Tips for Running A Middle School Science Fair

So you’re thinking about running a science fair…GOOD FOR YOU! While many middle school science teachers might balk at the concept (and truly, I understand…they ARE a lot of work!!) I really believe that the kinds of projects students will be able to do with the ample time provided for a science or engineering fair offer something more than what can be accomplished through a typical science lab you might complete during class time. If you’re a science teacher looking for the best way to get your students excited about science (and potentially open their minds to the possibility of science careers) I recommend seriously considering this. Here are my best tips for running a middle school science fair! 

1. Science fairs are a great way to teach your middle school students about the scientific method. Throughout the scientific process, students will get to practice choosing a good topic, forming their own scientific question, running an experiment, and collecting and analyzing data. It’s hard to find another experience that gives students this much practical experience with the scientific method. 

2. Middle schoolers love competition. Organizing a science fair competition gives you the opportunity to get your students excited about science by capitalizing on their natural excitement for competition. If you’re able to raise the stakes with a high-quality grand prize — the effort your students put into their science fair projects will likely increase. 

TIPS FOR RUNNING A MIDDLE SCHOOL SCIENCE FAIR:

Although student choice is an important part of middle school science fairs, when given complete and total freedom to select their science experiment, your students may inadvertently set themselves up for failure by choosing a research question they simply don’t have the capacity (time, resources, skill knowledge, etc.) to properly investigate. Instead, I highly recommend providing your students with a list of research questions they can choose from, or, at the very least, a list of questions to use as examples and inspiration. 

HERE’S A TIP:  

If you allow students to choose a topic that is not on a pre-approved list of research questions, consider making “teacher approval” a requirement for all fair participants. 

If you’re looking for some great science fair experiment ideas to offer as choices or examples to your middle school students, here are a bunch of amazing fair topics.

As you create your list of science fair ideas, don’t forget to keep financial costs in mind! A lack of financial resources should never be the reason a student cannot participate in a school science fair, however, some fair project ideas can become quite costly. Sure, your students might have great ideas and aspirations for elaborate investigations, but in many cases, simple is better (and more affordable.) 

Things to keep in mind:

  • Limit experiment supply costs: Encourage your students to conduct research projects that require minimal supplies, or possibly, could make use of things they already have around the house. If possible, offer ways for students to conduct their data collection using tools and supplies they borrow from the school. 
  •  Allow for simple displays: Of course we want their projects to reflect some effort, but the student display boards don’t have to be massive or expensive in order to effectively showcase their experimental design. Sure, we all love those heavy trifold boards, but they aren’t always feasible. Encourage your students to get creative with their displays! A simple poster board or even a large sheet of butcher paper can also make a fantastic science fair display. 

Science fairs take quite a bit of time and a lot of work. That’s not a big deal for the students that are interested and enjoy doing this type of project, but for some students (and yes, their parents) science fair might be too much of a hassle. Consider making it optional! This allows the students that WANT to participate to have a lot of fun together and takes some of the management issues that can arise from mandatory projects off your plate. 

Again, science fairs can be a lot of work for both students and parents.  Sometimes, students may choose a science fair project that will, inevitably, require some parental assistance. Before your email inbox fills up with frustrated parent emails detailing their frustration with science fair, I recommend sending home a parental acknowledgment form in which parents must sign that: 

1. They are aware that their child has chosen to participate in the school science fair experience. 

2. They fully understand the research question their child has selected to investigate. 

If given the opportunity, middle school students will find unique ways to procrastinate their science fair work. I cannot even tell you the amount of times I’ve had seen students scramble to complete an entire project the week before the science fair. This is a sure-fire way to have overwhelmed students, crappy projects, and frustrated parents. 

Instead, I recommend setting incremental due dates or checkpoints, in which students must submit parts of their project for review. This accomplishes two things: 

1. It ensures that your students are ACTUALLY doing their science fair projects in a timely way. 

​2. It allows you to “course correct” if you have students that are struggling. 

Completion checkpoints may include: 

  • Submitting science fair topic for review. 
  • Submitting an experimental plan/procedure and supply list for approval.
  • Submitting proof of data collection.

If you plan on your students participating at the regional and state levels, be sure to contact your regional director so you will know all of the rules and regulations your students must follow. Please, please, please…don’t forget to do this! You’ll be kicking yourself (and facing some pretty frustrated students and parents) if your middle schoolers can’t participate in regional or state fairs because you forget to check the requirements.

Want some help getting started?

I’ve created a science fair booklet packed with resources and tips for running a middle school science fair! Within this resource you’ll find:

  • 43 page digital Student Booklet (divided into 4 parts) File type: Google Slides
  • Teacher Tips & Instructions including tips for differentiation and a student checklist
  • Sample Student Booklet, Lab Report, & Visual Project
  • Rubric

Check it out:

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