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Challenges and Benefits of Introducing a Science and Engineering Fair in High-Needs Schools (Work in Progress)

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering Division Poster Session: Works in Progress

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education Division

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Paper Authors


Joni M. Lakin Auburn University Orcid 16x16

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Joni M. Lakin, Ph.D. from The University of Iowa, is Assistant Professor of Educational Foundations, Leadership, and Technology at Auburn University. Her research interests include educational assessment, educational evaluation methods, and increasing diversity in STEM fields.

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Mary Lou Ewald Auburn University

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Mary Lou Ewald is the Director of Outreach for the College of Sciences and Mathematics at Auburn University. She is also the Co-PI for AU-AMSTI and the Director of the AU Science in Motion program. Prior to her current position, she served as a Science in Motion physics specialist and an Instructor of general biology courses at Auburn University. For the past 15 years, Ms. Ewald has specialized in K-12 educational program development and implementation and currently oversees an outreach staff that delivers over twenty STEM-based student programs annually, including BEST Robotics, Science Olympiad, Greater East Alabama Regional Science and Engineering Fair, Summer Science Institute, Auburn Mathematical Puzzle Challenge, AU Explore, and Science Matters. In recent years, she has focused her K-12 efforts on working with STEM faculty to create teacher professional development opportunities related to project-based learning in middle and high school classrooms. Her academic training includes a B.S. in Physics and an M.S. in Biology, both from Auburn University.

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Virginia A. Davis Auburn University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Virginia A. Davis’ research is primarily focused on using fluid phase processing to assemble cylindrical nanomaterials into larger functional materials. Targeted applications include optical coatings, 3D printed structures, light-weight composites, and antimicrobial surfaces. Her national awards include selection for the Fulbright Specialist Roster (2015), the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Nanoscale Science and Engineering Forum’s Young Investigator Award (2012), the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (2010), and a National Science Foundation CAREER Award (2009). Her Auburn University awards include the Excellence in Faculty Outreach (2015), an Auburn University Alumni Professorship (2014), the Auburn Engineering Alumni Council Awards for Senior (2013) and Junior (2009) Faculty Research, the Faculty Women of Distinction Award (2012), and the Mark A. Spencer Creative Mentorship Award (2011). Dr. Davis is the past chair of Auburn’s Women in Science and Engineering Steering Committee (WISE) and the faculty liaison to the College of Engineering’s 100 Women Strong Alumnae organization which is focused on recruiting, retaining and rewarding women in engineering. She was also the founding advisor for Auburn’s SHPE chapter.
Dr. Davis earned her Ph.D. from Rice University in 2006 under the guidance of Professor Matteo Pasquali and the late Nobel Laureate Richard E. Smalley. Prior to attending Rice, Dr. Davis worked for eleven years in Shell Chemicals’ polymer businesses in the US and Europe. Her industrial assignments included manufacturing, technical service, research, and global marketing management; all of these assignments were focused on enabling new polymer formulations to become useful consumer products.

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Paul A. Cobine Auburn University


Allen L. Landers Auburn University

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Prof. Allen L. Landers currently holds the Howard Earl and Carolyn Taylor Carr Professorship in the Department of Physics at Auburn University. Dr. Landers joined the faculty in 2003, and is an active scientist studying atomic molecular and optical physics. His research has been featured in Physical Review, Science, and Nature, and has been funded through the US Dept. of Energy and the National Science Foundation. In addition, Dr. Landers has won multiple awards for his work in science outreach, including leading teams of faculty to develop new opportunities for K-12 students to experience the scientific process. Some of these efforts are currently funded through NSF-EPSCoR and the US Dept. of Education through the Alabama State Dept. of Education.

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Science and Engineering (S&E) Fairs are a valuable educational activity that are believed to increase students’ engagement and learning in science and engineering by emphasizing creativity and inquiry-focused learning. However, S&E Fairs put demands on teachers, parents, and students for time and resources. Organizing such an event is especially demanding in the first few years of implementation. As a result, poor and low-achieving schools are less likely to implement such a program for their students, despite the potential benefits. Our study is based on data from teachers from low-achieving schools who engaged in a program focused on introducing S&E Fairs at their schools. Our research questions included: (a) Do teachers perceive S&E Fairs as effective educational tools? (2) What perceived benefits do teachers perceive from introducing S&E Fairs to their school? (3) What challenges do teacher face in introducing S&E Fairs to their school?

Data was collected from 20 teachers involved in a program focused on introducing S&E Fairs to high-needs and low-achieving schools. Future years of the program will include additional schools, increasing our sample of teachers. These schools are located in the Alabama Black Belt, an agricultural region that is historically poor and with a large African American population. Our data collection methods included quantitative surveys related to perceptions of S&E Fairs as well as focus groups to gather qualitative evidence from teachers about the challenges they experienced in the first two years of implementing a S&E fair. In their surveys, teachers reported beliefs that S&E Fairs can benefit all students, including those with limited resources or who don't already show enthusiasm for science. However, they also were generally not supportive of S&E Fairs as a classroom activity for all students--they indicated that S&E Fairs were better as optional, outside projects rather than an activity that requires in-class time. After completing projects with their students, teachers reported strong beliefs that their students learned important things and became more interested in science as a result of their S&E Fair projects. They also expressed belief that S&E Fairs would especially benefit their female, low-income, and minority students’ interest and achievement in science.

From the focus groups, challenges faced by teachers included recruiting enough judges for the fair, finding space for the fair, and following the guidelines required to advance to the regional and state fairs. Teachers also reported changes in helping students find original and effective project topics and promoting engagement among students who would benefit from the projects, but who were not already interested in science. Many teachers reported that working in supportive teams was critical to successful fairs at their school. An unexpected finding was the important role that English teachers played in success. Teachers reported that collaborating with the English department to develop research statements helped both science and English faculty address important curriculum standards and increased the quality of the S&E projects. Implications for establishing similar training programs for teachers will be discussed.

Lakin, J. M., & Ewald, M. L., & Davis, V. A., & Cobine, P. A., & Landers, A. L. (2016, June), Challenges and Benefits of Introducing a Science and Engineering Fair in High-Needs Schools (Work in Progress) Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26464

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