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AP Physics students are forced to participate in the science fair

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Participating in science fair entails an immense amount of tedious work that typically lasts about four months, regardless of project difficulty or commitment. Most view science fair as a burden due to its characteristically incessant due dates, countless forms and intricate plans. However, a minority of students utilize the fair as an impetus for future endeavors.

Participation in the school fair is required beginning in biology classes during freshman year; the students are carefully monitored and guided by their teachers throughout the process. Sophomores who are enrolled in regular or honors chemistry classes are also obligated to partake with relatively no class time to work, but they are not as restricted as freshmen.

Junior year is when the situation becomes more nuanced, as students have much more choice in their science subject and level of difficulty. Regular, honors and Advanced Placement (AP) levels are offered for various topics, but the principal subjects tend to be chemistry, biology and physics. Out of these classes, all regular and honors levels are required to participate in the school science fair. However, almost all students enrolled in AP science classes, including environmental sciences, are not compelled to enter the competition. The sole exception: AP Physics I.

Although it is arguably one of the most rigorous Advanced Placement courses that Hayfield offers, AP Physics I requires students to participate in the fair, or alternatively, Science Olympiad or Robotics. While AP Biology and Chemistry students are able to focus on their respective classes without the looming stress of science fair, AP Physics students scramble to keep up with both an onerous curriculum and demanding project lasting multiple months.

The policy was instituted by the school, stating that for every first year science course, students are required to enter an externally judged science competition, which typically means the science fair. Science classes are offered subject by subject, not as a progression like English or math, so even though AP Physics students are in an Advanced Placement class, they are technically in their first year of physics. Interpretation of the rule has changed significantly over the past years; many students taking honors or AP Physics last year, a course with no prerequisite, found their way around the policy with participation in other externally judged, easier competitions. This year, however, that is not an option.

Not only are AP Physics students the only AP science students forced to participate in the fair, but they have no class time to make progress on their experiments. Furthering this time restraint, juniors taking AP Physics are most likely enrolled in other Advanced Placement courses, so they cannot realistically devote their full effort to physics and the science fair.

Ironically, juniors who take AP Physics and are in the Science Honor Society science fair committee have to participate in the fair while overseeing the event and potentially judging younger students. This is both a conflict of interest and another reason why the students in question are overextending themselves.

It isn’t fair to assume that all AP Physics students do not want to participate in the science fair; a substantial amount do. Having two years of extensive experience, juniors are likely to fare well in the competition and possibly attend the regional tournament, which opens up a plethora of opportunity.

But when the aforementioned time and effort restraints are factored in, these students who desire to complete the project for purposes other than earning an adequate grade are forced into a frustrating position: knowing they could be doing better, but not being able to improve because of time limits and other factors.

Regardless of the technicalities, the obvious solution to this dilemma is to allow AP Physics students the choice that is awarded to other AP science classes; forcing these students to participate in the fair is simply unreasonable and inconsiderate.

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