Science Fair and National History Day (NHD) are often viewed as bothersome by middle school students due to the hours of planning, research and work required for both of them. However, as much as students may hate these two projects, they teach educational skills such as how to write a good research paper, find important sources and present information in a clear manner.
For years, middle school Heritage students have had to complete both projects at the same time, but this year, the curriculum has changed, possibly for good. NHD is no longer required for seventh graders, and eighth graders do not have to complete a science fair project. “Doing a research project, science fair, and NHD simultaneously can be overwhelming for anyone, so staggering the large projects made sense,” explained Mrs. Leslie Porges, one of the 7th grade history and 8th grade civics teachers as well as the NHD coordinator for Heritage.
Mrs. Sari Weltmann was part of a team of curriculum directors that proposed the change. “As a college preparatory school, we should be preparing all students and exposing them to the same, very important research skills. The solution we developed was to give all 6th and 7th grade research opportunities by bringing science research to the College Prep and Academy science curricula… so now that all students are doing research in 6th and 7th grade, we felt that it would make the most sense to alternate the research projects,” said Mrs. Weltmann.
While prior generations of students had to learn how to balance two massive research projects with regular schoolwork, the new wave of Heritage middle schoolers no longer have to worry about managing their time as much. Learning the skill of time management is essential, as high school classes often assign simultaneous projects, yet current middle schoolers are being deprived of the opportunity to learn this skill. This, along with not gaining essential presenting practice, is why the new curriculum is detrimental to students and should be changed back.
Per the contest’s website, NHD’s purpose is to “engage students and teachers in historical research and skills development” with a focus on teaching students “critical thinking, writing and research skills.” An independent study on the contest found that participation in NHD helped students improve their standardized test scores, find an interest in learning, and write better than their peers who did not participate.
Science Fair shares similar benefits. According to the State Science Engineering Fair of Florida (SSEF), “The main objectives of the SSEF are to recognize scientific talent in young people, introduce students to organized research, provide teachers a forum for the exchange of ideas [and] focus attention on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).” Many science fair alumni have gone on to work in scientific fields and cite participation in the science fair as where their interest started.
Freshman Casey Cross, who had to complete a science fair and NHD project in seventh and eighth grade, disagrees with the new change. “[The changes] don’t make sense. Doing [both projects] was annoying of course, but without them, I wouldn’t be able to put together a research paper like I can now,” Cross said.
Other high schoolers share the same sentiment. “The biggest bonus for middle schoolers to do NHD and science fair is for them to be comfortable around research papers and projects later down the line in their learning careers,” sophomore Annabelle Shen said.
While only doing one research project a year may be easier for middle schoolers now, in the long run, it will not benefit them. The workload can seem overwhelming at times, but it is manageable if one carefully plans their day in order to ensure the most productivity. Finding sources that relate to a topic and summarizing them in a concise paper is a skill that is necessary in high school and beyond, so getting practice in middle school by writing multiple science or history papers is extremely important.
A staggered approach, while still exposing students to research, will not give students as much practice as they only receive one project a year and do not have to divide their time between two very demanding projects. Ultimately, the curriculum is for administration to decide, but students would benefit most if NHD and science fair were reinstated for both grades of middle school.