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The goal of our research is to identify strengths and weaknesses of high school level science fair and improvements that might enhance learning outcomes based on empirical assessment of student experiences. We use the web-based data collection program REDCap to implement anonymous and voluntary surveys about science fair experiences with two independent groups-high school students who recently competed in the Dallas Regional Science and Engineering Fair and post high school students (undergraduates, 1st year medical students, and 1st year biomedical graduate students) on STEM education tracks doing research at UT Southwestern Medical Center. Herein, we report quantitative and qualitative data showing student opinions about the value of science fair. Few students in any group thought that competitive science fair (C-SF) should be required. The most common reasons given for not requiring C-SF were no enjoyment and no interest in competing. On the other hand, student attitudes towards requiring non-competitive science fair (NC-SF) were nuanced and ranged as high as 91%, increasing with student maturation, science fair experience, and STEM track. The most common reasons given for requiring NC-SF were learning scientific thinking skills and research skills. Students opposed to requiring NC-SF most frequently mentioned no enjoyment and no interest in science. Several student comments critical of the fairness of science fair led us to determine possible differences in science fair experiences depending on whether or not students received help from scientists. Those who received help from scientists had an easier time getting their research idea, more access to articles in books and magazines, and less difficulty getting resources. We discuss the idea that two different types of science fairs-competitive science fair with a performance goal orientation and non-competitive science fair with a mastery goal orientation- might be required to promote the broad goal of educating all students about science and engineering.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0202320
JournalPloS one
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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