The past two weeks have been very busy in my classroom. Some of my students participated in a Regional Science Fair with their OLE project. All of my students presented their projects to a panel of adults this week at school. It feels good to wrap up these investigations and celebrate the hard work and learning. There is also an interesting shift in the air.
I have been on the fence about Science Fairs for years. I did not participate in them myself in school, in fact I don’t even know if they existed back then! As a parent, I made my children perform unique projects to move their thinking along. Then, I would find myself incredibly disappointed when I show up to the event and the erupting volcano wins the day :(. As a teacher, though, I am coming around to a new appreciation for Science Fairs as exhibitions of our students’ hard work. I am not convinced judging is necessary, but I like the opportunity for our students to showcase their projects and talk to others about the learning they did. Plus, the science involved in these goes beyond the typical classroom lab experience and includes the other scientific practices of communication and argumentation.
In addition to Science Fair, I hosted some amazing adults as they listened to all of my students present their OLE inquiry investigation presentations. I hate preparing for these and love the outcome! The adults serve on a panel to ask the students questions after they complete a Powerpoint (or similar) presentation. The questions from the adults always draw more of the learning out of them and I appreciate being able to listen to their responses. The experience is also important for the students. Having to present in front of adults, dressed up and speaking clearly, answering questions on the spot, and knowing there are people in the audience watching you, is a valuable experience. I wish we had more opportunities for students like this.
Now that the preparations and presentations have finished, the mood in the classroom has begun to shift. Maybe I imagine this, but I often feel the kids walking just a little taller, speaking with a little more confidence, and interacting with me in a different manner – one that conveys thanks and maturity, without the words. We have a different relationship now – I have pushed them, set high expectations, encouraged them, and would not accept anything but their best. In return, they stepped up to the plate and gave me their best. Not a single student was absent on presentation day. In fact, in the 7 years I have done these, only one student has ever been absent on presentation day. They face their fears, show up, and get it done! I am proud of them.
If you do not conduct long term investigations in your classroom, consider starting one. If you do not have students present something in front of adults, consider planning an event. Though the preparation is time-consuming and can be intense, the outcome is absolutely worth it!