High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes

High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes a1111111111 a1111111111 The goal of our ongoing research is to identify strengths and weaknesses of high school a1111111111 level science fair and improvements that can help science educators make science fair a more effective, inclusive and equitable learning experience. In this paper, we confirm and extend our previous findings in several important ways. We added new questions to our anonymous and voluntary surveys to learn the extent to which students had an interest in OPENACCESS science or engineering careers and if science fair participation increased their interest in sci- Citation: Grinnell F, Dalley S, Reisch J (2020) High ence or engineering. And we surveyed a national rather than regional high school student school science fair: Positive and negative group by incorporating our survey into the Scienteer online portal now used by Texas and outcomes. PLoS ONE 15(2): e0229237. https://doi. org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 some other states for science fair registration, parental consent, and project management. We learned that about ~60% of the more than 300 students in the national cohorts complet- Editor: Christine E. King, University of California Irvine, UNITED STATES ing surveys in 2017 and 2018 said that they were interested in a career in science or engi- neering, and ~60% said that participating in science fair increased their interest in science or Received: August 5, 2019 engineering. About two-thirds of the students were required to participate in science fair, Accepted: February 1, 2020 and that requirement reduced the frequency of students who said that science fair increased Published: February 13, 2020 their interest. In the worst case, ~10% of the students who said that they were not interested Copyright:© 2020 Grinnell et al. This is an open in a career in science or engineering and who were required to participate in science fair access article distributed under the terms of the engaged in research misconduct (i.e., plagiarism and making up their results). Students’ Creative Commons Attribution License, which positive comments about competition in science fair focused on the competition incentive, permits unrestricted use, distribution, and whereas their positive comments about science fair that was non-competitive focused on reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. learning about the scientific process and learning in general. We discuss the findings in the context of National Science Teaching Association guidance about voluntary science fair par- Data Availability Statement: All relevant data are within the manuscript and its Supporting ticipation and begin to identify features of science fair practice consistent with increased stu- Information files dent interest in the sciences or engineering. Funding: FG was supported by the Robert McLemore Professorship. SD was supported by a Sam Taylor Fellowship and a Maguire Ethics Center Faculty Incentive Grant. Use of the REDCap survey and data management tool was facilitated by the UTSW Department of Information Resources and Introduction Clinical and Translational Science Training Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) identifies experiencing the practices of science as Program, NIH grant UL1TR001105. The REDCap funders had no role in study design, data collection one of three essential dimensions of science education, “students cannot comprehend PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 1 / 17 High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of scientific practices, nor fully appreciate the nature of scientific knowledge itself, without the manuscript. directly experiencing those practices for themselves” [1]. The question how to integrate the practice of science into science curricula is not new. Debates about how to do so permeate the Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist. history of science education [2]. Science fairs offer students an attractive opportunity to experi- ence the practices of science for themselves because students who participate go through the processes of selecting a problem and question to answer; designing and implementing experi- ments to answer the question; analyzing and drawing conclusions from the experiments; and explaining the findings to others through interviews and poster presentations [3–7]. Science fairs receive a lot of public attention. President Obama stated in his 2011 State of the Union Address, We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair [8]. The film Science Fair won the 2018 Sundance Film Festival festival favorite award. A 2019 GEICO television commercial “Science Fair of the Future” had more than 11 million views on YouTube in its first month. Nevertheless, despite the long history and wide implementation as part of informal and formal science education in the United States, few published research studies examine how science fair participation affects student engagement with science [7]. National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) guidance takes the position that student participation in science fairs should be voluntary with emphasis placed on the learning experience rather than on the com- petition [9]. However, whether most students who participate in high school science fair are required or choose to participate and to what extent the students perceive science fairs as emphasizing learning vs. competition are open research questions. The overarching hypothesis guiding our research is that a better understanding of science fair practices will help science educators make science fair a more effective, inclusive and equi- table learning experience. Rather than theoretical, our aim is to improve the practical imple- mentation of science fairs based on an analysis of students’ high school science fair experiences. We began our research during 2014, conducting surveys with a group of regional high school students who had just competed in the Dallas Regional Science and Engineering Fair (DRSEF) and with post high school students on biomedical science educational trajecto- ries doing research at UT Southwestern Medical Center. The post high school students may or may not have participated in science fair. The surveys were anonymous and voluntary and characterized student experiences by asking them in addition to demographic information to identify sources of help they received, types of help received, obstacles encountered, and ways of overcoming obstacles [10, 11]. In this paper, we confirm and extend our previous findings in several important ways. First, we added new survey questions to learn the extent to which students had an interest in science or engineering careers and if science fair participation increased their interest in science and engineering. Second, we surveyed a national group of high school students by incorporating our survey into the Scienteer (www.scienteer.com) online portal now used by Texas and some other states for science fair registration, parental consent, and project management. We found that about 2/3 of the students in the national cohort who completed surveys in 2017 and 2018 had been required to participate in science fair and observed negative consequences of requir- ing participation on student science fair experiences and attitudes. Some policy implications of the latest findings have been put forth in a recent NSTA Reports commentary [12]. Materials and methods This study was approved by the UT Southwestern Medical Center IRB (#STU 072014–076). Study design entailed administering to students a voluntary and anonymous online survey [10, 11] using the REDCap survey and data management tool [13]. Survey content, adapted from PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 2 / 17 High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes earlier research by others [14], was similar overall as our previous studies [10, 11] and included questions about student demographics, type of science fair participation, help expected and received, and obstacles encountered and solutions implemented to overcome obstacles. Also, the survey used in the current studies included new questions about student interest in a career in the sciences or engineering and the impact of science fair participation on interest in sci- ence. The survey can be found in supporting information (S1 Survey). High school students were invited to participate in the science fair survey through the Scienteer (www.scienteer.com) online portal used in Alabama, Maine, Missouri, Texas, Ver- mont, and Virginia for student science fair registration, parental consent, and project manage- ment. After giving consent for their students to participate in science fair, parents could consent for their students to take part in the science fair survey. To prevent any misunder- standing by parents or students about a possible impact of agreeing to participate or actually participating in the survey, access was not available to students until after they finished all of their science fair activities. Students were instructed to log in to Scienteer after completing the final science fair activity in which they participated. Those who did so were presented with an alert and hyperlink to the science fair survey. No incentives were offered for participation, and Scienteer does not send out reminder emails. Table 1 summarizes the student survey response rate. Of the students who clicked on the hyperlink, 20–25% completed the surveys. We don’t know if some students logged back into Scienteer but did not click on the hyperlink so the maximum response rate would have been ~20%. Overall, students who completed surveys represented slightly more than 0.5% of all stu- dents who signed up for science fair through Scienteer. Given that participation in the survey involved an indirect, single electronic invitation without incentive or follow-up, a low response rate was not surprising [15–17]. Most of the submitted surveys (>90%) were complete and non-duplicates. These surveys were used for data analysis. The complete survey data sets for students who participated during 2017 and 2018 school years can be found in supporting information (S1 Dataset and S2 Dataset). Quantitative data were analyzed by frequency counts and percentages. Data were sorted to compare different answer selections. Significance of potential relationships between data items was assessed using relevant statistical methods, e.g., Chi-square contingency tables for inde- pendent groups. Results shown in the figures are presented two ways—graphically to make overall trends easier to appreciate and in tables beneath the graphs to show the actual numbers. A probability value of 0.05 or smaller was accepted as statistically significant but actual p values are indicated where significant differences were observed. Results for 2017 and 2018 national cohorts are shown separately in Figs 1–3 and S1–S4 Figs but otherwise combined. Qualitative text analysis for the open-ended text questions was accomplished as described previously [11] using an approach modeled on NVivo [18, 19] based on grounded theory [20]. More than 80% of the students who completed surveys wrote comments about why science fairs should be optional or required. Two members of the research team (FG and SD) indepen- dently coded students’ comments, which were categorized into a matrix of shared student Table 1. Student survey responses. Summary of Survey Responses 2017 2018 Total Scienteer students 34,976 24,516 Parents consented 10,382 20,058 Students clicked on survey hyperlink 1,089 769 Survey records uploaded including incomplete and duplicate submissions 255 150 Complete surveys included in analysis 223 140 https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237.t001 PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 3 / 17 High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes Fig 1. Student demographics. Summary of student survey demographic information. Most but not all students answered every demographic question. