– A total of 2907 second-level students exhibited 1243 projects in SciFest 2011.
– This represents an increase of around 10% on the 2010 numbers bringing the total student participation in the four years since the national launch of SciFest to 9148 students.
– The year also saw for the first time the introduction of Scifest@School and Scifest@Intel.
The SciFest project was set up to encourage a love of science through active, collaborative, inquiry-based learning and to provide a forum for students at local/regional level to present and display their scientific investigations. The initiative is funded by Intel Ireland and Discover Science and Engineering as project partners and was launched nationwide four years ago.
Evident from the rapid growth of the Scifest initiative in its short history is that the approach to the teaching and learning of science in Ireland is moving away from the traditional talk and chalk to a more investigative student-centered approach. A total of 2907 second-level students exhibited 1243 projects in SciFest 2011, an increase of around 10% on the 2010 numbers bringing the total student participation in the four years since the national launch of SciFest to 9148 students.
SciFest started as a series of one-day science fairs (SciFest@College) set up to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) in second-level schools. The fairs are hosted each year by the 14 Institutes of Technology (ITs) and the University of Ulster, Magee Campus, Derry. With the numbers increasing so rapidly it was decided last January to introduce two new levels of participation.
The first new level of participation involved five schools being recruited to pilot SciFest@School. They were offered support which enabled them to run their own in-house SciFest science fair. On the day of the fair SciFest advisors visited the school and talked to the students about their projects. The aim was to guide and encourage the students rather than select winning projects. In total 512 students participated and the feedback from the schools was very positive. It is intended to expand the programme nationwide in 2012. Resources and Best Known Methods will be posted on the SciFest website, www.scifest.ie
The second innovation for 2011 is the establishment of SciFest@Intel. For Scifest@Intel each of the Intel Best Project award winners from the IT events nationwide (SciFest@College) have been invited to exhibit at the Intel facility in Leixlip on the 28th of October. The projects will be evaluated and one project will be selected to represent Ireland at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) which is held annually in May in the U.S.
The first SciFest@College of 2011 was held in Limerick IT on Tuesday 5th of April and the events then ran until the 27th of May. The projects were varied and ranged from inventions such as an ingenious solar driven wellington boot cleaner to a study of the relationship between school entry age and academic performance. There were lots of prizes to be won at each fair. These included the Intel Best Project Award, the Abbott Runner-up Best Project Award, and the BT Best Communicator Award. To support the new Project Maths programme NCE-MSTL sponsored a Maths Award at each IT and in additon, to celebrate the International Year of Chemistry 2011, PharmaChemical Ireland sponsored a special chemistry prize.
Around 85% of projects entered into SciFest are group projects. Collaboration and sharing information are important elements of completing a project and the process encourages students to value each others strengths while tolerating each other’s weaknesses. In this way SciFest enables peer support and learning. The judging process also has a number of important outcomes. It serves not only to access and score the project but provides immediate verbal feedback on how the project might go forward and this helps build the student’s confidence and belief in their ability ‘to do science’. In addition the nature of the SciFest model affords students the opportunity to visit a third-level college, view the facilities and get information on the various STEM courses available.
Sheila Porter, Scifest Project Manager was delighted with the results of this year’s initiative and commented, “Our fast changing world requires today’s students to be problem solvers and critical thinkers. Participating in science fairs such as SciFest promotes this type of learning and encourages students to use authentic research practices to create innovative solutions to real-world problems. No matter how simple or complicated the investigation the SciFest experience takes students to a level beyond just memorising facts. Having learned to work collaboratively, solve problems and communicate and present their ideas they will be more likely to leave school equipped with the necessary skills to become the innovators of tomorrow”.
SciFest is a series of one-day science fairs funded by Intel Ireland and Discover Science and Engineering as project partners and hosted nationwide by the Institutes of Technology. A SciFest fair includes a competition and exhibition of projects, a selection of science talks, science demonstrations in the college laboratories and a prize-giving ceremony. In each venue students compete for a number of awards including; Intel Best Project Award, Abbott Runner-up Best Project Award, BT Best Communicator Award, and the Discover Sensors Award. For more information visit www.scifest.ie.
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