Holding a Science Fair – A Step by Step Approach

by Starla Hale

Putting on a science fair can be a rewarding experience for the whole family.  It can be a lot of work, but if you approach it in “bite-sized” pieces it really isn’t too bad. 

Holding a science fair is a great opportunity for kids to show what they have learned and to become interested in new scientific principles by viewing what others have displayed. At a science fair students learn how to present themselves – to put their best foot forward

Other rewards of holding a fair are:

  • A better understanding of the scientific process by doing.
  • Good Sportsmanship.
  • They learn to ask questions and then to find the answer(s).
  • The importance of being neat, organized, and thorough.
  • They learn to keep a scientific notebook. (aka Nature Journal).
  • They learn to do a science report.
  • They learn to organize data onto charts and graphs, etc.
  • They learn the importance of following procedures.
  • They learn to develop a hypothesis and then, that it’s okay if their “educated guess” was right or wrong.
  • They learn to answer “why” questions with more than a “yes or no” answer.
  • It develops confidence.
  • IT’S FUN!

Step 1:       Develop an interest - September

At the beginning of the school year we ask if anyone would be interested in supporting a science fair.  Then choose someone to spearhead the fair and you are on your way. (Our support group holds a science fair every third year and rotates with a special geography/culture study night with our “Around the World in 80 Minutes” and the other year we have a “Great Brain Project”.  By doing one of these a year we offer those interested an opportunity to learn to present themselves before others.)

This is the time to decide - Are you going to strictly have experiments or are you also going to allow displays as well?

If you choose to have displays then you will need to set them up in a separate area to be viewed.  Sometimes this is nice for the “littler people” so that they can feel apart of everything.  Displays, if you choose to judge them as well, will have different criteria for judging.

This is a great time to help those more intimidated by science projects to feel more comfortable by having someone you know - a fun science teacher or even perhaps a couple of enthusiastic moms come and show how fun and easy science can be.

Have everybody share his or her favorite science books and/or equipment at a parent’s meeting.  It would also be good to show what will be expected as an exhibit for the real science fair. They are plenty of books on the subject and sites on line for help. 

Step 2:     Get a Commitment/Select a building - October/November
(Depends on how often you have your parent’s meeting – monthly/every other month.)

Get a commitment.  You don’t need to know what they are doing other than - display or actual experiment, you just need a commitment so that you can order trophies/ribbons and know how big of a space you will need to find to hold the fair in.  Have them fill out a sign-up sheet, carefully printing out each child’s name, age, email addresses, and phone numbers (this way you know you will get the spelling right and you can get a hold of them if needed.)

Just know that no matter how hard you try there will be somebody that will need to back out for some reason or another at the last minute.  We have had as many as 30+ entries to as few as 16. You do want to impress upon them the importance of commitment and not having to order more than is necessary and spending precious budget money.

I also encourage individual entries per child.  It is so much easier than having to share a ribbon or trophy, and a whole lot easier on the parent’s when one child wants to work hard and another does not.  We had such an example this last fair and it was a wonderful teaching lesson for the mom to use.  She had 3 boys that entered but only one who put his heart into it and it showed. He got a ribbon and they did not.  Mom was elated as a great lesson was learned through a simple example.

Find a building – somebody’s basement, the local chamber of commerce – we use one of the buildings at the fair grounds.   We have discovered that if the schools and the public can use the facility so can we.   It works out great and they have been wonderful to us.


Step 3:  Type Up Rules and Send Out to Entries, Find Your Judges - 
2 months before
 Order Ribbons, Trophies

This is also a great time to go ahead and type up the judging sheets and just file away with all your other “science stuff” you are gathering.  You will need to make enough copies for each judge and for each entry.  (I have attached what we did.  I just compiled mine from 2 or 3 examples I found online. Decide on how many total points you want and then add or delete from there.)  Plan on having each entry judged at least 3 or 4 times and be sure and encourage the judges to comment both positively as well as bring out one point gently for improvement.  (Do not pass out the judging sheets at this time they will just get misplaced.  You will meet with the judges on Fair day.)

Judges can be anybody who loves science.  Schoolteachers have been my greatest resource and even some of the local college professors, they love helping with science fairs.  (Just no parents and preferably nobody from your local group.)

*Remind the kids – No names on their entries! Pictures with the kids in them are okay.

NOW is the time to order those ribbons and trophies. (Check out superiordisplayboards.com  - they have great deals and variety on ribbons, certificates, and trophies. As far as display boards, you can pick them up at Kings, Office Supply Stores or just make your own.) Remember every child should get a ribbon. 

