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NSTA Members Don’t See Increasing Popularity for Science Fairs

Posted on 2022-08-11

(This poll originally appeared in the May 2011 issue of NSTA Reports.)

NSTA recently asked members if they agreed with media reports that thepie chart for science fair poll perception of science fairs has changed and the events are becoming more popular. More than 64% disagreed, although 75% reported hosting a science fair this year and 68% said their schools were planning a science fair for the 2011–2012 school year.

Insufficient student access to materials, disparities in parental support, and lack of support from students and administrators—including one principal who required new science teachers to not support a science fair—were among the reasons educators cited supporting their view that science fairs are not growing more prevalent. However, many still value science fairs as opportunities for students to explore new ideas, apply and develop new skills, and demonstrate their learning.

Here’s what science educators are saying:


As more teachers use project-based and inquiry learning, a new appreciation  for independent work and presentation is becoming popular.—Educator, Middle School, Connecticut

For me, it’s a perfect elaboration of our inquiry-based labs. The students already design smaller experiments and this way, families get involved. —Educator, Middle School, New York

They are becoming more popular because of the greater attention paid to them by the media.—Educator, Middle School, California

Not only have we already planned a science fair for next year, we, as a building, are considering making it an excellence fair to include all disciplines, in hopes that it will encourage all students to show their strengths! —Educator, Middle School, New York

Less ‘stigma’ now to science fair ‘geek’ students.—Educator, Institution of Higher Learning, Illinois

Science fair is a competition for students interested in research, not an obligation.—Educator, High School, Puerto Rico

We are getting beyond the ‘geek’ factor. We focus on the value of doing background research, designing an experiment, analyzing data, and communicating results for all students in all areas of their future—not just those going into a science career.—Educator, Middle School, Massachusetts

Yes, but they’re also becoming more competitive at the [high school] level, not to the benefit of all participants.—Educator, High School, Oregon

Why Not

I believe that the perception of science fair is changing, but it is becoming less popular. Our students are very social, and a science fair project is a very isolated endeavor.—Educator, Middle School, Utah 

Most projects involve too much parental involvement or students doing their parents’ research in a lab, which is quite unfair to the ordinary student.—Educator, Middle School, Pennsylvania

There are too many mandated curriculum areas that must be taught. Projects take up a huge chunk of class time. Our students cannot be expected to receive family support at home for their work.—Educator, Middle School, New York

Students don’t typically buy into the process; parents end up doing most of the work, or it all happens last minute, so science fairs aren’t perceived as worth the effort.—Other, High School

No time to teach and prepare the kids for state testing. Science fairs are great, and I wish we could do them, but with all the school funding gone and the administrator focus on state testing, they are considered a ‘luxury.’—Educator, Ohio

Students lack basic skills and have no parental support…The burden for presentation and supplies falls totally on the teachers…which is not acceptable.—Educator, Elementary, New York

My high school district…is only interested in knowledge level....memorizing facts and multiple-choice testing those facts…[Science fair] goes against our district’s (outmoded) science teaching paradigm.—Educator, High School, Arizona

I think science fair is a popular but misguided use of student time, at least from what I’ve seen. The process has little or nothing to do with science, and students have to be re-taught how to do things correctly for upper-level and college course work.—Educator, Middle School, New Mexico

I think that science teachers are so busy meeting standards that we forget that activities like fairs can inspire students. —Educator, High School, Illinois

I think they are becoming less popular due to the amount of time and resources it takes, especially on the student end.—Educator, High School, Georgia

I would love to say that science fair is becoming more popular, but unfortunately most science teachers lack the science research training to effectively mentor students in science research and coach them through science fair competitions.—Educator, Institution of Higher Learning, Oklahoma

Kids download other kids’ work off [the] internet and don’t do anything original. Parents do most of the work and get mad when they don’t win.—Educator, Middle School, Virginia

Parents now are very clearly stating that they do not want them anymore. There is a problem with plagiarism and taking projects offline now. —Educator, Middle School, Florida

The Benefits

They are a chance for the students to really dig in and do science!—Educator, Middle School, New Hampshire

Teachers are better understanding the connections between science knowledge and science skills development. Science fairs are one of the best ways to develop inquiry-based learning.—Educator, Elementary, Middle School, High School, Manitoba, Canada

They offer a kind of differentiated learning unavailable elsewhere.—Educator, High School, Massachusetts

To me, the science fair is a more accurate way to measure student understanding of scientific process than a [multiple-choice] test.—Educator, Middle School, Idaho

It is a great way for kids to select their own project (critical)—something that really engages them in the inquiry process.—Administrator, Middle School, Missouri

The science fair has become important in our schools because it acts as an assessment tool for capstone project (graduation requirement). The fair also acts as an entrance to the regional science fair, which offers scholarships and award money to successful students.—Educator, High School, Ohio

I don’t think they have been or ever will be popular, but they are a venue of sharing a thought process that should continue incorporating new technology and modernizing to some extent.—Educator, Elementary, New Mexico

Coming from a research background, I believe in science fair. It encompasses everything: rigor, depth of knowledge, differentiated instruction, etc.—Educator, Middle School, Florida

They feel such a sense of accomplishment…they actually have fun demonstrating their projects to the younger children in preK to grade five.—Educator, Middle School, Connecticut

Science teachers are desperate to get science processes back into class... politics has put top students’ education at risk, and this is an option to let them showcase their skills normally not ‘allowed’ in class.—Educator, Middle School, Nebraska


Science fair takes up a major portion of a student’s year of study. Instead, we focus on using the inquiry method to explore more topics.—Educator, Middle School, Illinois

Science fairs are lacking motivated students. They are bored out of their minds! How about a group project whereby the students get to ‘imagineer’ something? How about a design challenge?—Educator, Middle School, Florida

General Science News Middle School Elementary High School

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