March 8, 2017 by HCDE-Texas
Typically, students are left to their own devices to come up with an idea for science fair. Eager parents may also help them scour the internet for step-by-step instructions that they can follow like a recipe. This is not how science fair should be. Instead, it should inspire children to learn more about something they are already curious about. Sometimes, all an internet-generated idea requires is modification to make it a testable question instead of a demonstration. One way to get students to think deeper about their own science fair ideas is to go through a peer review process before getting started.
Before scientists can get published, their work must undergo peer review. Scientists in the same field will review experiments and reports and provide feedback. Only when the work has been shown to meet good scientific standards is it published. Before scientists can even begin their work, they must also undergo a peer review process for grant funding. Scientific peers read the grant proposal and provide feedback, and funding is given only when they agree that the work has scientific merit.
This same process can be used to help students understand more about the actual scientific process. Have each student explain their idea for science fair, and their student peers have the opportunity to provide feedback about the ideas. You might be surprised at the level of critical thinking that will occur. Typical responses might be, “You already know the answer to that question,” or “Why do you want to do an experiment on that?” The teacher will need to make sure the feedback is constructive, but this type of class discussion can be valuable when it comes to developing an interesting, untested question. Also, by learning how peer review works — and its value — students are well on their way to becoming real scientists.
(Blog contributed by Lisa K. Felske, curriculum director of science, HCDE’s Teaching and Learning Center)