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The roles judges should play are the same regardless of which type of judge you decide to become.
- Role Model: Take care in what you say and do, as you are an example of the professionals that are involved in science, engineering and technology in our community! You are seen as someone with expertise and as a leader in the community. Show them you are someone to emulate.
- Encourage: The goal is to motivate and encourage students of all grade levels to continue in the science, engineering and technology fields. Positive and constructive comments are essential — and not optional! At no time should a judge criticize a project or a student — however, suggestions are helpful and encouraged when kindly offered.
- Evaluate: Score the areas of the project per the judging criteria, and based upon the grade level. The link for Judging Criteria is listed under the Volunteer link, along with samples of the judging scoring sheets. The areas involved include:
- Grades K-5: Curious investigation, statement of the problem or hypothesis (not required), procedures (Are they appropriate for the question being addressed?) organization, as well as learning experience.
- Grades 6-8: Creative ability, scientific though/engineering goals, thoroughness, skill level (tools/techniques), and clarity (Can the process be followed?)
- Grades 9-12: Creativity/ingenuity, scientific thought, thoroughness, skill, clarity. High school students should be conducting a thorough literature review, and an appropriate statistical analysis of data, or describing a sound engineering goal.
Ideally, judges will not sign up for a category of grade level where a student or a project may already be known — however, it may come as a surprise.
Any judge who knows a student personally — and has any indication that this knowledge may affect a decision (either positively or negatively) — should recuse him or herself from scoring or interviewing a student.
At no time should personal agendas or competing organization’s agendas be a factor in any judge’s decision.
All decisions should be fairly made without discrimination of any kind for race, gender, creed or affiliation.
Interviewing (Gr. 6- 12)
The role of a science fair judge is challenging, but it is a very rewarding and worthwhile effort. As a science fair judge, you are given the unique opportunity to impact the lives of some very talented young people.
Consider this: For many of these students, you may be the first professional they have ever met who is engaged in a science or engineering job for a living. You are an ambassador for your profession. You may very well influence their career choices.
Meeting the Student
When you first approach a student, please do so in a friendly, professional manner. Be sure to introduce yourself, explain your affiliation and offer a brief description of your background. While there is no set time you must spend in your evaluation process, you will need to make sure you have time for ALL students in your category.
In some cases, however, at his/her discretion, a judge may determine that spending more time with a student would be beneficial.
As a judge, it is most important to show the students that you are fair and knowledgeable. Your fairness is indicated by a few simple actions:
- Spend about the same amount of time with each student
- Listen carefully to the student’s explanation of the project
- Find out more about the project and how it was done
The questions you pose should not embarrass or intimidate the student. This sounds obvious, but oftentimes can be challenging to implement.
The best tool in judging is your ability to ask questions. Be sensitive to what the student knows. You can always ask questions that the student can answer, and keep a conversation going for 10 minutes.
Some questions/variations all students should be able to answer:
- How did you come up with the idea for this project?
- What did you learn from your background search?
- How long did it take you to build the apparatus?
- How did you build it?
- How much time (or how many days) did it take to run the experiments — such as growing the plants, or collecting data points?
- How many times did you run the experiment with each configuration?
- How many experiment runs are represented by each data point on the chart?
- Did you take all data (run the experiment) under the same conditions (in other words, at the same temperature, time of day or lighting conditions)?
- How does your apparatus (equipment or instrument) work?
- What do you mean by [terminology or jargon used by the student]?
- Do you think there is an application in industry for this knowledge/technique?
- Were there any books that helped you do your analysis/build your apparatus?
- When did you start this project, or how much of the work did you do this year? (NOTE: Some students may bring the prior year’s winning project back, with minimal enhancements.)
- What is the next experiment to do in continuing this study?
- Are there any areas that we not have covered which you feel are important?
- Do you have any questions for me?
PLEASE NOTE: These are only suggestions to keep the conversation going.
Guiding the Discussion
Sometimes we come across projects in technical areas with which we are intimately familiar, but the student just didn’t get it. They made some incorrect assumptions, missed a key indicator in the data, came up with a false conclusion, or didn’t look at or understand some common principles.
It can be tempting to share your knowledge about the topic, to help the student appreciate what happened (or should have happened) in the experiment. Some judges have been observed to enthusiastically pontificate while a student stood idly listening. Before you do this, please consider that these students are smart, and the next judge may hear the student parroting back the knowledge you imparted.
