Saturday, April 18, 2009

Philadelphia science fair finalists: handicapped by popularity contests?

I couldn't help noticing, in a recent Philadelphia Inquirer article touting the accomplishments of the greater Philadelphia students who participated in the regional Delaware Valley Science Fair, that only one of the 15 winners attends a Philadelphia public school. Most other students hail from Philadelphia's suburbs.

I couldn't help wondering whether this might have something to do with the way the Philadelphia Schools select their finalists. To compete in the Delaware Valley Science Fair, Philadelphia students must first be selected to compete in the Philadelphia-based Carver Science Fair. To accomplish this, I recently learned, they must first be selected by their classmates (after presenting their projects in class). Only those who make it past their peers go on to be judged by actual scientists.

We'll never know how many socially awkward but scientifically gifted Philadelphians are screened out before being fully and fairly assessed on their scientific accomplishments.

In the name of social skills, charisma, and graphic arts, the Philadelphia school system, in yet another way, may be limiting its students' chances to compete scientifically.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Look at the math program in Philadelphia it is deplorable. You can't be competitive if you don't know how to do the math.

lgm said...

>>In the name of social skills, charisma, and graphic arts, the Philadelphia school system, in yet another way, may be limiting its students' chances to compete scientifically.

Yes and no. Communicating one's work is an important part of science. The regional fair judges will also be scoring the communication skills and visual appeal of the poster. I see it as doing the student a favor by pointing out areas that need to be improved in time for them to be developed, before the big fairs come up. This frank assessment should be taken as a motivator, rather than a limiter. Visiting the regional and state fairs and discerning the level of excellence would be motivating also.

If it is peer judging or parent/school politics that choses the 'winners' or even an inability of the science dept chair to put together a true fair with true judging according to published criteria, I would hope that parents have some serious meetings with the superintendent. In the meantime,the politically 'out' children should take their projects to other fairs that are outside the school's gatekeeping sphere. They don't have to create a new project for other fairs.

I don't mean to sound unsympathetic, as my children have been elbowed out of opportunties by the politically well connected too. Don't let them stop you - there are other ways if the student really does want to compete and develop his talents.