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237.g001 reasons (nodes). The independently coded matrices were revised and harmonized into 16 Rea- son Why categories why science fair should be required or optional. Longer student comments frequently expressed more than one idea, in which case the comments were coded into more than one Reason Why category, and which is why the number of reasons exceeds the total number of student comments. The complete set of student answers to the Reason Why ques- tion and corresponding reason category assignments can be found in supporting information (S3 Dataset). Results Survey demographics Fig 1 shows the similarity of student responder cohorts in 2017 and 2018. Most students who th th participated in the survey (~75%) were in 9 and 10 grades. More girls than boys completed surveys. About one in three students had carried out science fair more than once. The surveys are anonymous; therefore, we do not know if any students who completed surveys in 2017 also did so in 2018, but the survey instructs the students that if they carried out science fair more PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 4 / 17 High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes Fig 2. Summary of student science fair experiences regarding help and obstacles. Data are summarized from S1–S4 Figs. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237.g002 than once, then they should answer the survey questions according to their most recent experi- ences. Three out of four student projects were individual. Overall, 65–70% of the students who participated in science fair reported that they were required to do so. Since the survey does not provide ancillary information regarding what it means for science fair to be required, the students’ answers reflect how they felt about their participation. We cannot tell if they understand “required to do science fair” differently from their schools’ intentions, e.g., required to participate in science fair to get into an advanced class or to increase one’s grade is not the same as truly required but can be perceived that way. PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 5 / 17 High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes Fig 3. Frequency of student answers to the questions regarding student interest in a career in the sciences or engineering, impact of science fair on interest in science, and attitude towards requiring science fair. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237.g003 Student experiences in high school science fair–help and obstacles Student answers to questions regarding sources of help, types of help received, obstacles encountered, and ways of overcoming obstacles were very similar comparing the 2017 and 2018 responders. Fig 2 presents a graphical summary of the results with details in the corre- sponding supplemental figures S1–S4 Figs. The most frequent student selections are labeled. (A) Parents, teachers, and articles on the internet were the main sources of help reported by more than 50% of the students. (B) No more than 35% of the students reported receiving any particular type of help with the most fre- quent types of help received developing the idea, background information and fine-tuning the report. Even though only about a third of students received any particular type of help, a large majority of students reported receiving the kind and amount of help that they wanted from teachers (see S2 Fig). (C) Regarding obstacles faced, the most frequent selections were getting the idea, getting motivated, limited resources, and (above all) time. (D) Overcoming obstacles was accomplished most often by picking a familiar topic, doing more background research, and perseverance. Five of the students indicated that they used someone else’s data (D, #12) and 15 said they made up their data (D, #13) (see S4 Fig). Comparison of national and regional student experiences In Table 2, we compare the most frequent selections by the 2017–2018 national student groups (averaged) with data previously published based on surveys of regional students [10]. Most of the top choices (item rank) of the national and regional groups overlapped in every category. One major difference was that 85% of the regional students reported receiving coaching for PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 6 / 17 High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes Table 2. Comparison of highest ranked selections from national and regional student survey results. Survey Item Student Group National Item rank Regional Item rank % (#) of 363 % (#) of 64 students students Sources of help received Articles on internet 57.9 (210) 1 53.8 (35) 3 (9 options) Teachers 55.4 (201) 2 69.2 (45) 1 Parents 51.0 (185) 3 41.5 (27) 4 Articles in Books or Magazines 24.0 (87) 4 64.6 (42) 2 Types of help received Fine-tuning report 32.2 (117) 1 47.7 (31) 2 (10 options) Developing idea 26.2 (95) 2 29.2 (19) 4 Background information & finding research site and participants 25.9 (94) 3 36.9 (24) 3 Coaching for the Interview 22.0 (80) 5 84.6 (55) 1 What obstacles did you encounter? Time pressure 44.6 (162) 1 64.6 (42) 1 (11 options) Coming up with the idea 57.3 (208) 2 63.1 (41) 2 How did you overcome obstacles? More background research 48.5 (176) 1 72.3 (47) 1 (15 options) Perseverance and self-discipline 44.4 (161) 2 69.2 (45) 2 Required to do science fair 67.5 (245) 7.7 (5) https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237.t002 the interview compared to only 21% of the national students. This difference and several oth- ers—use of articles in books and magazines, more background research, and more persever- ance—are consistent with the highly supportive practices by the North Texas suburban school district where most of the regional students attended high school, and where students were incentivized rather than required to participate in science fair. Indeed, only 8% of the regional students were required to participate in science fair compared to 68% of the national students. Effect of science fair on student interest in a career in the sciences or engineering and the consequences of requiring science fair participation An important positive outcome of science fair would be for students to become more inter- ested in science. Fig 3 presents an overview of student answers to two related questions, one regarding the students’ interests in a career in the sciences or engineering, and the other regarding whether science fair participation increased their interest in science or engineering. About 60% of the students overall said they were interested in a career in the sciences or engi- neering; 15% said they were not; and the remainder were unsure. Also, about 60% of the stu- dents said that science fair participation increased their interest in the sciences or engineering. As an indirect means to assess how students viewed the value of science fair, we asked the quantitative question: Do you think science fair should be required or optional? and the qualita- tive, open-ended text question: Reason Why? And we asked these questions for both competi- tive and non-competitive science fair to provide insights about student attitudes towards competition per se. Fig 3 shows the quantitative finding. Similar to previously reported results for the regional high school students [11], only 1 in 5 of the national students favored requiring science fair competition. That number was marginally but not significantly higher if science fair was described as non-competitive vs. competitive. Qualitative results of the open-ended text question will be described later. Fig 4 shows some differences that reached significance comparing students who said that science fair did vs. did not increase their interest in science. Not surprisingly, the impact of sci- ence fair participation on student interest paralleled student attitudes towards a career in the sciences or engineering. In addition, students who reported that science fair increased their PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 7 / 17 High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes Fig 4. Differences in student experiences depending on whether students said that science fair increased their interest in science. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237.g004 interest in science or engineering were more likely to have received help from teachers, from articles in books and magazines, and coaching for the interview. More of these students did additional background research and they reported more perseverance and self-discipline. Con- versely, students required to do science fair were less likely to say that science fair participation increased their interest in the sciences and engineering and more likely to report that getting motivated was an obstacle. Figs 5 and 6 show more clearly the negative impact of requiring science fair. Fig 5 shows that regardless whether or not students were interested in a career in science or engineering, requiring them to participate in science fair decreased the number who said that participating in science fair increased their interest. Fig 6 shows that students who were required to partici- pate in science fair were more likely to use someone else’s data or make up their data. Overall, ~10% of the students who also said they were not interested in a career in the sciences or engi- neering and were required to participate in science fair did one or the other. Rather than becoming more interested in science, these students committing research misconduct, i.e., using someone else’s data or making up their data. PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 8 / 17 High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes Fig 5. Students who say science fair increased their interest in science according to their interest in a career in the sciences or engineering and science fair requirement. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237.g005 Student reasons—Qualitative findings Given the voluntary and anonymous format of our surveys, interviewing students was not a possibility. However, the open-ended text questions asking students to state reasons why sci- ence fair should be optional or required provided a rich source of insights regarding student attitudes. A total of 314 students (86.5%) commented about non-competitive science fair and 301 students (82.9%) commented about competitive science fair regarding why science fair should be optional or required. That more than 80% of the students wrote thoughtful answers was one indication that the students took the surveys seriously. The independently coded matrices were organized into 16 Reason Why categories that con- tained 445 student reasons about non-competitive science fair and 378 student reasons about competitive science fair. Table 3 shows the categories (7 positive and 9 negative) and examples of the students’ comments. Longer comments frequently expressed more than one idea, in which case the comments were coded into more than one Reason Why category. For instance, the student comment, Science Fairs encourage students to learn new things in science in specific areas that interest them, which might lead to a future career in the science department, was placed into both the “Introduction to scientific knowledge” and “Career interests” categories. Fig 7 shows the frequency with which the positive and negative reasons were mentioned. The order of reasons is the same as in Table 3. Negative reasons outnumbered positive ones for both non-competitive (314 vs. 131) and competitive (277 vs. 101) science fair, but the rea- son categories differed. For non-competitive science fair, the most frequently mentioned nega- tive reasons were “No enjoyment/negative attitude” (~22% of the students) and “No time/ money” (~17% of the students); whereas for competitive science fair, the most frequently men- tioned negative reason was “Don’t like to compete” (~22% of the students). The most PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 9 / 17 High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes Fig 6. Research misconduct by students depending on science fair requirement and interest in a career in the sciences or engineering. