Ohio University

Virtual science fair lets students show their work

Virtual science fair lets students show their work

News articles in Lancaster Eagle Gazette and Columbus Dispatch featured Sandy Doty, a District 8 council woman and associate professor of physics at Ohio University-Lancaster. See the article below:

A common occurrence during the ongoing pandemic is the cancellation or postponement of events, interrupting common traditions and rituals for students and adults alike.

In an effort to continue one tradition, Ohio's district-level science fairs were held in a virtual medium, with students uploading videos and information packets about their projects online.

The Ohio Academy of Science District 8 fair was set to be held the week Gov. Mike DeWine ordered schools closed. In an effort to be fair, districts were ordered to hold their fairs virtually.

It might not have been the same experience as a face-to-face competition, but for students Cassidy Smith and Madeline Cole, getting to show their work still meant a lot.

Smith, a senior at Bloom-Carroll High School, has been taking projects to the science fair since she was in sixth grade and has made it to the state level six years in a row.

She said the virtual science fair was almost the same as previous years, but it was missing something.

"It was great that we could still show our projects, but all we did was send it out, I won't know what kind of score I get until they release the results," Smith said. "Plus, I liked giving my presentation to the judges, it was nice to see their reactions while I talked to them. i could gauge how much they were engaging in my project."

"With a video presentation, I had to be extra thorough in my explanation, otherwise they might miss some details."

She added she put a lot of emphasis on the binder uploaded with the project, to help cover any questions the video didn't cover.

"Usually, that all get covers in the face-to-face interactions with the judges. With a video and the questionnaire we filled out, it would be easy to miss something or for them to misinterpret it. It's definitely easier to give that speech in person," Smith said.

Cole, a ninth-grader at Liberty Union-Thurston High School, agreed. This was her second year going to the district science fair, and while she knew the virtual fair would be different than the regular fair, she said she had the passion and drive to see it through.

"I didn't want to stop after all the time I'd put into my project. Making the video and answering the questionnaire definitely had a different energy to a normal fair, but I just tried to make them as authentic as possible. I really tried to portray my passion," she said.

Cole said her two science fair projects focused on pyrrole disorder, a genetic condition in which an individual produces an abnormally large number of pyrroles. Essentially, people with the condition are left without the right amount of the vitamin B6 or zinc, an imbalance which can have both psychological and physical impacts.

As someone with Pyrrole, Cole said she chose to study the disorder as a way to learn more about it and to raise awareness about it. She said it's been something that's been difficult for her to talk about with family, let alone with strangers at science fairs. She's happy with the progress she's made, but she feels like there's more for people to learn about it.

"Last year's project was very basic, but this year I was more interested in the research than what place I got in the science fair. Being able to have a virtual fair meant a lot this year, it helped take my mind off of the stress we're living in right now," Cole said.

For Joe Carter, the judging coordinator for District 8 and a life sciences teacher at Bloom-Carroll High School, while the virtual fair was better than not having any kind of fair at all, he said he cannot wait to go back to a more traditional format.

"I hope we never have to do this again. One thing we can treasure for these students is for them to get in front of strangers and talk about something they're passionate about. It's a very important learning experience for them," he said. "One thing about science is learning how to present your information in an understandable way, which works best when that contact can be face-to-face."

"It helps them in so many different levels, be it high school, college or life in general. We could hold the fair in my classroom, but they're familiar with me. There wouldn't really be any growth."

Sandy Doty, a District 8 council woman and associate professor of physics at Ohio University-Lancaster, echoed Carter's sentiment. She said the virtual fair format is going to be kept as an "as needed" method of holding the science fair, but it works much better in person.

"We had a way to hold the fair this year in a format that was fair to everyone, so we pursued it. And this was a way to encourage kids to keep going, to keep working and to keep growing," she said. "If people could find a way for students to be able to play a baseball game that kept people healthy and allowed them to grow and practice sportsmanship during this pandemic, I feel like people would have tried that."

"Doing this fair is the same thing. These kids have worked hard, they've put their heart and soul into their work. It was important they could be recognized and show their work."