A Science Fair in Your Co-op Class

A science fair in a co-op class? You bet! Actually, I am calling this a science fair, but it isn’t like any science fair you have ever seen.  I gave students a question from an area we had studied. They had to design an experiment looking at that question, conduct the experiment in class using their fellow students, collect data, and explain how they would analyze the data. I did this with my co-op class last year, and it was one of the highlights of the class! You do not need to have a large co-op class to make this work, either. In fact, if you are going to get through all the experiments in the allotted time, you don’t want too many experiments. This is the last of my co-op posts. I am not teaching a co-op this year, even though I have had some very tempting offers. I am too busy writing Earth and Space 2, which my guinea pig… I mean my son… is using and loving. I have to stick with it for the rest of you!


Lucky for us there is one more co-op post coming from Karen. At the end of this year she will share her suggestions for extra-super extra-curricular resources! Have you ever noticed I love exclamation points! If you met me you would see that they are the punctuation mark that best describes my personality‼‼ An exclamation point with a smiley face at the bottom! (I would definitely not be a comma. Commas make me crazy. My commas make my editor crazy too. I put them in the wrong places and leave them out of the right ones. No one can be good at everything. If you ever find a typo of mine that bothers you, send me the correction, and I will fix it.) 😉

What You Will Need

  • Two to four parents (no more, no less – less is too few, and more is not always better)
  • A scoring rubric
  • My students furnished their own supplies for this, but I offered to do so. I told them I needed at least 24 hour notice, but no one took me up on it.

Be Thoughtful about the Amount of Help Needed

        You should assume that no student in your co-op has ever participated in a science fair, or designed their own experiment. I did not want my students to be lost or intimidated by the process. I sent them a couple of e-mails during the week to make sure they were on track with their experiments.

Decide if You Want Students to Work in Groups or Individually

I started the students in groups, but one of the groups wanted to split up for this and design their experiment individually. The other two groups preferred to work in groups. This resulted in there being five experiments at the fair.

Real Science Odyssey Biology 2
RSO Biology 2 http://www.pandiapress.com/?page_id=82#level2

The Senses

I asked each group to design an experiment dealing with a specific sense. I chose this because the five senses is an area that everyone has experience with. If you want originality with the experiments, you should choose an area that kids really understand. It is easier to get real creativity if your students are not bogged down figuring out details of the science involved. Could you imagine if I did this with a focus on genetics!

Here is the text I gave to my students:

Labs this week

I have asked each of the groups to work together to create an experiment. Since I do not want only 1 sense getting all the attention, each group will be given a different sense. I want to see you all do your best, there might be a clear winner or not. If more than one team wins that is great. There are experiments out there that test all of these things. Try to develop your own experiment first before getting on the internet. Only get on the internet if you absolutely cannot think of anything, and please contact me before you do that. I will help you if you need guidance.

I want to hear from each team on or before Monday about your planned experiment. These are some of the elements you need to think about

  1. How will the results from my experiment answer the issue I am studying?
  2. Did I create an experiment that is unbiased?
  3. How will I collect and analyze the data from my experiment?

Group 1: Create an experiment testing if the color of food affects the sense of taste.

Group 2: Create an experiment testing if you need your sense of smell to taste.

Group 3: Create an experiment testing if your sense of touch is affected by your age.

The groups need to figure out the experiments together. One person should not do all the work!

Group 2 was the group that did three experiments all looking at the same issue. The three students created three very different experiments.

The Night before the Fair

  1. Contact your students to make sure they have everything they need and ask them to be a little early to set up. (Make sure parents know this lab could run late. We did not do it, because I did not think of it, but what would be really great is to have the parents go through the experiments after class. Make sure everyone has enough material if you decide to do this.)
  2. Contact parents who are judging and remind them to be there.
  3. Make sure you have a rubric printed for them. Here was mine.

Use the scale from 1 to 10, 10 being the best; circle your answer

  • How well does the experiment answer the question? 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
  • Was the presentation and procedure coherent and well thought out? 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
  • Can the group explain their methodology and what they are testing? 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
  • How unbiased is the method used for conducting the experiment? 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
  • Uniqueness and creativity? 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
  • How good was the group’s system for collecting data? 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
  • How will the group analyze the data? 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
  • Do you think the group will be able to make meaningful conclusions from this experiment? 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

The experiment my son thought was the best did not win, because the person conducting it forgot to collect data, and could not answer the question of how he would analyze the data if he did collect it!