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237.g006 frequently mentioned positive reasons for non-competitive science fair were “Introduction to the scientific process” and “General learning” (each ~8% of the students) vs. “Competition incentive” (~14% of the students) for competitive science fair. If the results in Fig 7 were sorted according to students’ quantitative responses to the ques- tion whether or not science fair should be required, then 21–26% of students who said that sci- ence fair should be required accounted for 98% of the positive reasons regarding non- competitive science fair and 95% of the positive reasons regarding competitive science fair (S5 Fig). That the students’ open-ended comments compared favorably to their quantitative answers demonstrated internal survey consistency. Fig 8 sorts the results in Fig 7 according to students’ quantitative responses to the question whether participating in science fair increased their interest in science. Students who said that science fair increased their interest in science or engineering were more likely to write positive comments in every category, especially introduction to process of science and general learning. Also, these students were more likely to select “competition incentive” for competitive science fair. On the other hand, these students were just as likely to offer negative comments about sci- ence fair, especially about negative behaviors and consequences regarding non-competitive sci- ence fair and about disliking having to make a public presentation for competitive science fair. Discussion The goal of our ongoing research is to identify strengths and weaknesses of high school level science fair and improvements that can help science educators make science fair a more PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 10 / 17 High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes Table 3. Student reasons about science fair requirements organized according to positive (P) and negative (N) reasons with examples. P/ Reason Category Examples—When a single comment is used to express more than one idea, N the text relevant to the idea in bold italics. P Intro to the scientific process It helps enhance the student’s knowledge of conducting an experiment, the scientific method, and a subject outside of school. P Communication or It builds up one’s ability to present one’s scientific findings or observations. presentation skills P Intro to scientific knowledge Science Fairs encourage students to learn new things in science in specific areas that interest them, which might lead to a future career in the science department. P Career interests Science Fairs encourage students to learn new things in science in specific areas that interest them, which might lead to a future career in the science department. P Competition incentive Competition is a motivation for many students who want to be known as the best. P General learning It is a good opportunity for students to build their education level and thinking. P Other positive Some people do not want to spend a lot of time working on a project that they don’t want to do, but I myself had a lot of fun doing it. N Not everyone interested in Because not everyone has a passion for science science N Too much stress/pressure I feel that many kids are stressed with other assignments . . . one more project is the last thing they need N No enjoyment and negative Because people shouldn’t be forced to do something they don't want to do. attitude Also people might not have the time or resources to do a science project. N Negative behaviors and There are many people who put forth no effort in their projects and make up consequences data. N No time/money Because people shouldn’t be forced to do something they don’t want to do. Also people might not have the time or resources to do a science project. N No value Doing a basic project, like most people do, is more harmful then helpful, and serves no purpose other than wasting time N Don’t like to compete Some people just like to research and not compete N Don’t like to make public Not all students may be comfortable speaking in front of people. presentations N Other negative They’re [sic] certain way of having things done isn’t the way everybody normally works. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237.t003 effective, inclusive and equitable learning experience. More than 300 students completed sur- veys during 2017 and 2018, representing about 0.5% of the students that participated in high school science fair via Scienteer. Student demographics and answers to questions regarding sources of help, types of help received, obstacles encountered, and ways of overcoming obsta- cles were very similar comparing the 2017 and 2018 responders. That more than 80% of the 2017/2018 national students wrote thoughtful answers to the open-ended text questions was an indication that the students took the surveys seriously. The finding that >95% of the posi- tive student comments about science fair were given by the 20–25% of students who said that science fair should be required also provided validation of the survey responses. A potential limitation of our study is the small size of the study population relative to the total number of students participating. Nevertheless, we observed many overlapping features of science fair experience between the national cohort (low response rate/large data set) and previously described regional cohort (high response rate/small data set) [10, 11]. Articles on the internet, teachers, and parents were the main sources of help; time pressure and coming up with the idea were the main obstacles; more background research and perseverance were the PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 11 / 17 High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes Fig 7. Distribution of student reasons positive and negative to require science fair. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237.g007 main ways to overcome obstacles; fine-tuning the report and developing the idea were impor- tant types of help received. This similarity supports our previous conclusion that many features of science fair are common to students notwithstanding the diversity of science fair formats. One major difference between the national and region groups concerned the requirement to participate in science fair, that is, 68% of the national students vs. 8% of the regional stu- dents. The finding that 68% of the national students were required to participate in science fair suggests that NSTA guidance about voluntary student participation [9] is widely ignored, at least from the students’ perception. We cannot tell if the students understand “required to do science fair” differently from their schools’ intentions, e.g., required to participate in science fair to get into an advanced class or to increase one’s grade is not exactly truly required but can be perceived that way. PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 12 / 17 High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes Fig 8. Distribution of student reasons positive and negative to require science fair depending on whether or not students say science fair increased their interest in science. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237.g008 Two other major differences between the national and regional groups–coaching for the interview and help from articles in books and magazines–may reflect the highly supportive practices to incentivize rather than require student science fair participation by the North Texas suburban school district where most of the regional students attended. Local school dis- trict support clearly can have an impact on some aspects of student science fair experience. Moreover, the same group of experiential differences along with receiving help from teachers and doing more background research to overcome obstacles was characteristic of students who said that science fair participation increased their interest in the sciences or engineering, and who reported more perseverance and less difficulty becoming motivated. PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 13 / 17 High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes Compared to the regional students [11], the 2017/2018 national group of students showed some noteworthy differences in their open-ended text comments. For instance, they men- tioned the positive value of science fair towards general learning (7.9% & 4.2%) as well as intro to scientific process (7.9% & 0.7%), whereas few of the regional students mentioned general learning as an outcome of science fair. Also, they mentioned as negative reasons too much stress/pressure (5.4% & 4.8%) and no value (6.1% & 3.2%), neither of which was emphasized by the regional DRSEF students. And the negative comment don't like to make public presenta- tions (0.2% & 4.8%) made by the 2017/2018 students might reflect directly the lower number of students who reported receiving coaching for the interview. Overall, the findings with the 2017/2018 national group of students are consistent with idea that the students’ focus switches from competition to learning when thinking about competi- tive vs. non-competitive science fair. For instance, regarding competitive science fair, the top negative reasons given by students were don’t like to compete (22%) and no enjoyment/overall negative attitude (13%); the top positive reason was competition incentive (14%). By contrast, the most common negative reasons about non-competitive science fair were no enjoyment/ overall negative attitude (22%) and no time/money (17%); the top positive reasons were general learning (7.9%) and intro to scientific process (7.9%). The potential value of non-competitive science fair in which judges assess on a sliding scale student progress towards mastery of the different practices of science has been described by others, albeit not for high school students [21–24]. By emphasizing learning vs. competing, the non-competitive approach would be consistent with student motivation and goal orientation theory, i.e., mastery (competition with oneself with emphasis on understanding and improving skills and knowledge) vs. performance (competing with others with emphasis on demonstrat- ing high ability and grades) [25–27]. Increasing student interest in science represents one of the most important potential posi- tive outcomes of science fair. Previous research by others had shown that participating in sci- ence competitions helped to maintain high school student interest in pursuing science education and science careers albeit to a small extent, but those studies did not take into account whether or not students were required to do science fair [28–32]. Other research has analyzed student motivations and the benefits of participating in science fair, but here too the impact of requiring science fair participation was not taken into consideration [33–35]. Our data shows that being required to participate in science fair can have the practical con- sequence of decreasing the positive impact on students. We found that about 60% of the stu- dents surveyed said that participating in science fair increased their interest in the sciences or engineering. That number was significantly higher if the students had chosen to participate in science fair rather than been required to do so. Indeed, requiring science fair participation decreased the positive impact of science fair regardless whether or not the students said they were interested in a career