|The Internet Science and Technology Fair (ISTF) is a
tool that connects students in elementary, middle and high school
with professionals in the fields of science, engineering and
The students form teams, decide on a problem after researching
the National Critical Technologies
(NCTs), select a Technology Sub-Area and technical application
within the broader field that they think will provide a solution and
then research their project using the Internet.
Through the ISTF Program, we have seen that students learn best
when someone takes an interest in what they are doing. They are
especially fascinated when a professional in a technical field
takes time from his or her busy schedule to become involved in a
science project the students have initiated. The impact of a mentoring professional is tremendous and
comes at a critical time in younger students' education. If a
scientist or engineer takes the time to work with students by
offering patient guidance and understanding, the outcomes will
extend beyond the life of the project.
The role of technical advisor is one of the cornerstones of the
ISTF Program. Technical advisors are scientists, engineers or
technicians who act as subject matter experts by becoming on-line
mentors to teams, providing them with the benefit of their
expertise, experience and the sound scientific assessment skills
they themselves employ. Technical advisors are also an important
link to real-world experiences that many students have not yet
Technical advisors guide their student teams by:
- Assessing the feasibility of their project. They help by:
- Assisting students in effectively narrowing the
focus of their ISTF Project so that it may be
completed within the allotted time.
- Ensuring that there is a direct relationship between
the student team's Problem/Research Statement and
their Project Solution Statement.
- Providing advice on Internet sites students should
explore as they develop their ISTF Project focus.
- Reading the students' explanation of the problem
they will be working on to see that it is valid.
- Giving advice and direction if a team's project
- Challenging students to consider all aspects of
their project's focus and what they hope to
- Communicating with the student team regularly. This
- Providing students with a current e-mail address
where you as their technical advisor may receive
queries from the team.
- Advising the team of how often it may communicate
with you as a technical advisor.
- Reminding the team of what kinds of information you
can and will provide.
- And, if necessary, sending reminders to the students
that you are an important part of the team and want
to know what is going on with the team's research.
- Clarifying, when necessary, the scientific principles that
form the basis of the technical application with which the
students are working.
- Every team works within a major category (National Critical
Technology) on a specific Technology Sub-Area
and Technical Application.
- Within that Technology Sub-Area the team has chosen,
it selects a specific Technical Application--either
a new product or a new process--that the team wants
- Students occasionally have unrealistic expectations
about what they can accomplish. Occasionally a team
will get off track. It is you who will help them to
learn to be selective and keep their ISTF Project
- Providing direction, when necessary, to specific information
that will be useful to them.
- Identifying websites where pertinent information can
- Asking students to send you URLs they have
researched so you can judge whether the sites are
useful to the project.
- Analyzing information the students want to include
on the final website they develop to explain their
- Analyzing the website the students produce and offering
- The Office of Special Programs, administrator of the
ISTF, has advised students to make the URL for their
website available to their technical advisor as
early as possible.
- Checking the team's website frequently allows you to
monitor the way the team is using its research.
- Regular inspection of the project website will allow
you to keep your team focused on production of a
Students are encouraged to find their own technical advisors by
first, searching within their community for professionals. However,
if none can be found, we suggest they seek out individuals on the
Internet by scanning the websites of colleges and universities,
government organizations, professional associations and even private
industry entities. Once a technical advisor is found, the team is
urged to keep in touch with him or her by e-mail. A progress report has been incorporated into the
ISTF Schedule to further track and
encourage the communications process.
The ISTF may be the first opportunity students have to work with
a professional scientist, engineer or technically oriented
individual. This is an opportunity for you to impact students by
helping them to learn how vital the role of science or engineering
is in their daily lives. And it is possible that your mentoring may
help some young person see the benefits of considering a career in a