True story- my science fair project junior year of high school was one of the many things that inspired me to start my blog. By learning about the link between colored backgrounds and improved readability, I was able to learn a lot about accessible materials and share my research with my school community. Here are my tips for participating in a science fair with low vision.
About my science fairs
My elementary school required students in fourth and fifth grade to create their own independent science projects that were displayed at the school. I didn’t participate in another science fair until junior year of high school, where students from throughout the school district presented their projects, and had the option to compete and advance to the regional level.
Pick a topic that interests you
I met a lot of students who had chosen their project topic because it was either easy or sounded impressive. However, anyone could tell they were not overly enthusiastic about their research. I remember being extremely excited to show my projects, and a lot of people noticed and appreciated my excitement.
Choose a project that incorporates other senses
Instead of relying strictly on visual observation, my science projects in elementary school incorporated other senses. These senses included smell, hearing, and touch.
In fourth grade, I did a project where I tested if dogs responded faster to the sight or smell of a treat. I was able to easily hear paws run up and down a hallway.
In fifth grade, I put shells in various materials and felt the change in their composition, as well as their change in smell.
When it came to presenting data from my research, I would often use very simple graph types- pie charts, bar graphs, and similar. I made sure to incorporate other graph types as well into the project, but I preferred to use easy-to-read ones as much as possible.
I used Microsoft PowerPoint to write out the information for my poster, printing out the slides so I could attach them to the poster board. I used a graph tool within PowerPoint to visualize data.
Use large print
All of the information on my science fair poster/trifold was in large print with Arial font. This was I could reference my work easily and not have to worry about accessibility issues. A bunch of judges commented that they appreciated not having to get out their reading glasses to review my project.
Keep a copy of research digitally
I brought my iPad to the science fair junior year. I kept copies of all of my sources, data, and information on my poster. This was very easy to reference and I could easily demonstrate my research to judges, and I didn’t have to worry about hurting my neck from turning around to read my poster.
If I had to do the science fair again today, I would create a presentation with Microsoft Office Sway that I could reference. This way, I could have all of my sources organized and in an easy-to-read format. Another bonus is that I could share the link with others if needed.
Alert event staff you are visually impaired
When I presented at the school district science fair, which took place at another high school, I alerted staff members that I was visually impaired. I said that I would need assistance with navigating the area, as well as setting up my project. I also requested to be moved away from any projects that contained strobe or flashing lights, and staff accommodated this request.
It’s just a science fair
After the fair junior year, I was extremely frustrated because my project on color was judged by three colorblind judges out of five total judges. It took me about two years to find the humor in that situation. I had to remind myself it was just a science fair. I would have other opportunities to use my research.
The science fair is a great learning experience, and every student should participate in it at least once. Having a strong understanding of the scientific method has helped me a lot in college, and I find myself frequently referencing data from my various projects.