in the sciences or engineering. In the worst case, ~10% of the stu- dents who said that they were not interested in a career and were required to do science fair engaged in research misconduct, i.e. copying their project from someone else or making up the data. None of the regional high school students in our previous study reporting making up their data [10], but few were required to participate in science fair as has been discussed. On the other hand, 24% (5 of 21) of students, all of whom were required to participate in the 2000 Bell Montreal regional science fair, were reported to make up their data [14]. Taken together, the foregoing findings emphasize that requiring students to participate in science fair can have a negative outcome. Perhaps an analogous situation occurs when professional scientists per- ceive their institutional environments as unfair and, as a result, say that they are more likely to engage in research misconduct [36]. PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 14 / 17 High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes In conclusion, our results lend strong empirical support to NSTA guidance that participa- tion in science competitions should be voluntary [9]. The challenge will be for school districts to find ways to incentivize an activity that requires so much time and effort. Our findings also suggest that offering students a noncompetitive science fair option could provide a way to pro- mote the NSTA goal that science fair emphasis should be on the learning experience rather than the competition and would be an especially important option for students who do not like to compete. Finally, the availability of two kinds of science fairs—competitive and non- competitive—may help achieve the dual objectives of science education—science for the scien- tists and engineers of the future and science for everyone [37]. Recently, we put forth these pol- icy ideas in a commentary in NSTA Reports [12]. In future studies, we hope to gain further insights about student science fair experience though new survey questions that we have added regarding high school geographic location and student ethnicity. Supporting information S1 Data set. Excel dataset showing all of the survey questions and answers for 2017 surveys. (XLSX) S2 Data set. Excel dataset showing all of the survey questions and answers for 2018 surveys. (XLSX) S3 Data set. Excel dataset showing the complete set of reason category assignments. (XLSX) S1 Survey. Survey questions. (PDF) S1 Fig. Frequency of student answers to the question “Who helped you with your science fair project?”. (TIF) S2 Fig. Frequency of student answers to the question “What kind of help did you receive doing science fair?”. (TIF) S3 Fig. Frequency of student answers to the question “In your science fair project, what obstacles did you face?”. (TIF) S4 Fig. Frequency of student answers to the question “In your science fair project, how did you overcome obstacles?”. (TIF) S5 Fig. Distribution of reasons positive and negative to require science fair depending on whether students said science fair should be required or optional. (TIF) Acknowledgments We are grateful to Russell Cowen and Rocky Slavin, managers of Scienteer Technologies, who incorporated the parental consent and science fair survey REDCap link into the Scienteer web- site and continue to provide ongoing oversight and management of survey access. Use of RED- Cap survey and data management tool was facilitated by the UTSW Department of Population and Data Sciences and Clinical and Translational Science Training Program. Karen Shepherd PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 15 / 17 High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes (Plano Independent School District) and Dr. Ann Batenburg (Southern Methodist University) helped with survey development. Dr. Shannon A. Scielzo (UT Southwestern) advised us about survey metrics. Author Contributions Conceptualization: Frederick Grinnell. Data curation: Frederick Grinnell. Formal analysis: Frederick Grinnell, Simon Dalley, Joan Reisch. Investigation: Frederick Grinnell, Simon Dalley. Methodology: Frederick Grinnell, Simon Dalley, Joan Reisch. Project administration: Frederick Grinnell, Simon Dalley. Supervision: Frederick Grinnell. Validation: Frederick Grinnell, Simon Dalley, Joan Reisch. Writing – original draft: Frederick Grinnell. Writing – review & editing: Frederick Grinnell, Simon Dalley, Joan Reisch. References 1. NGSS Lead States. Next Generation Science Standards For States, By States. Volume 1: The Stan- dards—Arranged by Disciplinary Core Ideas and by Topics. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press; 2013. 2. Rudolph JL. How We Teach Science-What s Changed, and Why It Matters: Harvard University Press; 3. McComas WF. Science fair: A new look at an old tradition. The Science Teacher. 2011; 78(8):34–8. 4. Rillero P, Zambo R. The Judge’s Perspective. The Science Teacher. 2011; 78(8):44. 5. Paul J, Lederman NG, Groß J. Learning experimentation through science fairs. International Journal of Science Education. 2016; 38(15):2367–87. 6. Mackey K, Culbertson T. Science fairs for science literacy. Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union. 2014; 95(10):89–90. 7. Tai RH, Mitchell CE. Science Fairs. SAGE Encyclopedia of Out-of-School Learning, edited by Kylie A Peppler. 2017;http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/utd/detail.action?docID=4839834:676-8. 8. President Barack Obama. Remarks by the President in State of Union Address. wwwwhitehousegov/ the-press-office/2011/01/25/remarks-president-state-union-address. 2011. 9. National Science Teaching Association. NSTA Position Statement on Science Competitions. wwwnstaorg/about/positions/competitionsaspx. 2016. 10. Grinnell F, Dalley S, Shepherd K, Reisch J. High school science fair and research integrity. PLOS ONE. 2017; 12(3):e0174252. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0174252 PMID: 28328976 11. Grinnell F, Dalley S, Shepherd K, Reisch J. High school science fair: Student opinions regarding whether participation should be required or optional and why. PLOS ONE. 2018; 13(8):e0202320. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0202320 PMID: 30096184 12. Grinnell F, Dalley S. How to make science fairs more effective. NSTA Reports. 2020; 31(5):3. 13. Harris PA, Taylor R, Thielke R, Payne J, Gonzalez N, Conde JG. Research electronic data capture (REDCap)—a metadata-driven methodology and workflow process for providing translational research informatics support. Journal of biomedical informatics. 2009; 42(2):377–81. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbi. 2008.08.010 PMID: 18929686 14. Syer CA, Shore BM. Science Fairs: What Are the Sources of Help for Students and How Prevalent Is Cheating? School Science and Mathematics. 2001;http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1949- 8594.2001.tb18023.x/full. 15. Kent R, Brandal H. Improving email response in a permission marketing context. International Journal of Market Research. 2003; 45(4):1–13. PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 16 / 17 High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes 16. Van Mol C. Improving web survey efficiency: the impact of an extra reminder and reminder content on web survey response. International Journal of Social Research Methodology. 2017; 20(4):317–27. 17. Shih T-H, Fan X. Comparing response rates from web and mail surveys: A meta-analysis. Field meth- ods. 2008; 20(3):249–71. 18. Welsh E, editor Dealing with data: Using NVivo in the qualitative data analysis process. Forum Qualita- tive Sozialforschung/Forum: Qualitative Social Research; 2002. 19. Hutchison AJ, Johnston LH, Breckon JD. Using QSR-NVivo to facilitate the development of a grounded theory project: an account of a worked example. International Journal of Social Research Methodology. 2010; 13(4):283–302. 20. Martin PY, Turner BA. Grounded theory and organizational research. The journal of applied behavioral science. 1986; 22(2):141–57. 21. Carlisle RW, Deeter BC. A Research Study of Science Fairs. Science and Children. 1989; 26(4):24–6. 22. Grobman A. A Fair Proposition? Science Teacher. 1993; 60(1):40–1. 23. McBride JW, Silverman FL. Judging Fairs Fairly. Science and Children. 1988; 25(6):15–8. 24. Rillero P. A standards-based science fair. Science and Children. 2011; 48:32–6. 25. Ames C, Archer J. Achievement goals in the classroom: Students’ learning strategies and motivation processes. Journal of educational psychology. 1988; 80(3):260. 26. Meece JL, Anderman EM, Anderman LH. Classroom goal structure, student motivation, and academic achievement. Annu Rev Psychol. 2006; 57:487–503. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.56. 091103.070258 PMID: 16318604 27. Kaplan A, Maehr ML. The contributions and prospects of goal orientation theory. Educational psychol- ogy review. 2007; 19(2):141–84. 28. Dabney KP, Tai RH, Almarode JT, Miller-Friedmann JL, Sonnert G, Sadler PM, et al. Out-of-school time science activities and their association with career interest in STEM. International Journal of Sci- ence Education, Part B. 2012; 2(1):63–79. 29. Sahin A. STEM clubs and science fair competitions: Effects on post-secondary matriculation. Journal of STEM Education. 2013; 14(1):5–11. 30. Dawes LA, Long S, Whiteford C, Richardson K, editors. Why are students choosing STEM and when do they make their choice? Proceedings of 26th Annual Conference of the Australasian Association for Engineering; 2015: School of Engineering, Deakin University. 31. Sahin A, Ekmekci A, Waxman HC. The relationships among high school STEM learning experiences, expectations, and mathematics and science efficacy and the likelihood of majoring in STEM in college. International Journal of Science Education. 2017; 39(11):1549–72. 32. Miller K, Sonnert G, Sadler P. The influence of students’ participation in STEM competitions on their interest in STEM careers. International Journal of Science Education, Part B. 2018; 8(2):95–114. 33. Abernathy TV, Vineyard RN. Academic competitions in science: What are the rewards for students? The Clearing House. 2001; 74(5):269–76. 34. Dionne L, Reis G, Trudel L, Guillet G, Kleine L, Hancianu C. Students’sources of motivation for partici- pating in science fairs: An exploratory study within the Canada-wide science fair 2008. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education. 2012; 10(3):669–93. 35. Schmidt KM, Kelter P. Science Fairs: A Qualitative Study of Their Impact on Student Science Inquiry Learning and Attitudes toward STEM. Science Educator. 2017; 25(2):126–32. 36. Martinson BC, Anderson MS, Crain AL, de Vries R. Scientists’ perceptions of organizational justice and self-reported misbehaviors. J Empir Res Hum Res Ethics. 2006; 1(1):51–66. https://doi.org/10.1525/jer. 2006.1.1.51 PMID: 16810337 37. National Research Council. A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Con- cepts, and Core Ideas. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press; 2012. PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 17 / 17 http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png PLoS ONE Public Library of Science (PLoS) Journal

High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes

PLoS ONE, Volume 15 (2) – Feb 13, 2020

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Copyright: © 2020 Grinnell et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Data Availability: All relevant data are within the manuscript and its Supporting Information files Funding: FG was supported by the Robert McLemore Professorship. SD was supported by a Sam Taylor Fellowship and a Maguire Ethics Center Faculty Incentive Grant. Use of the REDCap survey and data management tool was facilitated by the UTSW Department of Information Resources and Clinical and Translational Science Training Program, NIH grant UL1TR001105. The REDCap funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.
