Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are well complimented by California’s innovative Environmental Principals and Concepts (EP&C). Project-based and problem-based learning (PBL) supports the dynamic integration of NGSS’s disciplinary core ideas, cross-cutting concepts, science practices, and engineering processes through the EP&C lens of human interactions with natural systems.

Increasingly, schools, districts, and counties across California offer next generation science events that recognize and celebrate PBL—emphasizing student practice and process over product. These events also engage families and communities in scientific experiences. STEM Expos and STEAM Showcases look nothing like science fairs of the past that featured exploding volcanoes and muffins baked with various leavening agents, often hastily produced with a lot of parent help.

Next Generation Science Fairs, STEM Expos, & Family Science Nights

Synopsys Outreach Foundation will present a workshop, “Next Generation Science Fairs, STEM Expos, & Family Science Nights” on October 17, 2020 from 10:45 – 12:15pm at the 2020 California Science Education Conference. This annual conference of California Association of Science Educators occurs online October 16-18, 2020, where Synopsys Outreach Foundation will also host a virtual booth.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in Spring 2020, many county-level science fairs went “virtual” enlisting digital platforms including Amazon’s Chime video conferencing platform, Google’s Google Workspace for educational institutions plus Meet for video conferencing, and Virtual platforms eliminate the need for tri-fold boards and empower students to be creative as they upload videos, slide shows, and documents, as well as photos and other images of their projects.


With the support of Synopsys Outreach Foundation, the 2021 sciencepalooza! science fair of East Side Union High School District in San Jose, will be virtual. In its 22nd year, the digital event increases equitable access to the competition since the district has provided students in need with Chromebooks and broadband. New categories have been added by special award sponsors to inspire student scientific research, investigation, and experimentation in local, place-based topics such as climate change and transportation challenges.

The San Mateo County Office of Education’s 2020 event, “The Next Big Think,” was to combine an Arts Expo, STEM Fair, and a first ever Solutionary Expo. The Solutionary Expo, which was cancelled due to COVID-19, had aspired to celebrate the work of K-12 student “solutionaries” who develop systems-based solutions that do the most good and least harm to people, animals, and the environment; makes compassionate and responsible choices; identifies unsustainable, inhumane, and unjust systems; and brings critical, systems, strategic, and creative thinking to bear on solving problems.

The Next Big Think
STEAM Expo of Santa Clara Unified School District

The annual STEAM Expo of Santa Clara Unified School District is a free public event for all K-16 students in the district and at Mission College, their families, and the community. Santa Clara’s STEAM Expo offers hands-on science activities for all ages and a raffle for prizes. It is a celebration of student work rather than a competition. The 2020 event was hosted by RAFT, the Resource Area for Teaching at their Ridder Park location in San Jose.

Campbell Union School District hosts an annual STEAM Showcase. According to the district website, “Through STEAM, students discover meaningful creative, and innovative ways to expand and connect interdisciplinary learning through experimentation and imagination.” The annual event features hands-on activities for students of all ages, demonstrations, and performances by students from all district schools. Student showcase project topics include: Engineering & Design Thinking, Computer Science & Robotics, Student Passion & Creativity, Film Festival, and Performing Arts.

Campbell Union School District STEAM Showcase

Imagining a time when students are back in schools and in-person science events resume, schools might consider a new approach to science fairs. Inviting local museums and other community education organizations may increase involvement. Many offer free and low-cost engagement programs for schools and their science events. Demonstrations and hands-on activities from community education organizations may serve as the cornerstone of a STEM Expo, STEAM Showcase, Science Fair, or Family Science Night.

Campbell Union School District STEAM Showcase

San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory offers free school-based science events for children ages 6-12 and their families focused on avian conservation through hands-on activities. Also, they offer high schools a Teen citizen Science program that models how to use apps like eBird to collect, analyze, and interpret data.

Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose offers Family Science Night events to elementary schools on a range of topics from physics, to environmental science, to chemistry. Designed to put families in the role of investigation team, all age people learn together while participating in hands-on science activities.

Campbell Union School District STEAM Showcase
The Lawrence Hall of Science

The Lawrence Hall of Science offers programs for schools appropriate for grades TK-8. These dynamic demonstrations invite lots of audience participation to excite students about science. Multi-grade or whole school assemblies (40 to 300 attendees) expose curious minds to concepts that can be reinforced in the classroom or expanded on with follow-up activities.

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