Flipping Fairs for Science Fun


Colleagues from NSF GEO/OAD Education Marcia Barton, Einstein Fellow, and Keith Spangler, Scientist Assistant, model the seasons.

Colleagues from NSF GEO/OAD Education Marcia Barton, Einstein Fellow, and Keith Spangler, Scientist Assistant, model the seasons.

All DEB staff are engaged in science and committed to outreach activities of various kinds. Perhaps some of our readers have attended outreach talks by program officers or management at professional meetings. But we don’t just talk about NSF programs, DEB is engaged in Broader Impacts-appropriate outreach activities, too.  One such activity, the Reverse Science Fair, fosters middle school students’ curiosity by providing an opportunity to meet professional scientists and to experience their work “hands-on.” We highlight it here because of its applicability to many settings, its ability to foster lasting K-12 partnerships, and simply because we wanted to share an experience we have enjoyed.

Einstein Fellow Kevin Tambara (NSF CISE/CNS) engages students in a lesson on buoyancy.

Einstein Fellow Kevin Tambara (NSF CISE/CNS) engages students in a lesson on buoyancy.

Unlike the traditional science fair which provides an opportunity for K-12 students to present their research projects to a public audience, the Reverse Science Fair is an avenue for university researchers (undergraduate, graduate, post-doctoral students and faculty) and other interested science professionals to present their research to K-12 students. The benefits of the Reverse Science Fair are two-fold; such fairs enhance the science learning experience for K-12 students and facilitate outreach of science professionals.

April Lanotte, Einstein Fellow from NASA Headquarters, demonstrates pressure changes in space to an eager audience.

April Lanotte, Einstein Fellow from NASA Headquarters, demonstrates pressure changes in space to an eager audience.

During DEB’s 2nd Annual Reverse Science Fair on January 8th through 10th, nearly 100 students from the District of Columbia’s Stuart-Hobson Middle School visited the National Science Foundation. During the DEB fair students rotated through stations created by a collaboration of program officers, science assistants, AAAS S&T Policy Fellows, and Einstein Educator Fellows from NSF, NASA, NOAA, and DOE. The 8th graders dissected plants, mixed chemicals, rode an energy bike, explored guitar design, and donned pressure gloves among a multitude of other activities.

BIO/DEB Program Officer (foreground), Mike Whiting, discusses insect speciation with eager students. BIO/DEB AAAS Fellow, Sean Watts (background), teaches about gophers.

BIO/DEB Program Officer (foreground), Mike Whiting, discusses insect speciation with eager students. BIO/DEB AAAS Fellow, Sean Watts (background), teaches about gophers.

Students were engaged and their teachers were in awe. The students’ teacher, Dr. Willie Woodard, commented that he was “repeatedly getting goose bumps” from the inspiring interactions between students and science partners. The students formed small groups and rotated through visits to each of the displays.  The small groups allowed for more personal interaction between student and scientist.

After the rotations, students completed evaluations and left comments about the things they had learned: “people respond to natural disasters according to their gender,” “pressure suits prevent astronauts’ blood from boiling and bodies from expanding,” and “there are many insects yet to be discovered.” The students made awards to the science professionals rating the following stations their favorites:

BIO/DEB Program Officer Doug Levey serves students a drink of milk to take the edge off after chili pepper tasting.

BIO/DEB Program Officer Doug Levey serves students a drink of milk to take the edge off after chili pepper tasting.

Scientists: Michael Whiting, “Why So Many Insect Species?” and “Doug Levey, “Why are Chili Peppers Hot?”

Scientist Assistants: Megan Powell, “Attention and Perception” and Kurtis Haro, “Color Changes during Chemical Reactions.”

AAAS Fellow: Sara Miller, “Science & Engineering: Interdisciplinary.”

Einstein Fellows: Kevin Tambara, “Buoyancy” and Paulo Oemig, “The Kepler Mission.”

BIO/IOS Program Officer, Amy Litt, shows the delicacies of flower reproduction.

BIO/IOS Program Officer, Amy Litt, shows the delicacies of flower reproduction.

Whether the goal of your outreach project is to initiate a partnership with a K-12 school, recruit potential undergraduates to your science program, provide an opportunity for graduate students to communicate to a lay audience, or showcase aspects of your research, the Reverse Science Fair may be the right model!

Our current Einstein Fellow, Melissa George (mgeorge@nsf.gov), has offered to help respond to your questions and comments about the event.

One thought on “Flipping Fairs for Science Fun

  1. Pingback: Meet DEB: Melissa George, Einstein Educator Fellow | DEBrief

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