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a1111111111 a1111111111 The goal of our ongoing research is to identify strengths and weaknesses of high school a1111111111 level science fair and improvements that can help science educators make science fair a more effective, inclusive and equitable learning experience. In this paper, we confirm and extend our previous findings in several important ways. We added new questions to our anonymous and voluntary surveys to learn the extent to which students had an interest in OPENACCESS science or engineering careers and if science fair participation increased their interest in sci- Citation: Grinnell F, Dalley S, Reisch J (2020) High ence or engineering. And we surveyed a national rather than regional high school student school science fair: Positive and negative group by incorporating our survey into the Scienteer online portal now used by Texas and outcomes. PLoS ONE 15(2): e0229237. https://doi. org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 some other states for science fair registration, parental consent, and project management. We learned that about ~60% of the more than 300 students in the national cohorts complet- Editor: Christine E. King, University of California Irvine, UNITED STATES ing surveys in 2017 and 2018 said that they were interested in a career in science or engi- neering, and ~60% said that participating in science fair increased their interest in science or Received: August 5, 2019 engineering. About two-thirds of the students were required to participate in science fair, Accepted: February 1, 2020 and that requirement reduced the frequency of students who said that science fair increased Published: February 13, 2020 their interest. In the worst case, ~10% of the students who said that they were not interested Copyright:© 2020 Grinnell et al. This is an open in a career in science or engineering and who were required to participate in science fair access article distributed under the terms of the engaged in research misconduct (i.e., plagiarism and making up their results). Students’ Creative Commons Attribution License, which positive comments about competition in science fair focused on the competition incentive, permits unrestricted use, distribution, and whereas their positive comments about science fair that was non-competitive focused on reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. learning about the scientific process and learning in general. We discuss the findings in the context of National Science Teaching Association guidance about voluntary science fair par- Data Availability Statement: All relevant data are within the manuscript and its Supporting ticipation and begin to identify features of science fair practice consistent with increased stu- Information files dent interest in the sciences or engineering. Funding: FG was supported by the Robert McLemore Professorship. SD was supported by a Sam Taylor Fellowship and a Maguire Ethics Center Faculty Incentive Grant. Use of the REDCap survey and data management tool was facilitated by the UTSW Department of Information Resources and Introduction Clinical and Translational Science Training Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) identifies experiencing the practices of science as Program, NIH grant UL1TR001105. The REDCap funders had no role in study design, data collection one of three essential dimensions of science education, “students cannot comprehend PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 1 / 17 High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of scientific practices, nor fully appreciate the nature of scientific knowledge itself, without the manuscript. directly experiencing those practices for themselves” [1]. The question how to integrate the practice of science into science curricula is not new. Debates about how to do so permeate the Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist. history of science education [2]. Science fairs offer students an attractive opportunity to experi- ence the practices of science for themselves because students who participate go through the processes of selecting a problem and question to answer; designing and implementing experi- ments to answer the question; analyzing and drawing conclusions from the experiments; and explaining the findings to others through interviews and poster presentations [3–7]. Science fairs receive a lot of public attention. President Obama stated in his 2011 State of the Union Address, We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair [8]. The film Science Fair won the 2018 Sundance Film Festival festival favorite award. A 2019 GEICO television commercial “Science Fair of the Future” had more than 11 million views on YouTube in its first month. Nevertheless, despite the long history and wide implementation as part of informal and formal science education in the United States, few published research studies examine how science fair participation affects student engagement with science [7]. National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) guidance takes the position that student participation in science fairs should be voluntary with emphasis placed on the learning experience rather than on the com- petition [9]. However, whether most students who participate in high school science fair are required or choose to participate and to what extent the students perceive science fairs as emphasizing learning vs. competition are open research questions. The overarching hypothesis guiding our research is that a better understanding of science fair practices will help science educators make science fair a more effective, inclusive and equi- table learning experience. Rather than theoretical, our aim is to improve the practical imple- mentation of science fairs based on an analysis of students’ high school science fair experiences. We began our research during 2014, conducting surveys with a group of regional high school students who had just competed in the Dallas Regional Science and Engineering Fair (DRSEF) and with post high school students on biomedical science educational trajecto- ries doing research at UT Southwestern Medical Center. The post high school students may or may not have participated in science fair. The surveys were anonymous and voluntary and characterized student experiences by asking them in addition to demographic information to identify sources of help they received, types of help received, obstacles encountered, and ways of overcoming obstacles [10, 11]. In this paper, we confirm and extend our previous findings in several important ways. First, we added new survey questions to learn the extent to which students had an interest in science or engineering careers and if science fair participation increased their interest in science and engineering. Second, we surveyed a national group of high school students by incorporating our survey into the Scienteer (www.scienteer.com) online portal now used by Texas and some other states for science fair registration, parental consent, and project management. We found that about 2/3 of the students in the national cohort who completed surveys in 2017 and 2018 had been required to participate in science fair and observed negative consequences of requir- ing participation on student science fair experiences and attitudes. Some policy implications of the latest findings have been put forth in a recent NSTA Reports commentary [12]. Materials and methods This study was approved by the UT Southwestern Medical Center IRB (#STU 072014–076). Study design entailed administering to students a voluntary and anonymous online survey [10, 11] using the REDCap survey and data management tool [13]. Survey content, adapted from PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 2 / 17 High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes earlier research by others [14], was similar overall as our previous studies [10, 11] and included questions about student demographics, type of science fair participation, help expected and received, and obstacles encountered and solutions implemented to overcome obstacles. Also, the survey used in the current studies included new questions about student interest in a career in the sciences or engineering and the impact of science fair participation on interest in sci- ence. The survey can be found in supporting information (S1 Survey). High school students were invited to participate in the science fair survey through the Scienteer (www.scienteer.com) online portal used in Alabama, Maine, Missouri, Texas, Ver- mont, and Virginia for student science fair registration, parental consent, and project manage- ment. After giving consent for their students to participate in science fair, parents could consent for their students to take part in the science fair survey. To prevent any misunder- standing by parents or students about a possible impact of agreeing to participate or actually participating in the survey, access was not available to students until after they finished all of their science fair activities. Students were instructed to log in to Scienteer after completing the final science fair activity in which they participated. Those who did so were presented with an alert and hyperlink to the science fair survey. No incentives were offered for participation, and Scienteer does not send out reminder emails. Table 1 summarizes the student survey response rate. Of the students who clicked on the hyperlink, 20–25% completed the surveys. We don’t know if some students logged back into Scienteer but did not click on the hyperlink so the maximum response rate would have been ~20%. Overall, students who completed surveys represented slightly more than 0.5% of all stu- dents who signed up for science fair through Scienteer. Given that participation in the survey involved an indirect, single electronic invitation without incentive or follow-up, a low response rate was not surprising [15–17]. Most of the submitted surveys (>90%) were complete and non-duplicates. These surveys were used for data analysis. The complete survey data sets for students who participated during 2017 and 2018 school years can be found in supporting information (S1 Dataset and S2 Dataset). Quantitative data were analyzed by frequency counts and percentages. Data were sorted to compare different answer selections. Significance of potential relationships between data items was assessed using relevant statistical methods, e.g., Chi-square contingency tables for inde- pendent groups. Results shown in the figures are presented two ways—graphically to make overall trends easier to appreciate and in tables beneath the graphs to show the actual numbers. A probability value of 0.05 or smaller was accepted as statistically significant but actual p values are indicated where significant differences were observed. Results for 2017 and 2018 national cohorts are shown separately in Figs 1–3 and S1–S4 Figs but otherwise combined. Qualitative text analysis for the open-ended text questions was accomplished as described previously [11] using an approach modeled on NVivo [18, 19] based on grounded theory [20]. More than 80% of the students who completed surveys wrote comments about why science fairs should be optional or required. Two members of the research team (FG and SD) indepen- dently coded students’ comments, which were categorized into a matrix of shared student Table 1. Student survey responses. Summary of Survey Responses 2017 2018 Total Scienteer students 34,976 24,516 Parents consented 10,382 20,058 Students clicked on survey hyperlink 1,089 769 Survey records uploaded including incomplete and duplicate submissions 255 150 Complete surveys included in analysis 223 140 https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237.t001 PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 3 / 17 High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes Fig 1. Student demographics. Summary of student survey demographic information. Most but not all students answered every demographic question. