A Regional science fairs such as ours has two types of judges:
Special Awards Judges who judge for organizations such as the United States Army and South Dakota Academy of Science.
Scientific Discipline Judges who limit themselves to evaluating projects within one of the following three disciplines: Life Sciences, Physical Sciences & Engineering, and Group Projects. These judging teams are broken into two sub-teams each: Junior Division (Grades 6-8) and Senior Division (Grades 9-12).
Attached to every project is an identification sheet displaying the project’s number, the project title, the student’s name, and the school’s name. During the first round of judging, each page must be signed by any one of the Scientific Discipline Judge in the indicated space. Where there are multiple pages for group projects, each page must be signed. Nothing is more devastating to a student than finding his or her project unsigned at the close of the fair.
The project sheet also contains a space for a second judge’s signature, which indicates that an interview took place during the afternoon. It is of the essence that every interview blank is signed. Any Judge, Special or Discipline, may sign the interview blank.
Judging Team Leaders are responsible for: a) holding informal meetings of their fellow Judges to achieve consensus, b) determining that all projects within their discipline have been signed and checked, c) submitting the list of award winners to the certificate printing area, d) in some cases making the final decision on grand-prize winners and their alternates and e) handing out medals. Certificates, and trophies at the awards ceremonies.
Each of the six Judging Teams is responsible for finding recipients worthy of the following awards: 1st – 4th place and up to 10 certificates of merit. That’s a maximum of 14 awards per Team.
No Judge may communicate with the Fair Director from 10 a.m. until the last award has been decided. However, all Judges may (and should) engage in conversations during the private judging in the morning and the public judging in the afternoon. Extreme caution is urged during the second judging since no information concerning the award winners should reach the students, their advisors, or the public until the awards ceremonies.
The trophies and medals for the 1st – 4th place winners for each of the six Teams will be placed on a table. A packet of ten Awards of Merit will be given to each of the six Team Leaders. Special Awards Judges will be given a packet containing their awards and judging criteria.
Three projects will represent us at the ISEF. These are decided between the three Senior Judging Teams. Once these top-ranked projects have been selected, the heads of the Discipline Judging Teams will have to re-rank their 1st-4th place winners since grand-prize winners receive no other discipline award.
After the grand award winners have been decided, the two Senior Judging Teams for individual projects must select from their top-ranked students the first and second alternate winners. These two individual project winners are encouraged to come to the ISEF but their projects stay at home. Alternates attending the ISEF cover their own travel and expenses. As the name implies, an alternate may inherit the privileges afforded a grand prize winner if that winner is unable to attend the ISEF. The two alternate winners constitute the only case in which the Discipline Judges present a student with a multiple award. The regional fair recognizes no group-project alternate winners but if a group project can’t attend the ISEF, then the next-ranked group inherits its privileges.
After the judging ends at 2:00 p.m., those of you who are Special Award Judges or who are one of the six Discipline Judges must record your winners on yellow and white sheets. After this, have your certificates filled in by the computer personnel and be certain to sign them yourselves if that is necessary. Leave the white copy with the computer personnel. Remain until the certificate is signed and leave the white copy behind. Pick up the yellow copy of winners and the signed certificate, put both in the awards ceremony envelope, and bring it with you to the stage. The Assistant Fair Director will place awards such as books and calculators on the table. After the awards ceremony is completed, put the yellow copy of the award winners back in your judge’s packet and drop it off at the Registration Table along with your nametag before you leave for the day.
Unless your organization’s protocol dictates differently, the following is the manner in which the prizes are to be awarded:
The Fair Director will read the name of the award and request a Judge or a Judging Team to come forward. For example: “The award for the Yale Science and Engineering Association will be presented by Mr. John Jones.” At this point, Mr. Jones replaces the Fair Director at the podium.
Special Awards Judges may restate the award and the judging criteria. For example: “The Yale Science and Engineering Association Award is given to the Outstanding Eleventh Grade Exhibit in Computer Science, Engineering Physics or Chemistry. This year’s winner is Ms. Jane Smith.” The award is handed from Mr. Jones to Ms. Jane Smith with a handshake. The student is applauded and returns to her seat. Mr. Jones returns to his seat and the Fair Director replaces him at the podium. In the case of multiple awards, the presenter should first announce the least prize and proceed on to the greatest. A nice touch is to announce the name of the school first. Instruct the audience to hold its applause until your group is assembled on stage. As you shake the hand of the applicant, give a few words of personal praise, if you can.
Scientific Discipline Judging Teams are introduced by the Director while the Team forms a receiving line. The Team Leader begins by announcing the certificates of merit and encourages applause only after all such winners have arrived at the podium. The students shake the hands of all Team members, are applauded and return to their seats. The other awards are handled in a similar fashion, one student at a time.
The awards ceremony should be impressive but brief. We wish teachers and students sufficient time before 5 p.m. to examine the winning and losing projects so that every year our best two students will stand a greater chance of winning big at the International Science and Engineering Fair.
If you are new to the fair, then note that science projects ordinarily contain a statement of hypothesis followed by a “methods” section, a “results” section, and finally a discussion and/or conclusion. Mathematics projects and engineering projects (including software engineering) need not proceed along these lines. Still they must “tell a story” in that they begin with a goal that is to be met, then explain how the student tried to meet that goal, and end by showing how the goal was realized. Engineering projects that don’t “work” can’t win.
Can a project win if it has absolutely no social utility? In the case of mathematics projects, the answer is a clear “yes”. That can also be true of a science project, though if two such projects are otherwise identical, the one whose utility has been best thought out, wins. Two engineering projects can be difficult to compare if: a) one is highly beneficial to society but is simply or poorly crafted. b) the other has few social benefits but is highly complex and well-built. It is common for judges to have differing opinions concerning which of the two above projects deserves the highest award. Such “difficult calls” may be best left to those who are engineers themselves.
Project information should flow from left to right and then top to bottom. Thus, the hypothesis statement should be on the leftmost panel, usually at the top or center (after a summary of prior research). The conclusion should be placed at the bottom of the rightmost panel. It is not vital for projects to be so arranged but a logical flow of language greatly enhances project clarity. Do not blame yourself if a project is unclear upon a first reading; the burden is on the student to present his or her research so that any literate member of the general public can grasp the essence of it. All project flaws that impede clarity (spelling, grammar, punctuation) weigh against it.
Winning projects have powerful conclusions which show how the student has analyzed his or her experimental data. If time is precious, begin “at the end” by reading those last words. If you find an acceptable level of thought, then read the project “backwards” to determine if such findings are warranted. If the methodology seems sound then put that project on your “short list” for a long interview.
Be frank in your morning judging when you can converse with each other and careful with your words when the student researchers are present to be interviewed. Only constructive criticism is allowed during the interviews; all students are to be treated with the utmost respect, regardless of the merits of their projects. A poorly done project may signal a student with a learning disability (and so may a terrible interview). The fair is full of surprises; some of our best projects come to us from last year’s students who silently vowed to do better next year and pushed themselves to realize their fullest scientific potential.