You may try with your questions to lead the student toward the right answers, but you should not provide the answers. If you really feel compelled to make explanations, save them until near the end of the judging time when your knowledge will not be relayed to judges following you. Alternatively, you may give the student your card and invite future discussion about the project.
Be sure that your discussion meets the following science fair objectives to involve the student in discovery:
- Your conversation should resemble a discussion with an esteemed colleague who is having difficulty with some research. Together, you talk through the situation to mutually arrive at improved answers.
- The student should do most of the talking.
- Coax and/or coach the student into realizing and describing the correct conclusions. (Remember, it’s the student’s project, not yours!)
- Encourage the student to conduct more experimentation in order to verify the new conclusions.
Since you are a judge, most students instinctively think of you as an intimidating figure. The more you can dispel this image, the more likely you are to help the student be less nervous, and engage in a better discussion. Again, simple things can make a difference:
- Make eye contact with the student.
- If the student is shorter than you, try to stoop, bend or squat down to lower your eye level.
- Tip your head to the side to indicate interest. (This is a universal nonverbal form of communication.)
- If you wear glasses, look at the student through them, not over the top of the frames.
- Whenever a student shows a good idea, be sure to use a compliment.
- Use a tone of voice that indicates interest or inquisitiveness — not skepticism or contempt.
To assure the perception of fairness, you also need to make sure that one student doesn’t monopolize your time. Some have a well-rehearsed pitch that may prevent you from having a chance to interact with the student. You have to find some way to break the pattern — and again, your tool is questioning.
Politely interrupt with a question, usually in the form of “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch the relationship between that adjustment and this result” — or even some of the “any student can answer” questions, like “How many times did you run the experiment with each configuration?”
The idea is not to stop the student from talking, but to get the student to interrupt the “tape recording” and think about what is being communicated to you.
Many of these students are exceptionally bright. It is easy to think, when facing an incredibly impressive display and a supremely confident student that this student’s research is beyond your knowledge. If a project is really and truly completely outside your experience, you are still knowledgeable in the area of problem solving and the Scientific Method. Concentrate on these aspects rather than the details of a particular project.
When you ask questions (even the “any student can answer this” type of questions) the student assumes you have kept up with the discussion, and are maintaining interest in their work. You may be struggling during the student’s whole pitch to come up with something — anything to ask that doesn’t sound completely ignorant — but the student doesn’t know how little of the information makes sense to you. Keep asking questions until it does make sense. Remember, you are not the only judge who will talk to this student.
While it is highly unlikely, there is always the possibility that “impostor” projects make it to SARSEF competition. However, because of the judges’ expertise, the questionability of projects can be determined by simply asking for explanations of words that the student uses. Never assume the student knows what the technical terms mean or what a piece of equipment does, how it works, or why it was used.
Keep in Mind -You Are Changing Lives
Although the most obvious reason for your being a judge at the science fair is to assist in assessment of the entered projects, a good judge knows that this is an important experience in the life of every participant. Please do your best to make sure that all of the participants remember the science fair as a positive experience in their lives.
Scoring the Projects
Although you will be using the judging criteria to score projects, here are few helpful general thoughts about what makes a wining project.
- When you deliberate on the projects, use a few simple criteria for your decisions. Then use the more-detailed criteria for those that you have narrowed down.
- The quality of the student’s (or group of students’) work is what matters.
- Team projects and individual projects are judged the same. It is the quality of the work that matters.
- A less-sophisticated project that the student understands gets higher marks than a more sophisticated project that is not understood.
- Access to sophisticated lab equipment and endorsements from professionals do not guarantee a high-quality project. (Ask yourself: Did the student really understand what was going on?)
- It is acceptable if the student ended up disproving the objective or hypothesis of the experiment.
In general, high marks go to:
- “Early starters” who took a longer period of time to collect data
- Genuine scientific breakthroughs
- Discovering knowledge not readily available to the student
- Correctly interpreting and analyzing data
- Repetitions to verify experimental results — and enough subjects to adequately test
- Predicting and/or reducing experimental results with analytical techniques
- Experiments applicable to the “real world” (for engineering projects)
- Ability to clearly portray and explain the project and its results
In general, low marks go to:
- Ignoring readily available information (e.g. not doing basic library research)
- An apparatus (e.g. model) not useful for experimentation and data collection
- Improperly using jargon, not understanding terminology, and/or not knowing how equipment or instrumentation works
- Presenting results that were not derived from experimentation (e.g. literature search)
Please do your best to make sure that all of the participants remember the science fair as a positive experience in their lives.