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Gifted education and science fairs

I have linked to Terence Tao's blog for some time, because a surprising number of people come here from there. But, although I am more comfortable with math than some biologists, I don't have any idea what most of his posts are about. On the other hand, his career advice seems good and widely applicable. A recent post on gifted education seems like good advice both for parents and for any gifted students who might be reading this.

I've always been annoyed by the competitive aspect of science fairs. I worry that students who do a really good project are going to feel like they wasted their time if they don't win a particular prize. In Oregon, where I went to high school, there was an annual scientific meeting for high school students. It was considered an honor to have your talk or poster accepted for presentation, but it was an honor within the reach of any reasonably smart student who worked for it. It was great talking to other students about their projects, without worrying about winning or losing. Sure, a student thinking about grad school needs to know that competition for research faculty positions and grants is intense, but why kill the joy of science at an early age?

Comments

I agree that it might be better to have science fairs that are less competitive, but I also agree that there still needs to be a forum (the conference you described would be fine) at which the students can present their findings.

At my daughter's school, which is for grades K through 8, every student does a science project every year. Every year the first day the projects are presented (it's a three day process for the judges to interview every student), the science teacher promises to issue ribbons. Every year, much to the consternation of my daughter, the ribbons are just "Honorable Mention" for every single student.

My daughter takes her science projects VERY seriously and is so interested in them that she doesn't really care if others have put in much work on theirs or not. For example, this year, she built a hovercraft and then tried to predict how different loads on the craft would affect its speed. She really had a great time with all aspects of the project, including interesting discussions with the judges. And she (and we her parents) learned a LOT about Newtonian physics.

She was happy with her grade, A+, but the grade was certainly not the most important part of the process to her. However, she did feel kind of resentful when she got the same "Honorable Mention" ribbon as everyone else (it was a few days afterward that she learned her grade).

Emily,

Have you ever noticed that bronze medalists ("I got a medal!") are usually happier than silver medalists ("I should have gotten gold!") at the Olympics?

The system at your daughter's school sounds like the worst of both worlds, but she doesn't have to dance to their tune. You can help her understand that she can decide for herself what's important to her.

For example, why do only one science project a year, just because that's what the school assigns? If she's doing projects independent of the school assignment, she can make her own rules, with some guidance from you on safety. For example, most science today is done by small or large teams, not individuals. She could start a science club, or join one. Here, there's a robot club that meets at the Science Museum.

I like the combination of science and engineering in her project.

I was lucky enough to be invited to judge a school science fair once. There was a difference of opinion amongst the judges, and the pair I'd like to have seen win ended up in 2nd place. Luckily, they were incredibly happy with that, and came up afterwards to thank all of us individually for considering them.

It was great.

Hi Ford:

What WE've counseled my daughter about the annual science project is that it's about what she learns and not about the grade or the ribbon. And since she's been doing it at her current school for 7 years now, she's ok with that, although the annual Ritual of the Useless Ribbons galls us all every year.

Getting to talk with the judges, who are nearly always very impressive, is very rewarding for her too.

Rather than do MANY science projects a year, what I think she should do is to "go deep" on each annual project. And she does.

Plus, she has many other interests, so doing a really good job on several science projects a year would probably kill all of us, even us parents, who work hard to stay in only supporting roles.

For me, science fair is an important event where children can showcase their talents by working or creating something that is relevant to science. It's sad that some people put malice to it and consider it as a serious competition and not a show of talents. To help your children more in doing science fair projects [commercial link deleted], this is the best way to achieve it. They will not only learn a lot from it but also enjoy every step in achieving the project that they want to do.

the eksistense of gifted child is does'n much for expossing on publich. I dealing about science fair, much of them not yet know their special talent beside other people. let's showing your especialy talents
read more of gifted in: high-intelectual.blogspot.com

On the other hand, the ability to write clearly and correctly is also a valuable skill!

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