This is an email message I wrote to Rhett Allain about his excellent article in Wired this morning titled “Science Fairs Have Lost Their Way. Let’s Make Them Cool Again”.
My name is Greg Walsh and Im a professor at the University of Baltimore. I saw your article about Science Fairs in Wired this morning and was very excited to see it. I have a 7 year old and have judged several science fairs. At best, participants follow the formula you bemoaned and my least favorite is when students build something without asking any questions about why or how…they can only tell you they saw it on the internet.
My question is about your pull quote:
Science is about building models. These models can be physical, conceptual, computational, mathematical or other types of models. If a model agrees with real life (experiment), then thats good. If the model doesnt agree with real life, we have to change it (or come up with a new model).
I found that description compelling if for no other reason than a self-serving one. My work is with Design Research, specifically involving children in the design of new technologies for children and families (My portfolio). One issue I’ve had, as well as my like-minded colleagues have had, with the larger Human-Computer Interaction researchers is the notion of science. HCI expects all research to be exactly as you described the science fair right down to the independent and dependent variables and even materials. Sociologists have a very different notion that swings very far to the qualitative, one-person interpreted conclusions that doesnt fit us either.
Design research and other interdisciplinary endeavors dont fit neatly into either of these molds. I just wanted to let you know that your description of science has given me a lot to think about!