Science Fair: An Age-Old Program Soon to Face New Changes


Photo by Piyusha Majgaonkar

Science fair director Kristen Murphy prepares her students for the Worcester Regional Science Fair competition. Mrs. Murphy and her select students have worked hard all year, and despite many challenges along the way, they gave it their all during the competition. “One of the things I like about science fair is that it’s challenging in a different way than a multiple-choice test, and I think I see a lot of growth in students that I don’t normally see in class,” Murphy said.

The science fair program, a staple for any student passionate about STEM, will be undergoing some key changes in the upcoming year.

With increasing student workload as well as administrative factors, the program needed a makeover to create more opportunities for learning and discovery.

In an effort to promote student engagement in the STEM field, the science fair program, a cornerstone of STEM-related extracurriculars at Hopkinton High School, is set to undergo significant changes, among which is the creation of a new elective course entitled: “Advanced Research Methods in Science.”

In previous years, the program had the structure of a “traditional science fair.” Students come into the lab during their after-school hours, run all of their procedures, collect data, and ultimately, create a presentation for the judges for the school fair in late February or early March.

The science fair, like any other extracurricular, requires an immense amount of effort from both the student and the mentor’s side. However, this challenging and “problem-solving” aspect of the program is what draws many students in.

Photo: Science Fair Fun
Science Fair Fun – Piyusha Majgaonkar, Srilakshmi Venkatesan, Garima Chauhan, Miyu Hasegawa, Shrija Kumar, Izeal Thomas, and Raquel Abraham celebrating the end of their regional science fair competition. These girls will all be upperclassmen next year and will have to conform to the new rules. “I think science fair is a great experience for everyone to have, even if the outcome may not be what you wanted,” Murphy said. (Photo Courtesy of Kristen Murphy)

“We often hear about the struggles of the greats who discovered something revolutionary that we learn about today, but the authentic experience can’t be replicated. Science fair also improves your problem-solving and public speaking skills, all of which apply to many fields beyond science,” said 3rd place regional science fair winner Juliet Findlen.

While this format worked well in previous years, with an ever-growing number of students wanting to participate in the program, the advisors knew a change had to be made.

“The program has grown really quickly, and we needed to think creatively about how to support students doing projects, but also think about how to get students to grow during their time doing projects,” Murphy said.

Their solution? Creating an “Advanced Research Methods in Science” (science fair) elective that would serve as a “gap year” for sophomore students.

Essentially, with the new format of the program, all incoming freshmen will be allowed to work on an introductory project and compete at the school fair. Sophomores have the opportunity to take a “science fair elective” (Advanced Research Methods in Science) and take a break from the competition.

“We are asking sophomores to take the year off from doing a new project because it’s really hard to come up with a new idea so quickly after your first experience,” said Murphy. “I think if students had exposure to the topics discussed in the elective when they went to design an experiment for their junior year, they’d have all of these ideas they could use to craft a really great project.”

The program isn’t set to change too much for upperclassmen; however, the science fair committee has decided to make the program “application-based” with a project proposal deadline of June 1st.

Competing with Confidence – Avani Daga and Briana Mallouh present to one of their judges during the school fair. Their project dealt with pollution around the world, and won 2nd place at the school fair, moving on to regionals. “Science fair offers the opportunity to experience the scientific process in real life,” said Juliet Findlen. (Photo Courtesy of Kristen Murphy )

With this change for the upperclassmen, students will have to complete their proposal by the due date, with acceptance preference given to projects that demonstrate growth from previous years, innovative ideas, and thoughtful research. 

“The reasoning behind this change for the upperclassmen was simply to give them more time to craft a better, more thoughtful project, since previously, students didn’t get the chance to start their project until late December, giving them little time to prepare for the fair in February,” said Jennifer Smith, the subject matter leader for the science department.

The science fair committee worked tirelessly to implement these new changes, and as with any new course proposal, they had a few administrative hoops to jump through.

“Any time a new course is proposed by anyone in the building, it has to go through several different steps. We have to fill out a new course proposal form, and then Mr. Bishop has to consider all the factors like staffing and budget,” Smith said.

As far as whether or not these changes are going to be permanent, the committee hopes to maintain this course and the new format for the foreseeable future.

“We will evaluate how it’s going and ask students to provide us with feedback about their experience. Assuming that the pros outweigh the cons, I believe this change will be permanent,” said Connor Zanini, another member of the science fair committee.

With any changing factor, there is sure to be some skepticism, and while the faculty is hopeful for this change to be beneficial, some of the students are doubtful.

“While limiting the number of students is a good and fiscally wise decision, I think that the best way to learn how to do a science fair project is to actually do one—there is only so much we can prepare for, and the stumbling blocks in the scientific process are not one of them,” Findlen said.

Many worry that the requirements currently in place have made the program too selective and will keep students from realizing their true potential. 

Will this new (and possibly improved) structure of the science fair program truly benefit the students? The only way to know the answer to this question is to experience the new format.

Murphy said, “I think there is no shortcut to doing science fair, and I think our students need more opportunities to have something not work and figure out how to make it work, and this new format will help them to do exactly that.”