In Science Fairs, Process Is More Important than Prizes, Expert Advises

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Beware! The season of science fair projects has begun, and the pressure kids come under from parents and teachers is intense. Madeline Binder, director of http://www.super-science-fair-projects.com, sees the panic emails from kids and parents every year.

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Beware! The season of science fair projects has begun, and the pressure kids come under from parents and teachers is intense. Madeline Binder, director of http://www.super-science-fair-projects.com, sees the panic emails from kids and parents every year.

"Yes, I understand that young scientists can win college scholarships and significant cash prizes, and their schools stand to gain more funding for their science programs," she says. "Still, when the emphasis is put only on winning, the most important achievement tends to get overlooked.

That achievement happens when a child goes through the very first step of the scientific method and writes his hypothesis, guessing what the outcome of an experiment will be, she explains. Within the hypothesis statement is a comparison between controlled and experimental variables. By making up an experimental variable, young scientists take a chance that something they believe to be true--something they have an intuition or curiosity about--will happen.

Ms. Binder, who is also a teacher and counselor, says that taking this step is huge because the child makes a stand, telling the world that she believes in her ideas and creativity. If the experimental variable proves to be true, the child has the benefit of reinforcing his belief. If the experimental variable proves false, the child then has the opportunity to stretch her imagination and come up with another idea.

The point of this process--and the undeniable value--is that children are able to use it for the rest of their lives. "As humans we are constantly testing ourselves, experimenting with new ideas, new ways of being," she says. "There is no right or wrong--there is simply feedback. If what we do doesn't work, then we enroll another strategy until we find a behavior or action that does work. We learn and grow from these experiences. We learn to adapt. That's what life is about.

"Yes, money is a nice prize, but not nearly as important as what the young scientist does to win it. Going through the process actually yields the best prize of all--the adventure of exercising one's brain power to experience the world of possibilities. This is what the adults in a child's life really need to emphasize."

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MADELINE BINDER