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CS and Science Fairs

"We need to teach our kids that it's not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair and that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline." President Obama

Science fairs are not what they are stereotypically portrayed on television as: building volcanoes and such. Those are things are demonstrations. Science fairs are about the scientific method and student research. What a lot of people don't quite realize is that it is also the "engineering method." The term "science fair" is just a shorthand way of saying "science and engineering fair." These days, engineering is its own category. Often it is broken up into several types of engineering. In most science fairs, whether they are local, state, or international (the US doesn't have a national science fair, but we host the international one) you will find one to several engineering categories AND a computer science category.

Some would argue that engineering and computer science don't often follow the standard definition of the scientific method. The reality is, however, that students working on projects in these categories design, create, test, and deploy a finished product. CS projects often deal with creating a new software application, creating new algorithms, making algorithms more efficient, or developing computing devices. They cover the gamut of CS and computer engineering.

Participating in a science fair is a great way for students to explore a computer concept or to create a software solution to a computer or user problem for the real world. It allows the student to go through the software development life cycle for a problem that they are addressing. It is no longer a programming assignment or Lab 4.5. Rather, it is applying the CS concepts we teach to a real problem that they identified. What better way to drive home the idea that CS has real world value and relevance?

For many cities and states, science fair "season" is upon us. So, it might be too late for your students to apply to this year's fair. But find out when and where the closest science fair is to you and stop by and visit it. Better yet, plan a field trip to it and bring your students!

There is nothing more powerful than students seeing the work that other students are doing to make them see that they can do it too. The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (http://www.societyforscience.org/isef) has a list of affiliated fairs. Affiliated fairs can be local (city, regional, county, etc.) or state level.

Shirley Miranda
CSTA Board of Directors


In addition to traditional physical science fairs, there are also a growing number of virtual science fairs that students can gain access to if funding is limited in their own school.

The Google Science Fair is the most well-known, but Education.com also has a virtual science fair for students in grades K-12 that affords studens a chance to win up to $500! The contest runs through March 31, 2011. All students are encouraged to participate! The contest is wide open!

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