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Science Fairs Take Over the Box Office

Science Fair hit theatres across the country and we couldn’t be more excited to see science education promoted front and center in mainstream film.

Former Morse High School AP Stats and AP Computer Science teacher and current computer science curriculum influencer Shirley Miranda participated in her first science fair in the eighth grade. The experience became a building block for her love of science, self-empowerment and career in education and science fair coordination.

Variety Magazine called the Science Fair film "an ode to the teenage science geeks on whom our future depends." See how true this rings in Shirley's story of how science fairs ultimate changed the course of her life. 

Shirley-Miranda.jpgWhere It All Began

When my 8th eighth grade science teacher first said we’d be doing a science fair project in class, I thought, “I can’t build a volcano or anything.” It was the first real science class I had ever had. My classmates all seemed to know everything – like what a flask or test tube was – but it was all new and foreign to me. I was so relieved when I found out that that wasn’t what a science fair project was about. It was about doing an experiment to answer my own question. I was a shy, quiet, unsure 13-year-old when I did my first project (“The Memorization of Serialized Terms: A Correlation of Location vs. Recall” – yes, I do remember the title from over 30 years ago).

Through science fair, I found my voice.

What Happened Next

I did four science fair projects dealing with memory, learning, math and computer science through my junior year – each year advancing to compete in my regional fair, The Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair (GSDSEF). Upon the acceptance of my third project, I was proud to become a part of their Student Advisory Board (SAB). The SAB helped the GSDSEF Management Committee put on the Fair. I couldn’t wait to be co-chair of the SAB so I could increase my involvement.

In my senior year, I wanted to give back more to the GSDSEF which had provided me the opportunity to showcase my research work, taught me the importance of self-advocacy, and helped me develop my confidence in my science skills and myself. To do so, I didn’t do a project; instead, I dedicated myself to learning everything I could to help put on the science fair for other students to ensure they had the same opportunity I had. In fact, the summer before my senior year, I wrote curriculum and a science fair guide for my high school to use – it was my first paid job!

How It Changed My Career

Throughout college, I continued to volunteer as part of the Management Committee. It was a very proud day when I became the Director of the San Diego fair. All of it was volunteer work. My professional career as a software engineer stemmed from my junior year science fair project; however, after all my work with the science fair and continuing to see students get hands-on, meaningful and engaging experience, I decided to change careers and go into teaching. I taught math and computer science at my alma mater.

From the beginning of my teaching career, I had students do a science fair project. I literally dug up the science fair guide I created when I was 17 years old to use as a base for my classes. The entire time I was at my school, I was the only teacher to include science fair in the class. Because of that, many thought I was in the science department, despite the fact that my freshman algebra, geometry and statistics students were completing projects. It showed many – at the school and beyond – that students at a low-income and underrepresented school could successfully compete. Every year after the science fair, my students would wish that “I had done this sooner” because they recognized the tremendous skill growth – not just academically but personally – they had undergone. AND they had a blast!

This year, I will be developing computer science initiatives and experiences for K-12 students. I get to take what I did in the classroom and expand it throughout my large district. My personal experience with science fair has come full circle, truly integrating all my projects as a teenager.

Who This Work Impacts

The science fair experience has had such a profound impact on me that when I began my journey as an author, I knew my main character, Liz, would love science, engineering and computer science. I felt there weren’t too many teen characters that I could relate to, then or now. Other students like me, needed to be represented. Others who weren’t like me could get to walk in her shoes. In the Bits and Pieces series, Liz would later participate in science fair and the readers get to experience the science fair through her eyes. The project itself isn’t the focus, but rather her journey and fair itself. Like myself, Liz begins to find her voice and confidence through science fair.

I have seen the pride and joy that I felt when I was 13 reflected back at me from all levels of students from those who competed regionally to those at the International Science and Engineering Fair. It is the gift educators and the community hope all students receive – empowerment, self-advocacy, the ability to communicate and problem solve with creativity, and love of discovery.

Science Fair is now playing in select theatres.

Tell us: What’s your favorite science fair memory?
What was your most memorable project?
What did the experience afford you?
We want to hear!