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Building a ‘community of geeks’

Educators discussed best practices for helping students complete science fair projects.

Educators discussed best practices for helping students complete science fair projects. Photo credit: Jessica Yurinko.

Two hundred science teachers gathered in Washington, D.C., in early October for the Society for Science & the Public’s Research Teachers Conference. Attendees discussed best practices and shared advice for encouraging students to complete science fair projects.

“You’ve got to have a community of geeks to build a successful science program,” Lisa Scott, a science teacher in Florida, explained during the conference, which was sponsored by Regeneron. Scott, who counts herself as a geek, discussed her “geeky” classroom and the methods she uses for creating a community, including offering after-school programs, picnics and award ceremonies. Scott’s principal writes award letters to high-achieving science students, just like letters athletes receive.

As part of the same panel, New York high school teacher Stephen Sullivan shared one key best practice: He decorates the walls of his classroom with newspaper clippings of former students who have won awards in science fair competitions. “When new students enter my classroom, it’s already a goal for them to end up on that wall,” Sullivan said.

keynote speaker Rebecca Nyquist defined grit and why educators should help students cultivate itSharing articles from publications like Science News also helps engage students by showing them how the science they learn in the classroom can be applied in the real world, Phyllis Serfaty, a teacher from New York, said during a separate panel discussion. “I love Science News because it covers so many different STEM fields. It’s all here,” Serfaty explained. “I use it as a way of generating ideas.”

Keynote speaker Rebecca Nyquist, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Pennsylvania encouraged teachers to help their students gain grit and mindfulness. “We can will ourselves to do a lot of things,” Nyquist said. “But having something that drives you to get up every day is grit. People aren’t born with a set amount of grit. We can cultivate it in ourselves and in our students.”

Read more about this year’s Research Teachers Conference at