We have in the past divided up the kids into divisions as follows:

1st through 3rd
4th through 6th
7th through 9th
10th through 12th

For the younger ones you need to decide - are they displays or experiments and how and if you are judging them.  These kids could be just displays and all receive special science certificates.  Or if you have a lot of them just have the Preschool age as displays only and the Kindergartener’s could also received ribbons.

In each division we have a 1st, 2nd, 3rd place winner, and every one gets a participant ribbon.  Then we take the 1st place winners in each group and take the highest point values for the trophy awards or Rosette’s.  For us, it kind of depends on how many kids are participants which way we go, Rosette’s or trophies, we have done both.

Step   4:    Extra Activity  & Cookies - 6 Weeks before

This is a good time to plan another activity for after the awards and science fair “showing”.  It is kind of like Christmas after all the presents are opened – now what? It’s rather anti-climatic. There needs to be a little something else we have discovered for the families to do afterwards. This year one of the mom’s put together Science Jeopardy.  It was great fun and we discovered just how much we knew and didn’t know! Maybe a lot of hands-on science fun? I learned to delegate this part – it was wonderful not to have to worry about one more thing and I knew it would be done. 

*Have those ribbons arrived yet?  If not, check on them now...

Get a volunteer for refreshment’s. Don’t try and do it all yourself as you will be busy on science fair day.  Plan on camping out that day and on having some bottled water for you and the judges. (Throw in the back of the car so you don’t forget.)

If you want a decorating committee this would also be the time to delegate that. Keep it simple you don’t want to distract from the exhibits. One year we just put up end-of-the-row signs for each division with pictures of famous scientists along with a clever title like “Newton’s Novices”, “Einstein’s ….”  and a few balloons.  Again it isn’t necessary.

Step 5:       Send out reminders - 1 month before
Double-check the building situation

Time to send out a reminder to your budding scientists that there are only 4 weeks left before Fair Day!

Make sure you still have a green light on the building.
You don’t want any last minute surprises.

Step 6:      Remind the judges!  And…        2 weeks before

Encourage the rest of the group to come out and join in the fun as well.

Time to double check your stash and see that you have everything all together and what you need to have that day at the fair.

Double check with your ‘helpers’ – judges, refreshments, activity and see how things are going and if they need any help.  Again you don’t want any last minute surprises.

*Time to write up numbers to assign to each group 1- ?  You need to separate the divisions either by numbers or colors.  These are just small squares of papers or I cut up index cards into 4’s and use them. Bring a roll of masking tape, a couple of black markers, and paper clips – these are always needed. Also bring a few sharpened pencils for the judges and a calculator for you. When each entry arrives they have to sign in with you. If you have someone at each division area – you or that person will attach a number to every entry with either a paperclip on the display board or taped to the table in front of their experiment.  A master sheet of who is assigned what number is also kept. I am the only one who sees these sheets.  You will need a master sheet for each division. After the displays are set up and everyone is gone it is time to pass out the judging sheets and place by each entry.  As I mentioned, each entry should be judged at least 3 or 4 times.  Make sure each judging sheet has a corresponding number written on it.

Purchase thank you notes for the building and the judges and any of your special helpers. 

Now sit back and take it easy until “FAIR DAY”.

Use these attached sheets for the actual fair day: Judging SheetSchedule.

Following are a few things to remember as well:

When the judges arrive answer any questions, pass out waters, pencils and give any instructions at this time.  Also help them realize the ages on each group – this is really important.  (While the judges are doing their work. You probably only need 1 person to be in attendance to answer any questions and provide any needs the judges might have.)

While the judges are busy doing their thing I try and take the time to write out thank you notes to each of them.  Whether I give it to them then or elect to mail them out later I am getting it done while I am just sitting. 

When the judges are all through with their work you are ready to go to work so I hope you had a few energy snacks while you were waiting.  At this point you, and hopefully a helper or two (again, nobody that has a child involved in the actual science competition), tally up the scores.  You add up the scores in each area on the score sheets and then divide by the number of judges. This gives you your average for each area on the scorecard.  Then you add up all the averages on the sheet and get your total points for the bottom of the page.

I make it a rule that once I am there I am there all day, mostly because we don’t get a key and I don’t want to worry about getting back into the building. Also, others use the building and I don’t want anything to happen to any of the entries.  That would be heart breaking!

I hope this helps you in your pursuit of science.  If you have any suggestions for future articles please let me know. You can leave your thoughts, comments or suggestions here on my feedback page. Thanks!  Have Fun!

- Starla