One of the most challenging aspects of participating in the Thomas A. Edison Festival of Light Regional Inventors Fair will be holding a school invention fair. This is often scheduled in conjunction with the school’s science fair. Here are a few pointers for your consideration.
Contagious enthusiasm is not just a child’s response to the program. This is a wonderful opportunity to share with your colleagues, parents, businesses and organizations like PTA. The human and material resources needed to conduct the fair will be proportional to the number of student entries. Please share any part of the program guidelines.
The following tasks will require your attention:
- Determine the scale of your school’s involvement. Will one or more classes or grade levels participate?
- Review and share the inventor fair information on our website (www.edisonfairs.org) to help raise awareness and sponsorships for student materials, awards, and volunteers.
- Select an invention fair site based on the projected number of participants. With a little planning, classroom(s), cafeterias, gymnasiums or multipurpose rooms can all serve well. Consider the time of day for set up and judging. Most school fairs have been conducted during the morning hours with set up completed the afternoon before the judging.
- Arrange for student exhibits to be placed on tables or counters, preferably not floors. Floor level displays are hard on judges and should only be used when space is unavailable.
- All exhibits shall be identified by a number and have a sign-off card to be initialed by the reviewing judge(s). If judging forms are pre-numbered, the exhibits should be arranged in sequential order. If exhibits are not in sequential order, request judges enter the exhibit number on each form as they go. Avoid having judges attempt to hunt down exhibits.(See task 10. below)
- Individual school ‘Certificates of Participation’ are suggested to reward each student inventor’s effort.
- Enlist judges from businesses, organizations, as well as impartial administrators, teachers, and parents. Teachers and parents of exhibitors will not be eligible to judge a Regional Fair. Provide a written review of the judging process in advance or optionally, offer a 30-45 minute review session.
- Plan for hospitality and refreshments for the judges and volunteers. This has varied from a continental breakfast table to a buffet lunch. Time constraints will limit the number of judges enjoying a buffet lunch.
- Expect an average of 8 minutes to judge each exhibit. Interviews are optional at school fairs. In general, the comfort zone for judging is about two hours. The ideal number of judges per exhibit is 3 with a member of each gender represented.
- Judges may be assigned specific exhibits by number but this inhibits flexibility. What has worked very well is to hand out unnumbered judging forms requesting four things from judges:
a) each judging group stays together during the review of a project
b) groups of judges spread out and do not bunch up in one area
c) avoid any hint of favoritism
d) each group signs off on the designated card at each exhibit to verify the exhibit having been judged.
Each group has a distinct number to use.
- A few tips for school fairs: Staple together the judging forms for each exhibit judged. Average the scores for each page. Place this averaged score on the top of the front sheet and circle it. Keep the completed forms in sequential order with highest scores on top. Preferably, keep each classroom separate. Handheld calculators and staplers come in handy.
- Keep one ‘winners’ spot open for the top score in each class. This allow for all classes to have at least one student represented in the final results. Select the remaining highest scores across all classes to fill the remaining number of open winner positions. This may be the allotment number invited to attend regional competition or a designated number for intra-school competition recognition.
- Place all class winners together in sequential order, from highest to lowest. Determine 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners overall. Keep in mind, it is not unusual to have to go back over the top scoring exhibits to break ties and select the final order of winners. Judges are encouraged to consider teachers’ input for ‘exceptional’ displays or ‘in the absence of’ the student due to unforeseen circumstances.
- Judging groups may vary from being easy to hard on scoring. A few suggestions might smooth this out. Try to have both genders represented in each group in case a project relates more to one gender. Consider charting each judging group’s scores (in columns) next to each other. This helps spot easy from hard scorers. By averaging group totals, the degree of deviation can be recognized and an adjustment factor can be considered for each group’s five top scoring exhibits only. The final selection of winners is then determined on a more equitable basis.
- If there is an opportunity to recognize special categories separate from judges group scores, a ‘worthy of special recognition’ designation can be included on the judging form. Judges can be instructed to make a special notation or circle pre-determined categories such as most humanitarian, exceptional environmental idea, most beneficial idea, etc. Score sheets with notations can be flagged for further review.
- Give recognition in your school to winners advancing to the Regional Fair Competition.
- A Thank You Letter/E-mail to judges and volunteers is appreciated and can encourage future participation. Judges will be curious to learn who the winners are.