This afternoon the Santa Cruz County Science Fair tried something new: we had a coaching session for the students going to the California State Science Fair. Of the 40 projects that were being sent on to state, about half were represented at the coaching session.
The first half of the two-hour session was spent as a large group. Each of the judges who was there (in their new role of coach) introduced themselves briefly, then we went around the room having each student introduce their poster briefly (about 1 minute each). Then students asked questions about the state competition—about what they could expect, about poster design, about what judges wanted to see, and so forth. Since I was the only one there who had judged at state, I ended up answering a lot of the questions, but others got in good comments also.
One message that I think we got out this year was that at the state science fair, students tend to use bigger poster boards than is common at the County Science Fair, so that they can put more content on the poster and still use a large enough font to be readable. (A lot of the posters had tiny fonts suitable only for close reading.) The construction techniques for two of the larger posters there were shown. One was just two ordinary science fair tri-fold boards stacked with PVC pipe glued on the back as a stiffener. It is quite sturdy, but a bit unwieldy even when folded, since it is still 5′–6′ long. The other was my son’s foam-core board, which is just as big, but folds up small enough to be carried like a suitcase and be checked as luggage (not small enough to be carry-on though. I’ve provided detailed construction instructions for this design in a previous blog post (though that post shows the previous carrier box, not the new one that fits the board and surrounds it on all 6 sides).
After the group discussion we broke up into one-on-one sessions with the judges circulating around answering questions for whoever had questions for them. I ended up doing some coaching for two of the students I had judged, plus one who was doing a bioinformatics project. I also provided less detailed advice to several other students who had questions. I got a chance to meet some of the students who I had not seen at the county science fair—I think that we have some potential winners at the state fair this year.
Based on the conversations at the coaching session, I think that we’ll see some changes to this year’s projects before state. But even if we don’t, next year’s projects are likely to be stronger, as these students share what they heard with their teachers and fellow students, as well as improving their own projects for next year.
The coaching session worked well enough that I think we should do it again next year—perhaps lengthening it to 2.5 or 3 hours, with the first 30–45 minutes for a group session and the rest of the time for 1-on-1 coaching. We could also have used another 4 or 5 judges there, so that students with individual questions did not have to wait to get them answered.