Science fair judging. (Shutterstock)

Many of this year’s science fairs will be held online, creating new challenges for students eager to share their research and making the events more accessible to youth in rural areas.

Due to public health orders banning public gatherings in B.C., science fair organizers in the proinvce are hosting a comprehensive multi-day online event called the BC/Yukon Virtual Science Fair.

“I think this is actually a really great thing where we are seeing students from areas that wouldn't necessarily participate in the regional science fair because of geographical barriers,” said Madeleine Guenette, executive director of the Science Fair Foundation B.C.

This year’s online event, which is accepting submissions until March 5, is combining seven of the province’s 13 different regional science fairs into one event. Judging will take place between April 6 and 14.

Students from Fort Nelson, who would have otherwise had to be driven four hours down to Fort St. John, are planning to participate in this year’s event, Guennette said.

“Being online, it's actually inviting more people to participate, which is fantastic,” she said.

Judges from the University of British Columbia will also be available to evaluate students from across the province, which means that students who live in areas where there otherwise might not be university experts can get that expertise.

However, the online forum comes with its challenges, said Guenette.

Teachers, who often help steward students into science fairs, are overwhelmed by the changes the pandemic has brought to their work, which means they may have less time to help students, making for fewer overall entries.

“We have no idea what to expect,” Guenette said.

In previous years about 2,000 students participated in regional science fairs.

“If we get 1,000 this year we'll be really, really happy,” Guenette said.

Grade 10 student Bruce Porter, who lives in Whitehorse, Yukon, says he will miss the socializing connected to in-person science fairs, but is eager to tackle the new challenge of presenting his work in a virtual space. Porter has been attending science fairs since he was in elementary school, and has refined how he presents his work in-person.

“For so long I've been working on how to get a proper presentation – it's a physical object, and doing all the formatting,” he said.

For the in-person presentations, Porter said judges in previous years "want something that's going to catch people's eye, and something that's not too wordy or isn't detailed enough -- it's finding a lot of balances and finding which color text and which size of font and all sorts of things."

The virtual presentation will be “a lot different than I’m used to,” he said, noting that he hasn’t yet figured out how he will present his upcoming entry.

Guenette said the fair is asking students to submit a short video of their project, and then to do a presentation for the judges via Zoom using either digital slides or a real cardboard presentation board presented during the video meeting.

Future science fairs, after the pandemic, will likely use a hybrid online and in-person model, said Guenette.

Porter said he looks forward to that time.

“I've met a lot of interesting people (at previous in-person science fairs) and it's so cool to be around people intensely for seven days, and we're all going through the same struggle with having to present,” he said.

“And it just builds a really good community and it feels like a family there.”

The fair is open to students from Grade 4 through Grade 12.

The following regions will be participating in this year’s virtual science fair, but students who live in other regions are also welcome to enter the multi-region online fair:

  • Pacific Northwest
  • Fraser Valley,
  • West Kootenay,
  • South Fraser,
  • Central Okanagan,
  • Central Interior
  • Southern Vancouver Island