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237.g001 reasons (nodes). The independently coded matrices were revised and harmonized into 16 Rea- son Why categories why science fair should be required or optional. Longer student comments frequently expressed more than one idea, in which case the comments were coded into more than one Reason Why category, and which is why the number of reasons exceeds the total number of student comments. The complete set of student answers to the Reason Why ques- tion and corresponding reason category assignments can be found in supporting information (S3 Dataset). Results Survey demographics Fig 1 shows the similarity of student responder cohorts in 2017 and 2018. Most students who th th participated in the survey (~75%) were in 9 and 10 grades. More girls than boys completed surveys. About one in three students had carried out science fair more than once. The surveys are anonymous; therefore, we do not know if any students who completed surveys in 2017 also did so in 2018, but the survey instructs the students that if they carried out science fair more PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 4 / 17 High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes Fig 2. Summary of student science fair experiences regarding help and obstacles. Data are summarized from S1–S4 Figs. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237.g002 than once, then they should answer the survey questions according to their most recent experi- ences. Three out of four student projects were individual. Overall, 65–70% of the students who participated in science fair reported that they were required to do so. Since the survey does not provide ancillary information regarding what it means for science fair to be required, the students’ answers reflect how they felt about their participation. We cannot tell if they understand “required to do science fair” differently from their schools’ intentions, e.g., required to participate in science fair to get into an advanced class or to increase one’s grade is not the same as truly required but can be perceived that way. PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 5 / 17 High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes Fig 3. Frequency of student answers to the questions regarding student interest in a career in the sciences or engineering, impact of science fair on interest in science, and attitude towards requiring science fair. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237.g003 Student experiences in high school science fair–help and obstacles Student answers to questions regarding sources of help, types of help received, obstacles encountered, and ways of overcoming obstacles were very similar comparing the 2017 and 2018 responders. Fig 2 presents a graphical summary of the results with details in the corre- sponding supplemental figures S1–S4 Figs. The most frequent student selections are labeled. (A) Parents, teachers, and articles on the internet were the main sources of help reported by more than 50% of the students. (B) No more than 35% of the students reported receiving any particular type of help with the most fre- quent types of help received developing the idea, background information and fine-tuning the report. Even though only about a third of students received any particular type of help, a large majority of students reported receiving the kind and amount of help that they wanted from teachers (see S2 Fig). (C) Regarding obstacles faced, the most frequent selections were getting the idea, getting motivated, limited resources, and (above all) time. (D) Overcoming obstacles was accomplished most often by picking a familiar topic, doing more background research, and perseverance. Five of the students indicated that they used someone else’s data (D, #12) and 15 said they made up their data (D, #13) (see S4 Fig). Comparison of national and regional student experiences In Table 2, we compare the most frequent selections by the 2017–2018 national student groups (averaged) with data previously published based on surveys of regional students [10]. Most of the top choices (item rank) of the national and regional groups overlapped in every category. One major difference was that 85% of the regional students reported receiving coaching for PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 6 / 17 High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes Table 2. Comparison of highest ranked selections from national and regional student survey results. Survey Item Student Group National Item rank Regional Item rank % (#) of 363 % (#) of 64 students students Sources of help received Articles on internet 57.9 (210) 1 53.8 (35) 3 (9 options) Teachers 55.4 (201) 2 69.2 (45) 1 Parents 51.0 (185) 3 41.5 (27) 4 Articles in Books or Magazines 24.0 (87) 4 64.6 (42) 2 Types of help received Fine-tuning report 32.2 (117) 1 47.7 (31) 2 (10 options) Developing idea 26.2 (95) 2 29.2 (19) 4 Background information & finding research site and participants 25.9 (94) 3 36.9 (24) 3 Coaching for the Interview 22.0 (80) 5 84.6 (55) 1 What obstacles did you encounter? Time pressure 44.6 (162) 1 64.6 (42) 1 (11 options) Coming up with the idea 57.3 (208) 2 63.1 (41) 2 How did you overcome obstacles? More background research 48.5 (176) 1 72.3 (47) 1 (15 options) Perseverance and self-discipline 44.4 (161) 2 69.2 (45) 2 Required to do science fair 67.5 (245) 7.7 (5) https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237.t002 the interview compared to only 21% of the national students. This difference and several oth- ers—use of articles in books and magazines, more background research, and more persever- ance—are consistent with the highly supportive practices by the North Texas suburban school district where most of the regional students attended high school, and where students were incentivized rather than required to participate in science fair. Indeed, only 8% of the regional students were required to participate in science fair compared to 68% of the national students. Effect of science fair on student interest in a career in the sciences or engineering and the consequences of requiring science fair participation An important positive outcome of science fair would be for students to become more inter- ested in science. Fig 3 presents an overview of student answers to two related questions, one regarding the students’ interests in a career in the sciences or engineering, and the other regarding whether science fair participation increased their interest in science or engineering. About 60% of the students overall said they were interested in a career in the sciences or engi- neering; 15% said they were not; and the remainder were unsure. Also, about 60% of the stu- dents said that science fair participation increased their interest in the sciences or engineering. As an indirect means to assess how students viewed the value of science fair, we asked the quantitative question: Do you think science fair should be required or optional? and the qualita- tive, open-ended text question: Reason Why? And we asked these questions for both competi- tive and non-competitive science fair to provide insights about student attitudes towards competition per se. Fig 3 shows the quantitative finding. Similar to previously reported results for the regional high school students [11], only 1 in 5 of the national students favored requiring science fair competition. That number was marginally but not significantly higher if science fair was described as non-competitive vs. competitive. Qualitative results of the open-ended text question will be described later. Fig 4 shows some differences that reached significance comparing students who said that science fair did vs. did not increase their interest in science. Not surprisingly, the impact of sci- ence fair participation on student interest paralleled student attitudes towards a career in the sciences or engineering. In addition, students who reported that science fair increased their PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 7 / 17 High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes Fig 4. Differences in student experiences depending on whether students said that science fair increased their interest in science. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237.g004 interest in science or engineering were more likely to have received help from teachers, from articles in books and magazines, and coaching for the interview. More of these students did additional background research and they reported more perseverance and self-discipline. Con- versely, students required to do science fair were less likely to say that science fair participation increased their interest in the sciences and engineering and more likely to report that getting motivated was an obstacle. Figs 5 and 6 show more clearly the negative impact of requiring science fair. Fig 5 shows that regardless whether or not students were interested in a career in science or engineering, requiring them to participate in science fair decreased the number who said that participating in science fair increased their interest. Fig 6 shows that students who were required to partici- pate in science fair were more likely to use someone else’s data or make up their data. Overall, ~10% of the students who also said they were not interested in a career in the sciences or engi- neering and were required to participate in science fair did one or the other. Rather than becoming more interested in science, these students committing research misconduct, i.e., using someone else’s data or making up their data. PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 8 / 17 High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes Fig 5. Students who say science fair increased their interest in science according to their interest in a career in the sciences or engineering and science fair requirement. