Digital Science Fair: How will the Beloved Event Change on the Screen?

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Mrs. Galcam

Saniya Rajagopal ’21 discusses with her science fair judge

Abigail Lott, Staff Writer

For more than thirty years, Falmouth Academy has hosted its annual Science and Engineering Fair, an event where students from grades 7 through 11, and sometimes grade 12, show off their notable projects on a variety of scientific topics. The event helps students explore their passions through science and engineering. With COVID-19, however, the Falmouth Academy Science Fair has taken on a new form – a digital form. As a result of this new format, many students and parents wonder how the fair will work digitally, and how it will be different from the normal fair. 

The science department decided to use the software system ‘zFairs’ to run the science fair this year. The software has been used all over the United States to facilitate a variety of digital competitions. According to Ms. Liz Klein, Falmouth Academy’s science fair coordinator and science department head, the school settled on zFairs since the state fair (MSEF) will be using the same program. The science department has been preparing for a virtual fair since way back in the summer and chose the zFairs programming then. 

zFairs has drastically changed the way that science fair will operate.

“It allows judges to have video conferencing with a student so that they can have the same experience that they usually have at a Falmouth Academy Science Fair, but it is just online,” said Mr. Ed Lott, who runs the behind-the-scenes computer work for the science fair.  “Otherwise, it does just about the same things that we have had in the past.”

He also noted the difficulties that the science fair administrators have experienced while setting up the program, “We are still learning how to use zFairs. So, yes, there have been some glitches, but they are being resolved. I think there will probably be more issues coming up as we get closer to the fair, but they have been very responsive to the questions we have. It’s not perfect.”

zFairs has allowed for more positive things to happen. Mrs. Klein said that the number of judges registering has gone up. 

“It’s opened up a whole new pot of judges. People don’t have to live in Falmouth to judge our fair this year and so we have more alumni engaged who live across the country than in the past. We’ve got people who used to judge and moved away who can still judge. We are having a faster positive response time than normal.”

There is already a system in place for the day of the fair.

“The way we hope it works is that on the day of the fair, students will log into their zFairs accounts,” said Mr. Lott. “They will go to a virtual judging area and they will wait for judges to click on them to begin a video interview. We’re hoping each interview and presentation by the student is about 20 minutes combined. When the judge clicks in [to the interview], the video conference will open and then the student can begin their presentation. The judge will have time to ask questions afterward. When the judge is done, they’ll close the video conference, and the student will wait for the next one.” 

The exact schedule has already been planned by the science department as well.

“We have divided judging into two judging windows,” said Ms. Klein. “In the morning, there will be judging for 7th and 8th-grade students from 9-12. Upper school students don’t have any responsibilities during that time and then in the afternoon from 1-4pm is the judging window for them. There is a little break for lunch and that’s our day. No classes, all science fair.”

Of course, with a digital fair, there are bound to be differences from an in-person fair. But Falmouth Academy has been working hard to create almost the same experience. 

“That was the goal, and that was partially why we chose zFairs,” said Mr. Lott. “We’re hoping to give an experience to the students and judges that is close to what we have when it’s on campus.” 

Ms. Klein noted one of the changes from previous fairs: “One major difference is when you look through the projects, they are more varied in topic this year because students were not able to work in labs. Most projects had to be done at home, so students had to get a little more creative. We’re seeing more projects that analyze existing data sets which is cool.” 

Another difference is how presenting projects will go. Luckily, the science department had created an alternative to the classic poster. 

“The science teachers put together an example slides presentation that students will have access to as they create theirs,” said Ms. Klein. It has the same components as a poster and it will walk the judge through the same process, introducing the abstract, hypothesis, purpose, some background information, method, results, analysis, and conclusion; just like what you would have on a poster except it’s digital.” 

As for advice for this year’s science fair, Ms. Klein said, “Stay calm. Be prepared to do your best and don’t get too riled if something doesn’t go quite perfectly.” 

It is fair to say that Falmouth Academy’s science team can tackle pretty much anything, and that is exemplified with this incredible transition from an in-person to a digital fair.