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Getting Everyone to the Fair: Who Participates in and Benefits from Science and Engineering Fairs (Evaluation)

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Best Practices in Out-of-School Time

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education

Tagged Topic


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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 Associate 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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This is a report of the findings of a five-year project to promote the use of Science & Engineering Fairs in middle and high school science curriculums. Our focus was to support the use of Fairs in low income, rural, and underperforming schools.

Background Science and Engineering (S&E) Fairs are a widely used educational activity that are believed to increase students’ creativity, engagement, and learning in science and engineering through student-driven inquiry projects. Proponents also argue that S&E fairs enhance students’ interest in pursuing science college majors and science careers.Our questions during this project included 1. Did students who participated in a school fair show increased science interest, value, or efficacy? 2. What kinds of transformative experiences did students who completed projects report?

Methods Teachers administered a pre- and post-fair survey of science and fair-related attitudes to students in their science classes that included both students who did and did not complete S&E projectsMeasures of science interest and value were administered as well as the “transformative experiences” survey, which assessed how much projects motivated students to engage deeply in the topic.

Results We compared three groups of students: those who did not complete a project, those who completed a project but did not advance to the regional fair, and those who did advance to the regional fair. We ran ANCOVA analyses to control for pre-fair attitudes. There were no significant differences of participating compared to not participating, but completing a project that advanced to regional was associated with having higher science efficacy and value, but not interest.

Comparing these groups for transformative experience, we found students who went on to the state fair were more likely to report having transformative experiences in the realms of motivated use and expanded perception, but not in experiential value.

These results suggest that science and engineering fairs have positive impacts on student attitudes towards science when they are high enough quality to advance to the regional fair. More research Is needed on whether the project itself precipitated these changes, or if more engaged students also benefitted more from the fair.

Lakin, J. M., & Ewald, M. L., & Davis, V. A. (2019, June), Getting Everyone to the Fair: Who Participates in and Benefits from Science and Engineering Fairs (Evaluation) Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32872

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