University of Chicago Charter School All-Campus Science Fair Develops Students' Love of Science from PreK-12

February 14, 2011

Robotic arms, alternative fuels, and heart rates are just a few of the topics chosen by University of Chicago Charter School students for the first All-Campus Science Fair.

Students at UCCS explored new ideas, technology, and the principles of science in order to create projects that were displayed for peers, teachers, family and friends at the Donoghue Campus on January 10. Through preparation and participation, students demonstrated mastery of the scientific research process and presented findings to a panel of informed judges, as well as interested visitors.  Middle school students were judged for submission into the CPS Regional Science Fair, while elementary school students practiced their scientific method for future competitions and high school students prepared physics projects.

Though elementary students were not competing for entry into the regional fair, their enthusiasm was still palpable. After proudly displaying her project, Fifth Grader Zarria Alexander said, “Making a science fair project taught me how to reflect on what scientists do.  They need evidence before presenting their findings.  Now, I understand what evidence means. Plus, this was really fun!“

The All-Campus Science Fair, supported by generous donors Betsy Gidwitz and Harriet Heyman, marks the first occasion that all four campuses of the charter school joined together to showcase their work.  This brainchild was a result of teachers from all four campuses meeting through 2010, including during the summer months, to create the Science Collaborative. The collaborative share best practices, focus on aligning the curriculum, and engage in capacity building through participation in regional and national conferences of the National Science Teachers Association.  Linda Wing, director of schools and community engagement, remarks that the all-campus fair is the perfect example of the science faculty’s goal “of aligning the curriculum vertically and horizontally and using authentic assessments-student science projects-as the measure of effectiveness.”

“The science fair provides an opportunity for students to understand the content and the application of the scientific process. This process provides the students with the opportunity to be active and take responsibility for their learning. When the students conduct research, record data and publish results, it serves as means of authentic assessment,” says Rodney Bly, science department chair and instructor at the Carter G. Woodson Campus. “We (the Science Collaborative) believe science education should be student centered, allowing students to learn and do science. This leads our students to understand that they are scientists' investigating questions that could potentially help us in our everyday lives.”

Laverne Coke, Woodlawn Campus science instructor and department chair, added, “The all-campus science fair is also important because it gives our parents, students, and teachers an opportunity to see exemplars of the scientific process.”

In addition to the showcasing of projects, students learned from special guests. “Representatives from Columbia College, Chicago State, and Project Exploration provided information for continued science education opportunities that many of our students didn’t know existed,” said Ms. Coke. “The final bonus was the parent and chemist Jim Julian showing the students how he goes through the scientific process at his job."

Six students were chosen to advance to the CPS regional science fair, where they competed to great success.  Of the six, two were chosen to advance to the citywide fair.

From the Carter G. Woodson Campus, Cameron Maxwell (8th grade) and Murphy Gay (7th grade) earned an “excellent” award, while Jared Rhinehart (8th grade), for the second year in a row, will advance to the citywide competition. His project asked: Which robotic hand formation is best for picking up small items?

From the Woodlawn Campus, Davlin Smiley (7th grade) was awarded an “honorable mention” and Eva Lewis (6th grade) an “excellent” award. Joanna Piphus (8th grade), who did her project on angles and acceleration, won a spot in the citywide competition as well.

Overall, UCCS students represented the top 20% of science projects out of more than 200 students.  Wing says, “The students who distinguished themselves at the regional science fair are the vanguard of more fine scientists to come! They reflect the power of their teachers' strong vision and close collaboration.”

Video: Woodlawn Campus' "Mad Genius" Davlin Smiley on Alternative Fuels

UCCS Science Expo - Short Focus from Endangered Peace on Vimeo.


UCCS Science Expo - Short Focus from Endangered Peace on Vimeo.