Testing radiation effects emitted by cellphones was difficult to determine for Betty Aita Rukh-Kamaa, a seventh-grader at Robert Goddard French Immersion School, but she said assembling her science fair project was much easier.
Betty Aita, 12, of Bowie put her project in a PowerPoint presentation as part of the Seabrook school’s second annual “virtual” Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fair Jan. 16. Instead of preparing tri-fold poster displays, students created slideshow presentations summarizing their experiments in the school’s computer labs during and after class.
“I didn’t have to make sure the glue was still good or that the paper (on the board) wasn’t wrinkling,” she said.
School officials said the format helps students learn skills they will need in the tech-centered workplace and saves money for both the school and parents from the display, which can cost upwards of $15, to printer paper and ink, which can run up to $30.
Peter Mills, a middle school science teacher at the K-8 school and STEM fair coordinator, said online project submission eliminates logistical issues for parents and teachers.
“In this time where parents are squeezed with money, by getting rid of the boards, we can eliminate some of the costs to parents,” he said.
Judges call in students, who give their presentation at one of the lab’s 10 to 15 computers, occasionally answering questions posed to them as opposed to larger areas filled with display boards, Mills said.
Students receive more frequent feedback from teachers through suggestions embedded in the presentation and teachers surveyed students at the beginning of the year on their computer ownership, so they can allow extra computer time at school for students who might not have easy access to computers or the Internet, Mills said.
Gerry Wheeler, interim executive director the Arlington, Va.-based National Science Teachers Association, an organization representing more than 60,000 science teachers nationwide, said while more schools are moving toward to electronic science and STEM fairs, it isn’t a “big trend” yet. He said moving to an electronic format is a smart move for schools, but teachers must be careful to make sure those without home computers can remain competitive.
“You’ll see this transition over the next decade or so,” Wheeler said. “But during that transition, it’ll be a challenge for the teachers to maintain equity.”
Scott Starin, a volunteer judge at the fair, said the digital format helps judges to be more thorough, as well.
“When I’ve done science fairs in other places, it was pretty much ‘sight unseen,’” Starin said. “Here I was able to read the different projects at home beforehand, which allowed me to do better interviewing the kids and talking about their projects.”