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237.g005 Student reasons—Qualitative findings Given the voluntary and anonymous format of our surveys, interviewing students was not a possibility. However, the open-ended text questions asking students to state reasons why sci- ence fair should be optional or required provided a rich source of insights regarding student attitudes. A total of 314 students (86.5%) commented about non-competitive science fair and 301 students (82.9%) commented about competitive science fair regarding why science fair should be optional or required. That more than 80% of the students wrote thoughtful answers was one indication that the students took the surveys seriously. The independently coded matrices were organized into 16 Reason Why categories that con- tained 445 student reasons about non-competitive science fair and 378 student reasons about competitive science fair. Table 3 shows the categories (7 positive and 9 negative) and examples of the students’ comments. Longer comments frequently expressed more than one idea, in which case the comments were coded into more than one Reason Why category. For instance, the student comment, Science Fairs encourage students to learn new things in science in specific areas that interest them, which might lead to a future career in the science department, was placed into both the “Introduction to scientific knowledge” and “Career interests” categories. Fig 7 shows the frequency with which the positive and negative reasons were mentioned. The order of reasons is the same as in Table 3. Negative reasons outnumbered positive ones for both non-competitive (314 vs. 131) and competitive (277 vs. 101) science fair, but the rea- son categories differed. For non-competitive science fair, the most frequently mentioned nega- tive reasons were “No enjoyment/negative attitude” (~22% of the students) and “No time/ money” (~17% of the students); whereas for competitive science fair, the most frequently men- tioned negative reason was “Don’t like to compete” (~22% of the students). The most PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 9 / 17 High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes Fig 6. Research misconduct by students depending on science fair requirement and interest in a career in the sciences or engineering. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237.g006 frequently mentioned positive reasons for non-competitive science fair were “Introduction to the scientific process” and “General learning” (each ~8% of the students) vs. “Competition incentive” (~14% of the students) for competitive science fair. If the results in Fig 7 were sorted according to students’ quantitative responses to the ques- tion whether or not science fair should be required, then 21–26% of students who said that sci- ence fair should be required accounted for 98% of the positive reasons regarding non- competitive science fair and 95% of the positive reasons regarding competitive science fair (S5 Fig). That the students’ open-ended comments compared favorably to their quantitative answers demonstrated internal survey consistency. Fig 8 sorts the results in Fig 7 according to students’ quantitative responses to the question whether participating in science fair increased their interest in science. Students who said that science fair increased their interest in science or engineering were more likely to write positive comments in every category, especially introduction to process of science and general learning. Also, these students were more likely to select “competition incentive” for competitive science fair. On the other hand, these students were just as likely to offer negative comments about sci- ence fair, especially about negative behaviors and consequences regarding non-competitive sci- ence fair and about disliking having to make a public presentation for competitive science fair. Discussion The goal of our ongoing research is to identify strengths and weaknesses of high school level science fair and improvements that can help science educators make science fair a more PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 10 / 17 High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes Table 3. Student reasons about science fair requirements organized according to positive (P) and negative (N) reasons with examples. P/ Reason Category Examples—When a single comment is used to express more than one idea, N the text relevant to the idea in bold italics. P Intro to the scientific process It helps enhance the student’s knowledge of conducting an experiment, the scientific method, and a subject outside of school. P Communication or It builds up one’s ability to present one’s scientific findings or observations. presentation skills P Intro to scientific knowledge Science Fairs encourage students to learn new things in science in specific areas that interest them, which might lead to a future career in the science department. P Career interests Science Fairs encourage students to learn new things in science in specific areas that interest them, which might lead to a future career in the science department. P Competition incentive Competition is a motivation for many students who want to be known as the best. P General learning It is a good opportunity for students to build their education level and thinking. P Other positive Some people do not want to spend a lot of time working on a project that they don’t want to do, but I myself had a lot of fun doing it. N Not everyone interested in Because not everyone has a passion for science science N Too much stress/pressure I feel that many kids are stressed with other assignments . . . one more project is the last thing they need N No enjoyment and negative Because people shouldn’t be forced to do something they don't want to do. attitude Also people might not have the time or resources to do a science project. N Negative behaviors and There are many people who put forth no effort in their projects and make up consequences data. N No time/money Because people shouldn’t be forced to do something they don’t want to do. Also people might not have the time or resources to do a science project. N No value Doing a basic project, like most people do, is more harmful then helpful, and serves no purpose other than wasting time N Don’t like to compete Some people just like to research and not compete N Don’t like to make public Not all students may be comfortable speaking in front of people. presentations N Other negative They’re [sic] certain way of having things done isn’t the way everybody normally works. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237.t003 effective, inclusive and equitable learning experience. More than 300 students completed sur- veys during 2017 and 2018, representing about 0.5% of the students that participated in high school science fair via Scienteer. Student demographics and answers to questions regarding sources of help, types of help received, obstacles encountered, and ways of overcoming obsta- cles were very similar comparing the 2017 and 2018 responders. That more than 80% of the 2017/2018 national students wrote thoughtful answers to the open-ended text questions was an indication that the students took the surveys seriously. The finding that >95% of the posi- tive student comments about science fair were given by the 20–25% of students who said that science fair should be required also provided validation of the survey responses. A potential limitation of our study is the small size of the study population relative to the total number of students participating. Nevertheless, we observed many overlapping features of science fair experience between the national cohort (low response rate/large data set) and previously described regional cohort (high response rate/small data set) [10, 11]. Articles on the internet, teachers, and parents were the main sources of help; time pressure and coming up with the idea were the main obstacles; more background research and perseverance were the PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 11 / 17 High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes Fig 7. Distribution of student reasons positive and negative to require science fair. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237.g007 main ways to overcome obstacles; fine-tuning the report and developing the idea were impor- tant types of help received. This similarity supports our previous conclusion that many features of science fair are common to students notwithstanding the diversity of science fair formats. One major difference between the national and region groups concerned the requirement to participate in science fair, that is, 68% of the national students vs. 8% of the regional stu- dents. The finding that 68% of the national students were required to participate in science fair suggests that NSTA guidance about voluntary student participation [9] is widely ignored, at least from the students’ perception. We cannot tell if the students understand “required to do science fair” differently from their schools’ intentions, e.g., required to participate in science fair to get into an advanced class or to increase one’s grade is not exactly truly required but can be perceived that way. PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 12 / 17 High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes Fig 8. Distribution of student reasons positive and negative to require science fair depending on whether or not students say science fair increased their interest in science. