By Jessica Tuggle
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY -- Patient, kind and science-loving folks are needed as judges at the 21st annual Indian River Regional Science and Engineering Fair on Feb. 2.
Volunteer judges are especially needed for the elementary-age student projects, said Cynthia Falardeau, executive director of the Education Foundation of Indian River County, the organizer of the science fair.
Qualities of a top-notch elementary judge include an understanding of the scientific method, patience and the ability to listen carefully to the soft voices of children, she said.
Orientation for elementary judges will begin on Feb. 1 at 5 p.m. Secondary-level judges will have orientation beginning at 6 p.m. Both orientation sessions will be held at Gifford Middle School in Vero Beach, the same location as the science fair.
During the orientation, volunteers will be coached on how to interact with students as young as kindergarten, how to make good eye contact and what kinds of questions to ask to properly judge the projects, Ms. Falardeau said.
A rubric is used to score the projects and judges work in teams of three or four, so some collaboration on the scores will occur, she said.
About 150 judges will be needed for the science fair. Between 550 and 600 projects are expected to be on display this year.
"It is an enormous undertaking," Ms. Falardeau said.
Last year there were 201 science projects presented in the elementary division, representing a total of 294 participants.
In the middle and high school divisions there were 188 projects and 201 participants and 19 students advanced to the state science fair where 15 took top awards.
Judges for the secondary level grading projects created by students in sixth through 12th grades, need to have a degree or related work experience in science and engineering to qualify.
The whole purpose of having the science fair is to introduce children to the world of science, teaching them to apply scientific methods, Ms. Falardeau said.
Science fair projects require students to apply various academic and life skills all at once, including public speaking, creative thinking, math and writing, she said.
"We want them to walk away saying, 'I like science,'" Ms. Falardeau said.
Students who participate in the science fair will have the opportunity to win more than a colorful ribbon, but cash, as well.
More than $1.2 million in scholarships and academic awards will be offered at the fair, much of which is scholarships to the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne.
Other colleges and businesses, such as Piper Aircraft and Syngenta are also stepping up to offer special awards to students with worthy projects.
Sponsors are still needed to help underwrite costs of the awards and operation of the fair, Ms. Falardeau said.
The Education Foundation is an independent and self-funded organization that looks for ways to help improve public education in Indian River County.
To volunteer as a judge or sponsor, call (772) 564-0761 or visit www.edfoundationirc.org.