Caption: Eighth-graders Owen Alibozek and Kyle Gazzillo were among the 3rd place winners at the 2013 Massachusetts State Science and Engineering Fair.
Eighth-graders Owen Alibozek and Kyle Gazzillo were among the 3rd place winners at the 2013 Massachusetts State Science and Engineering Fair. 

Remaking the Science Fair

From: Adam Hochberg
Length: 05:00

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Volcanoes fueled by baking soda and vinegar. Carnations dipped in colored water. Those are popular projects at school science fairs, but do they really teach kids anything? Some professional scientists are leading an effort to remake school science fairs. They say that rather than just building models or conducting demonstrations, children as young as eight or ten can develop original science projects and make important discoveries. Read the full description.

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Volcanoes fueled by vinegar and baking soda. Styrofoam planets circling an orange softball. Carnations stuck in colored water. They’re the kind of projects kids make for school science fairs, but do they really have much to do with science?

Some scientists worry that science fairs often teach the wrong lesson. Contestants sometimes are rewarded for producing the most spectacular result – the tallest sunflower or gooiest eruption – instead of designing projects based on scientific inquiry. And many science fair projects merely replicate something that's already known, like the reaction of baking soda and vinegar, instead of striving to discover something new.

A handful of scientists -- on a mission to stamp out “godforsaken volcanoes” – are leading a nationwide dialog on how science fairs can teach “real science.” They say students as young as 8 or 10 can develop original experiments using things they see every day in their homes or backyards.

Voices include North Carolina State University scientists Rob Dunn and Holly Menninger , Western Carolina University professor Kefyn Catley , and Cora Beth Abel of the Massachusetts State Science and Engineering Fair .

(PRX homepage image from Shutterstock.)

Piece Description

Volcanoes fueled by vinegar and baking soda. Styrofoam planets circling an orange softball. Carnations stuck in colored water. They’re the kind of projects kids make for school science fairs, but do they really have much to do with science?

Some scientists worry that science fairs often teach the wrong lesson. Contestants sometimes are rewarded for producing the most spectacular result – the tallest sunflower or gooiest eruption – instead of designing projects based on scientific inquiry. And many science fair projects merely replicate something that's already known, like the reaction of baking soda and vinegar, instead of striving to discover something new.

A handful of scientists -- on a mission to stamp out “godforsaken volcanoes” – are leading a nationwide dialog on how science fairs can teach “real science.” They say students as young as 8 or 10 can develop original experiments using things they see every day in their homes or backyards.

Voices include North Carolina State University scientists Rob Dunn and Holly Menninger , Western Carolina University professor Kefyn Catley , and Cora Beth Abel of the Massachusetts State Science and Engineering Fair .

(PRX homepage image from Shutterstock.)

Transcript

When you think about school science fair projects, you might think of baking soda volcanos or Styrofoam models of the planets. More to the point, that’s what a lot of STUDENTS think of – and what they enter – in science fairs. But to a lot of real scientists, projects like that are a missed opportunity. They say that rather than just building models, children as young as eight or ten can do actual science and discover new things. Adam Hochberg reports.

When 14 year old Kyle Gazzillo was getting ready for this year’s school science fair in Dalton, Massachusetts, he had a pretty good idea what he wanted to enter.

GAZZILLO: I was hoping to combine inside a bottle baking soda and vinegar and seeing which ones explode the best.

Of course, it’s easy to understand why teenagers gravitate toward projects that explode. Those baking soda rockets and volcanoes are old standards at science fa...
Read the full transcript

Intro and Outro

INTRO:

When you think about school science fair projects, you might think of baking soda volcanos or Styrofoam models of the planets. More to the point, that’s what a lot of STUDENTS think of – and what they enter – in science fairs. But to a lot of real scientists, projects like that are a missed opportunity. They say that rather than just building models, children as young as eight or ten can do actual science and discover new things. Adam Hochberg reports.

OUTRO:

MANDATORY CREDIT TO BE READ AFTER OR NEAR STORY:
“This program is part of the STEM Story Project -- distributed by PRX and made possible with funds from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.”
OR
“This production is part of the STEM Story Project, with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Presented by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange.”

Additional Credits

This story was produced with students from the University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology “Terrascope radio" initiative. The story was developed and edited by Daniel Lane. Massachusetts reporting by Ana Vazquez.