In school, the traditional format for the formal sharing of science experiences has been the science fair. Although the format of science fairs may vary, the usual components consist of a step-by-step experimental process that students follow as they test different variables, construct a hypothesis, and collect data to support or disprove their hypothesis. Usually the science fair is conducted as a competitive event at which prizes are awarded for the "best" examples. Unfortunately, this type of science event has little connection to the real sharing that scientists do regularly.
The National Science Education Standards (NSES) call for an approach to science that honors the scientific processes in which scientists actually engage (NRC 1996). A careful look shows that practicing scientists share informal talk daily and deliberately prepare for more formal sharing of their work through participation in professional conferences. Unlike the school science fair, the professional science conference is a noncompetitive place where scientists interact and share ideas. Work that is in process is often presented, and the giving and receiving of feedback is an integral part of the conference.
One alternative to the traditional school science fair is a Kids Inquiry Conference (KIC; Saul et al. 2005). More along the lines of the professional science conference, a KIC encourages students to develop their own inquiry projects, carry them out using an inquiry-based model, and prepare for a public sharing event. In addition, preparing for and participating in a KIC can be a powerful professional development (PD) experience for teachers. In this article, we describe preparing for, implementing, and reflecting on the KIC that we--university faculty collaborating with elementary teachers--organized with 250 students and 12 teachers from two elementary schools. We'll focus on the conference logistics--you bring the inquiry!
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/ryan_flessner/1/