For the past few years, I have organized an informal science fair for our local homeschool community. It has been such a joy to see the diversity of projects, listen to the kids share their experience, and receive encouragement from one another. It takes little effort on my part to coordinate the event and I walk away reinvigorated and more enthusiastic than ever. Today, I share a step-by-step guide to planning an informal and rewarding science fair.
This is the third year I have coordinated this event and the first time I’ve done so here in California. It is always interesting to me to see how the participant numbers vary. Regardless of how many students take part – 10 or 45 – it is wonderful opportunity. My children thoroughly enjoy the process and the chance to share their work with others. I want to encourage you all to take part in a science fair yourself. If you find your area lacks the opportunity, don’t be discouraged. You can follow the ten steps here to planning a great science fair of your own.
10 Steps to Planning a Science Fair
1. Reserve a space
If you aren’t already familiar with a space you can use for free, this could be the most time consuming part of the process. There are many possibilities around you … be creative and don’t be afraid to ask around. Possible locations you may consider include:
- Fraternal lodge like Sons of Norway, IOOF, Lions, VFW Hall, etc.
- City library
- A public school
- Hotel conference rooms
- A common house within a subdivision
- A conference room at your spouse’s (or a friend’s) work
2. Set a date
The date will likely be dictated to some extent by the calendar of the meeting space you select. Keep in mind that science projects require planning time. I like to plan the science fair sometime in the spring (late April or early May). I announce the fair on our homeschool boards (Yahoo Groups, Facebook, and at local umbrella schools) in the fall, however, and provide regular reminders throughout the year.
3. Make a flyer and registration form
With the logistical things out of the way, use a word processing program to create an attractive flyer and accompanying registration form. Share these with your local homeschool community, including charter schools. I charge $5 per family (or per participant), enough to cover the cost of the awards, but do what feels right to you.
4. Determine award criteria and purchase awards
Perhaps you would like to invite a couple scientists to come a judge the student projects. If so, you will likely want to use a simple scoring guide or rubric. Alternatively, you may decide not to give out awards at all. This is entirely up to you. The fairs I have coordinated have been small, we have thereby had success with simply allowing the kids to vote for their favorite project. The votes are tallied and prizes are awarded to the top three projects with the most votes. You may also wish to have grade level distinctions depending on the size of your group.
5. Get the word out and send reminders
As the date approaches, be sure to send out regular reminders and continue to distribute fliers or registration forms. You may wish to hang a flier at the library. You may also consider contacting the local newspaper to invite the public – and even a reporter or photographer – to the event.
6. Create a program to identify participants
I would highly suggest having a deadline for registrations, perhaps one week prior to the event. This should allow you time enough to create a program (a simple sheet of paper will do but you can get very creative) listing the participants and their project titles. Many families like to keep these as souvenirs or to take notes upon as the students give presentations. I have found though that at least in my homeschool community, getting families to commit in advance is like pulling teeth.
7. Create participation certificates or buttons
I have found the kids really like buttons. If you have a Badge-a-Mint, I highly suggest you create a graphic image that you can print and thereby use for buttons. You can even set up a station at the event so the kids can make their own. Alternatively, you can print simple certificates. Regardless, the kids appreciate the small token.
8. Purchase small gifts for the winners
The award value is contingent upon the number of participating families. This year, we had 3 families (not including my own) and 10 children taking part. I thereby took in only $15 in registration fees. I thereby elected to award $10 for first place, $5 for second place, and $2 for third (yes – I covered a little out of pocket). With larger number of participants – and with advance registrations – you can be more creative in awarding prizes. In the past, I have used the fees to purchase gift cards (Acorn Naturalists, Carolina Biological, etc.)
9. Arrive early and greet families upon arrival
Let everyone know that the event is relaxed and informal. Smile and be yourself. Depending upon the time of the day and the length of the program, you may wish to have snacks. You can ask for family volunteers to bring something or if the participant pool is large enough, you can purchase a few things.
10. Positive feedback and award the winners
Once everyone is set-up and as guests mingle, call everyone together and invite the participants to volunteer to share their projects. If there are many participants, you may wish to divide into smaller groups (perhaps by grade level). At the end, ask that the students vote for their favorite, tally the votes, and award the winners.