The Day of the Fair

  1. Get there early. Some of you students will be nervous, and most students will need help setting up.
  2. Give each judge a copy of the rubric.
  3. Your judges might want to be test subjects or they might want to watch. Let them decide how they want to proceed. The judges should decide on values for the rubric independent of each other.
  4. Have students conduct the experiments.
  5. You need to have students cycle through to be test subjects as well as presenters. You will have to figure out the logistics of this as you go, but be prepared. You will have to be on top of this. Some experiments are quick to conduct and some are not.
  6. Have the judges tally the results. Ties are awesome. There are no winners or losers on a day as fun as this one!

Check out our post on the homeschool history project here.

Choosing a Curriculum for Your Science Co-op

Choosing the right curriculum makes a big difference for the success of a science co-op class, both for the student and the teacher. There are certain elements like labs paired with the theory that are important to the success of the class. As the co-op teacher/facilitator you have a responsibility to bring the level of science up for your students over the course of the co-op. Well-chosen curriculum makes this job much less work and more attainable. I taught at community college before retiring to homeschool my son. The better the curriculum that went with the class the easier the class was to teach and the more my students learned.

I would not consider teaching a science co-op that did not have curriculum to go along with it. Teaching is a lot of work. You want something to use as a guideline and a reference. I will be honest I wouldn’t pay for my child to take a science course that didn’t have some type of written material. Students also need material to reference. If students get stuck on a concept, curriculum gives parents something to reference too.

REAL Science Odyssey Chemistry 1, Blair Lee M.S.
Science Co-op: RSO Chemistry 1 Click here to visit Pandia Press.

Recently, I had a couple of people ask me for  guidance with a science co-op they were going to teach. Their problem, they didn’t have curriculum that had labs and lectures that were well-paired and they were having trouble planning their classes.

You would expect that I think REAL Science Odyssey is a good choice to use when teaching a science co-op, and you would be right. I do! Granted, I am biased about it as a science curriculum, not just as one of the authors for the series but also as a science teacher. What I want to do for you here is go through the elements of what make it a good choice for a science co-op. These are elements that you should look for in any science curriculum that you are going to use to teach a science co-op.

Elements in a good curriculum for a science co-op

  1. The careful pairing of labs with theory

You need a text that presents the theory in a manner and at a reading level that is accessible to the grade level you are teaching. There should be labs or activities that accompany the theory. Do not teach a science class to people below the college level that does not have labs in it! This is what gives science a bad name! Science should be the most fun and dynamic class outside of P.E. that students engage in.

  1. Labs that are an appropriate length of time

This point is how I came to be writing this series of articles. A few of the labs/activities in my book were not a good length for the co-op class I was teaching. I have posted a schedule detailing how to change the labs around a bit to make them work for the time frame of a co-op.

  1. Make sure the text has enough material to run the length of the time allotted for the co-op. 
RSO Biology 2 Blair Lee M.S.
Science Co-op: RSO Biology 2 Click here to visit Pandia Press.

Science Co-op:

The text can cover more material than you are going to teach, but it is problematic and more work for you if it is too short. A text that covers or goes beyond the entire time frame is more likely to be cohesive and to follow a logical progression. The cohesiveness is very important to the actual learning of science. Too often science is taught in a scattered grab-bag approach. This does not encourage an understanding of the foundational fundamentals of science, and it makes it more difficult to make connections to other areas of science.

  1. Choose a text with a teacher’s guide and, if you are going to assign them, tests and problem sets. This is for you as much as it is for the students. TEACHING IS HARD WORK!
RSO Biology 2 Teacher's Guide
Science Co-op: RSO Biology 2 Teacher’s Guide Click here to visit Pandia Press.

5.   Choose curriculum that covers good solid, mainstream science, with material that has been well-researched, and contains science just science.

If you do not choose a text like that and your course is not taught that way, parents should be informed ahead of time before they sign up for the class.

6.   Choose a text written at a reading level that is at grade level and is conversational.

This is so you know students can read it themselves outside of class.

7.   Choose a text that can be used with a range of ages and abilities.

You will get a range of ages and abilities. You want a text that can be challenging for your older or more than students but still accessible for your younger or less advanced students. This is one of the more difficult aspects to get from a textbook. It helps to have a textbook with a teacher’s guide that gives you advice on supplementary material to help with this range.

8.   Did I already mention labs with the theory!!!

9.   It doesn’t hurt to use a text that has notes on how to use it to teach a co-op.

Coming soon to help you and your students even more: A series of YouTube-like videos where I explain concepts students and their parents found complicated in REAL Science Odyssey Biology 2. (Genetics will be the first unit I explain!!!) I initially thought of this for homeschool students not in a co-op, but these will help co-op teachers as well. It will leave you with more time for labs since it should help with the number of questions students have about these complicated topics.

Check out our post about how to teach a science co-op here.

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