I've been a volunteer science fair judge at the Anoka-Hennepin Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Fair for nearly a decade now.
It's always a fun day for me, interacting with students and finding out what they are learning via the age-old practice of inquiry. If I had not pursued a career as a journalist, I would be in a middle school science class right now, helping youth explore the science of food production. So having the opportunity to interact with students at the fair, in this minor way, gives me the chance to see what youth are up to these days in science.
Granted, some students have science projects because it is a class requirement so they have to participate to earn a grade. And some students are at the science fair because they truly enjoy learning and studying topics in greater depth.
Regardless of how they ended up at the science fair, given that our district's fair is always on a Saturday, I commend the kids for their effort and for coming out on a day that they usually sleep in. I also tell them I look forward to seeing them next year.
More than 800 students took part in the Anoka-Hennepin STEM Fair in mid-January at the Anoka High School. We had more than 300 community members and 80 National Honor Society members who volunteered as judges.
I worked with two other volunteers, and independently, we judged about a half-dozen projects. Topics ranged from the usual "Does the number of dimples on a golf ball impact its flight distance?" to the unusual "Does clothing with liquid fabric softener burn faster?"
Over the years, I've seen some innovative projects and some repeats. No matter. Students are engaged and using scientific thought to explore a hypothesis. As we all learn in life, it's not the outcome that's important. Rather, it's the journey. Same with a science fair project. You might not get the conclusion you predicted. However, you learned to look at all angles along the way.
The next step for Anoka area students is the Regional Science Fair Saturday, February 23, at St. Cloud State University. I encourage almost all of my student presenters to attend this regional fair. It is open to everyone, even if they were not chosen at the district level to advance to regionals.
Anoka-Hennepin usually has good student turnout in St. Cloud. The district usually sends more than 100 students to the regional contest. And from the regional competition, about 30 to 40 A-H students advance to state competition. That is a wonderful opportunity for students! They get out of school for a couple days (a plus for sure in their book) and they are treated like important visitors in St. Paul with special events at the Science Museum, ongoing learning opportunities and the chance to make new friends from around the state.
Encouraging students in areas of science is so important these days. Serving as a volunteer science fair judge is one way to be a cheerleader on the sidelines.