Science fair: Is it worth the work? A qualitative study on deaf students' perceptions and experiences regarding science fair in primary and secondary school

Vivian Lee Smith, University of Southern Mississippi

Abstract

Science fairs have a long history in American education. They play an important role for establishing inquiry-based experiences in a science classroom. Students may be more motivated to learn science content when they are allowed to choose their own science fair topics. The purpose of this study was to examine Deaf college students' perceptions and experiences regarding science fair participation during primary and/or secondary school and determine the influence of science fair involvement on the development of language skills, writing skills, and higher order thinking skills as well as its impact on choice of a STEM major. This study examined responses from Deaf students attending Gallaudet University and National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) majoring in a Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM) field. An electronic questionnaire and a semi-structured interview were used to collect data. The electronic questionnaire was divided into two strands: demographics and science fair experience . Twenty-one respondents participated in the questionnaire and ten participants were interviewed. A cross-case analysis revealed communication was the key to a successful science fair experience. Findings showed the educational background of participants influenced their perspective regarding the experience of a science fair. When communicating through American Sign Language, the science fair experience was more positive. When communicating through an interpreter or having no interpreter at all, the science fair experience was viewed in a negative light. The use of science fairs to enhance language development, writing skills, and higher order thinking skills was supported. Teachers and parents were strong influences for Deaf students participating in a science fair. Participation in a science fair did influence students to choose a STEM major but there were other considerations as well.