Big science and little kids on tap at annual UO science fair

Kids at a science camp

Kids from all around Lane County will have a chance to get their science on when the UO holds its sixth annual Science and Invention Fair on April 22 — Earth Day.

Staged by the UO’s Science Program to Inspire Creativity and Excellence — known by the acronym SPICE — the fair is open to children in kindergarten through eighth grade and will be held in Willamette Hall. Registration is open now.

The fair typically draws around 60 projects and more than 200 visitors. But the fair isn’t just a room full of projects being judged. It’s designed to be entertaining for everyone from the participants to people just interested in science.

“We have outreach tables, we have a demonstrations show at the end, we have free popcorn,” said Brandy Todd, the science fair’s coordinator. “It’s very much a fun event for people to just walk in off the street and come see the kids’ amazing projects or do some fun science stuff with our volunteers.”

All submissions must reflect original work of the students, and each presentation must have an acknowledgement section to identify all source materials, including individuals who provided substantial information or assistance.

Past projects have included the scientific way to win a Nerf-gun battle, operant conditioning in chickens and how to build a hovercraft.

“This fair is, in some respects, a very traditional science fair,” Todd said. “Kids come, they bring their tri-fold boards, and judges go around and talk to them about it. But in other ways it’s different. We’re elementary- and middle-school focused because we want this fair to be like the training wheels of science fairs. We make it really easy for kids to come and show their science.”

To make it as accessible as possible, Todd organized a series of workshops that were held in schools and libraries around the area. These workshops covered everything from the scientific method to explaining the difference between a science fair and a project fair.

“A lot of them have project fair experience,” Todd said. “But if you don’t have a question and a procedure, if you’re not testing and collecting data, then it’s not a science fair project. The workshops help them make that transition from learning facts and building something into testing, analyzing and drawing conclusions.

The instructors for the science fair workshops are almost all undergraduate UO students, most of whom major in scientific disciplines, but it is open to anyone interested in science or education.

“It’s a way they can get teaching experience in a really low-stakes, informal environment,” Todd said. “A lot of people who work in our program decide to go on to teach science, and a good number of them have cited our program as being significant in that decision. Anyone on campus who’s interested in doing science with kids in a really fun, easy environment is welcome.”

A $20 registration fee is charged, but financial hardship scholarships are available and can be requested by checking the scholarship box on the application form. More information about the fair can be found on the flyer or on the SPICE website; contact Todd at 541-346-4313 or btodd@uoregon.edu with any questions.

By Noah Ripley, University Communications