Science Fairs: Who Judges Student Work?
As requests begin to come in for LITES teachers to become science fair judges, I wrote the following. Last year, against my better judgment and to be supportive, I acted as a judge for one school. All of the negative things I anticipated happened. Anxiety, resentment, anger, disappointment, blaming etc. One child still doesn't understand why his project got a 2nd place and another student's go a first. His parents feel the entire thing was not fair.
Our staff has done some workshops and the teachers and the students seem very excited about doing the investigations. Through continuing efforts and collaboration I'm hoping we can develop some effective models in Oakland that will make science fairs positive learning experiences for all.
In our science fair workshops I encourage faculty and parents to select the models they want for their schools. I try not to influence them with my opinions but mine are very strong. I do not like telling children you won or did not win. I do not like telling some student that what he learned was not as good as what another student learned. I strongly feel that if the emphasis is on what did you learn or discover, it's not for someone else to judge or decide whose discovery is best. I would want to know whose investigation used good scientific experimental principles and communicated their objectives, procedures, results and conclusions effectively.
I would use the rubric for each class to RATE each project. I would use the word RATE to say that if you do each thing listed under the #4 rating, you get a 4. If you do all listed under the #5 rating you get a 5 etc. This leaves it up to the students what rating they get. This makes it possible for them to get a low 2 rating on their first project, a 3 the next one, and continue to improve until they get the highest rating. Whether a child succeeds or not is dependent on what THEY DO, and not on what SOME JUDGE THINKS.
In a school program that worked like this you might have a cafetorium full of 4 and 5 rated projects for the community to come and see. There could be hundreds of discoveries made and or verified. Students could discover some very interesting things about their lives and life around them i.e. which paper towels really hold the most water, which stain removers work best etc. This makes Discovery the objective instead of winning. A child who gets a 2 or 3 would be motivated to do better job of setting up the investigation, coming to valid conclusions, and communicating or displaying the results to others. Everyone would know exactly what was required to get the higher rating but would really get excited about the discoveries.
To select exhibits for the district I would put all of the 5's or highest ratings in a lottery and have the children draw the names of those that will REPRESENT the school. For this reason I would have very high standards for the highest rating. I would not use the words winners/losers. Those whose projects are sent to the district fair would be called the "School Representatives". The district fair would be an opportunity for the community to see some examples of investigations and discoveries made at your school.
I have written this out so when schools ask me to judge they will understand how I see science fairs. I will be happy to assist but I won't be "The Judge". Keep me informed of how your rubric is coming. I will also be happy to work with your committee. Your school is taking some big, bold moves to make the science fair a good educational experience for the children, faculty and community and that's why LITES wants to support you.
This week, following your strategy to deal with judging of projects, I gave my students a blank rubric and asked them to list the features of good science projects. Since they had never created a rubric before, they did not come up with a complete heirarchy, but they did come up with some solid ideas for what makes an outstanding project. They also got the idea that they would be judging their own work. My second class seemed to especially like that idea. I took their ideas, added a few of my own, and organized it into this rubric. I gave it to them Friday, as they began working on their experiments. I am hoping this will give them a checklist so they can monitor their own work. I told them the 4's and 5's will go to the District fair. Thanks very much for the suggestion.
Reprinted with the permission of Anthony Cody. © 1997-1998 Anthony Cody.
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