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Science fairs Capability: Engage with science NoS achievement aims: Investigating in science NoS achievement aims: Participating and contributing Contextual strands: Living world Contextual strands: Material world Contextual strands: Physical world Contextual strands: Planet Earth and beyond Level : 3,4

This resource illustrates how traditional science fair projects could be adapted to strengthen students’ capability to engage with science.

Curriculum Aims and AOs

The Nature of Science strand


Achievement objectives relevant to this resource

Investigating in science

Carry out science investigations using a variety of approaches: classifying and identifying, pattern seeking, exploring, investigating models, fair testing, making things, or developing systems.

L3 & 4:

Ask questions, find evidence, explore simple models, and carry out appropriate investigations to develop simple explanations.


Participating and contributing

Bring a scientific perspective to decisions and actions as appropriate.


Use their growing science knowledge when considering issues of concern to them.

Explore various aspects of an issue and make decisions about possible actions.

Living World, Material World, Physical World, Planet Earth and beyond


Achievement objectives relevant to this resource

Science fair projects could address any of the aims in any of the contextual strands, depending on the focus of the investigations.

Learning focus

Students actively participate with others to “do” science.

Learning activity

Many students participate in science fairs either at a school or regional level.

Adapting the science fair

1. Choosing the question

Allow a significant amount of time for choosing the questions for investigation. Over several sessions provide a range of stimulating experiences to start students wondering. The  Crest Awards home pages  provide some suggestions for finding engaging topics for investigations.

As a class, brainstorm possible questions for investigation. Now ask:

  • Which of these questions do we already know the answer to?
  • Which of these questions could we find out the answer by asking someone or searching online?
  • Which of these questions are really interesting to you? What makes them interesting?
  • Are any of the answers you find out going to be interesting/ helpful to other people?

Give the students time to choose a question that interests them. Ask students to talk to a partner about their question and explain why they are interested in it.

Ask the class as a whole, “Who had a question that you could tell they really wanted to answer?”

Discuss these questions. (If there are not many questions that the students appear really interested in, provide more opportunities for exploring. As a teacher you may have to model some questions too. It is important students can find something that really is engaging for them and it is worth spending time on this initial phase.)

Once you have about 4 or 5 productive questions ask students to choose one that they wish to investigate. Students then work in pairs or small groups to plan their investigations. (Ideally you want 3 or 4 different groups investigating any question.)

2. Designing the investigation

Once students have designed their investigations they present what they are going to do to the other students who are working on the same topic. Students critique each others’ designs.

3. Carrying out the investigation and presenting results

Encourage students to keep journals about their investigations so that can record the reasons for decisions they make and can keep a track of their changing ideas.

Once students have finished their investigations get them to present their findings to the other students who are studying the same question. Ask students:

  • Are there any differences in their findings and what might explain these differences?
  • What problems/ challenges did students encounter?
  • Did they have to make any changes as they carried out their planned investigations? Why?
  • Did the investigation lead them to ask other questions?

It is important here to stress that science investigations often are not linear and new questions can arise during the investigation. Encourage students to talk about shifts in their thinking – rather than solely on the outcomes of the investigation.

Each group now prepares a very short summary to present to the whole class:

  • What were the main questions they were investigating?
  • What did they find out?
  • What new questions do they now have?
  • Why does this matter?

What’s important here?

Supporting students to become scientifically literate, i.e., to participate as critical, informed, and responsible citizens in a society in which science plays a significant role is the purpose of science in NZC. If citizens are to be able to engage critically with science they need a functional knowledge of science.  It is not enough to be able to say what science is and what its strengths and weaknesses are, citizens need to be ready, willing and able to use this knowledge. This resource focuses on these “dispositional” aspects of the capabilities. Students are gathering and collecting data, using and critiquing evidence and representing their ideas about science but the focus is on engaging emotionally as well as cognitively by playing a junior version of the “game of science”.

What are we looking for?

Are students excited by the activities?

Do they ask curious questions?

Do they listen to, and build on each others’ ideas?

Are they building resilience? Do they see unexpected results as possible learning opportunities?

Are they developing a sense that science is a collaborative activity?

Opportunities to learn at different curriculum levels

For suggestions about adapting tasks in ways that allow students to show progress in engaging with science see  Progressions .

Exploring further

There are a wide range of opportunities for students to experience “doing” real science. See, for example, various citizen science projects:

  • The Marine Metre Squared project  is a citizen science initiative that provides the basis for another capability 3 resource (See Marine Metre Squared).
  • The Garden Bird Survey , carried out annually by Landcare Research, has quite detailed counting protocols. See the resource The Garden Bird Survey: Participants’ Stories for capability 4: Making sense of representations about science ideas.
  • The Citizen Science New Zealand  Tui Project  asks citizen scientists to collect data on tui behaviour over the summer. The data collection involves quite specific attention to the environment. 
  • The Science Learning Hub has a page about  Citizen scientists , linked to a project to monitor Monarch Butterflies in New Zealand. This project is the basis for a capability 3 (Critiquing evidence) resource called Butterfly transects.

The virtual field trips run by LEARNZ provide “virtual” opportunities for students to participate in science in the field.

The Shell Collector is another capability 5 resource that is based on a Connected article about a student’s science investigation. The focus of this resource is on using investigation to provide evidence to inform decision-making.

Enviroschools also provide opportunities for students to be actively involved in environmental projects. Similarly a number of local and regional authorities offer support for schools to be actively involved in their local areas. The capability 5 resource, Hukunui Enviroschool, is based on a Connected article about a school-based environmental project.

Other resources for this capability

Yucky bugs (L1, 2, 3 & 4) Video from DOC website 

Staying Alive (L2) Connected 2, 2012

Hukanui Enviroschool (L2, 3 & 4) Connected 3, 2002

The Shell Collector (L2, 3 & 4) Connected 1, 2005

Rocky shore food web (L3 & 4) Assessment Resource Banks

Rapid response to the Rena (L3 & 4) Science Learning Hub

Tidal Communities: Interdependence and the Effects of Change (L3 & 4) Building Science Concepts, Book 22

Solving the dog death mystery (L5) Science Learning Hub

The Gene Seekers (L5) Applications, 2001

What’s my carbon footprint? (L5) Genesis Energy resource

Biomagnets (L5 & 6) NCEA Level 1 assessment exemplars

Key words

Science fair, investigations