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All About Science Fairs

It's a curious thing: even though American scientists are valued and respected in American society, fewer and fewer American students are pursuing the sciences beyond minimum graduation requirements. What can we do to reverse this trend? How can science transcend the classroom and transport kids to new dimensions of discovery and invention? For starters, consider the science fair.

Local, national, or international, science fairs are organized events where students submit projects to be evaluated by a team of judges. Real-world scientists know that discoveries and breakthroughs are built on learning what doesn't work as much as what does. Science fairs aren't about having "right answers." They're about learning--and fun.

Grins or groans?
Even if your student's the type who wouldn't consider entering anything in a science fair, he or she may still be required to do some sort of long-range project as part of a science assignment. If this is greeted with groans of dismay, you might want to remind the groaner that there could be some surprises in store: Many kids learn--to their delight--that science projects frequently involve much more than science. For example, students are often surprised to find themselves incorporating art, photography, and unexpected ingenuity as part of their exhibits. Risk-taking is part of the process. It can translate into confidence and self-esteem when a child is able to make a presentation to a judge or explain a project in front of a group of peers.

The long-suffering parent
"When my sixth-grader came home with a long-term science project," says one mother, "I gritted my teeth and thought, well, there goes my free time for the next couple of months." Hold on, parents. This isn't about you, and it isn't your project.

Perhaps the single most terrifying thing for parents is not understanding what their child is actually expected to do, nor what a realistic time frame is for doing it. Once you feel comfortable with the basics, you can help your child step into a scientist's shoes and march confidently off to the science fair. Here are some tips and projects ideas for kids in different age groups:

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