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237.g008 Two other major differences between the national and regional groups–coaching for the interview and help from articles in books and magazines–may reflect the highly supportive practices to incentivize rather than require student science fair participation by the North Texas suburban school district where most of the regional students attended. Local school dis- trict support clearly can have an impact on some aspects of student science fair experience. Moreover, the same group of experiential differences along with receiving help from teachers and doing more background research to overcome obstacles was characteristic of students who said that science fair participation increased their interest in the sciences or engineering, and who reported more perseverance and less difficulty becoming motivated. PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 13 / 17 High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes Compared to the regional students [11], the 2017/2018 national group of students showed some noteworthy differences in their open-ended text comments. For instance, they men- tioned the positive value of science fair towards general learning (7.9% & 4.2%) as well as intro to scientific process (7.9% & 0.7%), whereas few of the regional students mentioned general learning as an outcome of science fair. Also, they mentioned as negative reasons too much stress/pressure (5.4% & 4.8%) and no value (6.1% & 3.2%), neither of which was emphasized by the regional DRSEF students. And the negative comment don't like to make public presenta- tions (0.2% & 4.8%) made by the 2017/2018 students might reflect directly the lower number of students who reported receiving coaching for the interview. Overall, the findings with the 2017/2018 national group of students are consistent with idea that the students’ focus switches from competition to learning when thinking about competi- tive vs. non-competitive science fair. For instance, regarding competitive science fair, the top negative reasons given by students were don’t like to compete (22%) and no enjoyment/overall negative attitude (13%); the top positive reason was competition incentive (14%). By contrast, the most common negative reasons about non-competitive science fair were no enjoyment/ overall negative attitude (22%) and no time/money (17%); the top positive reasons were general learning (7.9%) and intro to scientific process (7.9%). The potential value of non-competitive science fair in which judges assess on a sliding scale student progress towards mastery of the different practices of science has been described by others, albeit not for high school students [21–24]. By emphasizing learning vs. competing, the non-competitive approach would be consistent with student motivation and goal orientation theory, i.e., mastery (competition with oneself with emphasis on understanding and improving skills and knowledge) vs. performance (competing with others with emphasis on demonstrat- ing high ability and grades) [25–27]. Increasing student interest in science represents one of the most important potential posi- tive outcomes of science fair. Previous research by others had shown that participating in sci- ence competitions helped to maintain high school student interest in pursuing science education and science careers albeit to a small extent, but those studies did not take into account whether or not students were required to do science fair [28–32]. Other research has analyzed student motivations and the benefits of participating in science fair, but here too the impact of requiring science fair participation was not taken into consideration [33–35]. Our data shows that being required to participate in science fair can have the practical con- sequence of decreasing the positive impact on students. We found that about 60% of the stu- dents surveyed said that participating in science fair increased their interest in the sciences or engineering. That number was significantly higher if the students had chosen to participate in science fair rather than been required to do so. Indeed, requiring science fair participation decreased the positive impact of science fair regardless whether or not the students said they were interested in a career in the sciences or engineering. In the worst case, ~10% of the stu- dents who said that they were not interested in a career and were required to do science fair engaged in research misconduct, i.e. copying their project from someone else or making up the data. None of the regional high school students in our previous study reporting making up their data [10], but few were required to participate in science fair as has been discussed. On the other hand, 24% (5 of 21) of students, all of whom were required to participate in the 2000 Bell Montreal regional science fair, were reported to make up their data [14]. Taken together, the foregoing findings emphasize that requiring students to participate in science fair can have a negative outcome. Perhaps an analogous situation occurs when professional scientists per- ceive their institutional environments as unfair and, as a result, say that they are more likely to engage in research misconduct [36]. PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 14 / 17 High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes In conclusion, our results lend strong empirical support to NSTA guidance that participa- tion in science competitions should be voluntary [9]. The challenge will be for school districts to find ways to incentivize an activity that requires so much time and effort. Our findings also suggest that offering students a noncompetitive science fair option could provide a way to pro- mote the NSTA goal that science fair emphasis should be on the learning experience rather than the competition and would be an especially important option for students who do not like to compete. Finally, the availability of two kinds of science fairs—competitive and non- competitive—may help achieve the dual objectives of science education—science for the scien- tists and engineers of the future and science for everyone [37]. Recently, we put forth these pol- icy ideas in a commentary in NSTA Reports [12]. In future studies, we hope to gain further insights about student science fair experience though new survey questions that we have added regarding high school geographic location and student ethnicity. Supporting information S1 Data set. Excel dataset showing all of the survey questions and answers for 2017 surveys. (XLSX) S2 Data set. Excel dataset showing all of the survey questions and answers for 2018 surveys. (XLSX) S3 Data set. Excel dataset showing the complete set of reason category assignments. (XLSX) S1 Survey. Survey questions. (PDF) S1 Fig. Frequency of student answers to the question “Who helped you with your science fair project?”. (TIF) S2 Fig. Frequency of student answers to the question “What kind of help did you receive doing science fair?”. (TIF) S3 Fig. Frequency of student answers to the question “In your science fair project, what obstacles did you face?”. (TIF) S4 Fig. Frequency of student answers to the question “In your science fair project, how did you overcome obstacles?”. (TIF) S5 Fig. Distribution of reasons positive and negative to require science fair depending on whether students said science fair should be required or optional. (TIF) Acknowledgments We are grateful to Russell Cowen and Rocky Slavin, managers of Scienteer Technologies, who incorporated the parental consent and science fair survey REDCap link into the Scienteer web- site and continue to provide ongoing oversight and management of survey access. Use of RED- Cap survey and data management tool was facilitated by the UTSW Department of Population and Data Sciences and Clinical and Translational Science Training Program. Karen Shepherd PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 15 / 17 High school science fair: Positive and negative outcomes (Plano Independent School District) and Dr. Ann Batenburg (Southern Methodist University) helped with survey development. Dr. Shannon A. Scielzo (UT Southwestern) advised us about survey metrics. Author Contributions Conceptualization: Frederick Grinnell. Data curation: Frederick Grinnell. Formal analysis: Frederick Grinnell, Simon Dalley, Joan Reisch. Investigation: Frederick Grinnell, Simon Dalley. Methodology: Frederick Grinnell, Simon Dalley, Joan Reisch. Project administration: Frederick Grinnell, Simon Dalley. Supervision: Frederick Grinnell. Validation: Frederick Grinnell, Simon Dalley, Joan Reisch. Writing – original draft: Frederick Grinnell. Writing – review & editing: Frederick Grinnell, Simon Dalley, Joan Reisch. References 1. NGSS Lead States. Next Generation Science Standards For States, By States. Volume 1: The Stan- dards—Arranged by Disciplinary Core Ideas and by Topics. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press; 2013. 2. Rudolph JL. How We Teach Science-What s Changed, and Why It Matters: Harvard University Press; 3. McComas WF. Science fair: A new look at an old tradition. The Science Teacher. 2011; 78(8):34–8. 4. Rillero P, Zambo R. The Judge’s Perspective. The Science Teacher. 2011; 78(8):44. 5. Paul J, Lederman NG, Groß J. Learning experimentation through science fairs. International Journal of Science Education. 2016; 38(15):2367–87. 6. Mackey K, Culbertson T. Science fairs for science literacy. Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union. 2014; 95(10):89–90. 7. Tai RH, Mitchell CE. Science Fairs. SAGE Encyclopedia of Out-of-School Learning, edited by Kylie A Peppler. 2017;http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/utd/detail.action?docID=4839834:676-8. 8. President Barack Obama. Remarks by the President in State of Union Address. wwwwhitehousegov/ the-press-office/2011/01/25/remarks-president-state-union-address. 2011. 9. National Science Teaching Association. NSTA Position Statement on Science Competitions. wwwnstaorg/about/positions/competitionsaspx. 2016. 10. Grinnell F, Dalley S, Shepherd K, Reisch J. High school science fair and research integrity. PLOS ONE. 2017; 12(3):e0174252. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0174252 PMID: 28328976 11. Grinnell F, Dalley S, Shepherd K, Reisch J. High school science fair: Student opinions regarding whether participation should be required or optional and why. PLOS ONE. 2018; 13(8):e0202320. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0202320 PMID: 30096184 12. Grinnell F, Dalley S. How to make science fairs more effective. NSTA Reports. 2020; 31(5):3. 13. Harris PA, Taylor R, Thielke R, Payne J, Gonzalez N, Conde JG. 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Ames C, Archer J. Achievement goals in the classroom: Students’ learning strategies and motivation processes. Journal of educational psychology. 1988; 80(3):260. 26. Meece JL, Anderman EM, Anderman LH. Classroom goal structure, student motivation, and academic achievement. Annu Rev Psychol. 2006; 57:487–503. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.56. 091103.070258 PMID: 16318604 27. Kaplan A, Maehr ML. The contributions and prospects of goal orientation theory. Educational psychol- ogy review. 2007; 19(2):141–84. 28. Dabney KP, Tai RH, Almarode JT, Miller-Friedmann JL, Sonnert G, Sadler PM, et al. Out-of-school time science activities and their association with career interest in STEM. International Journal of Sci- ence Education, Part B. 2012; 2(1):63–79. 29. Sahin A. STEM clubs and science fair competitions: Effects on post-secondary matriculation. Journal of STEM Education. 2013; 14(1):5–11. 30. Dawes LA, Long S, Whiteford C, Richardson K, editors. 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Students’sources of motivation for partici- pating in science fairs: An exploratory study within the Canada-wide science fair 2008. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education. 2012; 10(3):669–93. 35. Schmidt KM, Kelter P. Science Fairs: A Qualitative Study of Their Impact on Student Science Inquiry Learning and Attitudes toward STEM. Science Educator. 2017; 25(2):126–32. 36. Martinson BC, Anderson MS, Crain AL, de Vries R. Scientists’ perceptions of organizational justice and self-reported misbehaviors. J Empir Res Hum Res Ethics. 2006; 1(1):51–66. https://doi.org/10.1525/jer. 2006.1.1.51 PMID: 16810337 37. National Research Council. A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Con- cepts, and Core Ideas. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press; 2012. PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229237 February 13, 2020 17 / 17

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