I was disappointed to learn that, after almost 70 years, 2018 will be the last time the Museum of Science and Industry hosts the CPS science fair. The museum cited "resource constraints" as a factor in its decision not to host the citywide event after that year. However, it is committed to helping CPS find another venue for subsequent fairs.
The science fair is a great opportunity for kids. I competed in it in the early '90s. Sixth grade was a big deal because at that point, students were finally eligible to compete in the city science fair. (Back then, though, we couldn't advance to the statewide level. I'm not sure if that's the case currently). We could still compete for awards, museum memberships, and the like.
When I was in sixth grade, I did a project on the effects of acid rain on plants. It involved growing pinto bean seeds in my dining room from late fall through the winter and collecting and testing rain and water samples all over the Chicago area. I collected some of the city's first snowfall of the season in a test tube to measure its pH. I don't think I'll ever forget collecting murky water from the Des Plaines River on a cold Saturday morning and applying litmus paper to it when I got home.
After the school science fair, a handful of us were selected to advance to the regional (we called it district) fair, which was held in the gym of another school in our division (Kinzie School, District 7). The fair spanned two days and it was fun to take a break from the normal routine of classes to participate in it. Although we spent part of each day presenting our projects to judges, we had time to walk around, look at each others' projects and size up the competition.
To qualify to advance to the citywide level, projects had to be experiments rather than demonstrations or displays. Although my presentation qualified as an experiment, I remember not going into the fair with any expectations of advancing, especially when I had to leave my project overnight after the first day and it got so cold in the gym, it nearly killed my plants. (The regional fair was held in January, so I guess I shouldn't have been surprised about that).
Nearly-frozen plants and all, I got to go on to the "big" science fair at the museum. Back then, the fair was just a couple of days, not the week-long event it is now. Since the museum allocates thousands of square feet for the exhibits, it seemed to us kids that we had the run of the whole building. It felt like we were really moving up in the world.
The science fair at the museum was a great opportunity to meet kids from all over the city, from different grade levels (sixth and up). We explored everywhere we were allowed to go. When we were finished presenting to the judges, the rest of the time was ours. Even though the city fair was the highest level of competition for the youngest participants, it wasn't without its opportunities. Some of us were selected for special awards, like savings bonds, museum memberships, and invitations to visit scientific hotspots in the Chicago area. (I was awarded a tour of Argonne National Laboratory, which I got to visit with my parents and my science teacher later that school year). Plus, there was the possibility we could be back at the museum next year.
I hope they can find another venue for the fair and keep the tradition going. Science fair board members have suggested shortening the event to maybe three to five days instead of a week. I think that's a good idea. It was putting a strain on the museum to staff the event for that long, not to mention setting up beforehand and taking it down afterward.
Even if they can only find a temporary site for next year until something more permanent can be located, the show must go on. People who have never participated may think it's just an event for "nerdy" kids to compete in, but it's more than that.
Competing helps kids with their presentation skills. You have to be somewhat personable to connect with your judges. Being in the museum and around like-minded students and adults (judges and entities that provide awards) motivates kids to excel, to dream big, to be engaged in something beyond their immediate school environment. I really liked meeting students from other schools and other parts of the city. I probably never would have crossed paths with them otherwise.
I don't know what other possible locations might be on the table. I wonder if McCormick Place is an option. It's so big, it seems like you could do just about anything with all that space. The museum has been dedicating 25,000 square feet to the event. I don't know how many other sites can offer that much room. Perhaps a convention center would work.
I will be on the lookout for updates. I'm grateful I had the opportunity to participate in the science fair at the museum. The event began there in 1950. Sixty-eight years is a long time for any site to host an event of that size. I hope the science fair board and those who partner with them are successful in finding a new home for the competition well in advance of when it's needed.
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