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 technology.

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 realized.

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 seems unrealistic.
    • Challenging students to consider all aspects of their project's focus and what they hope to accomplish.

     

  • Communicating with the student team regularly. This communication includes:
    • 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 to formulate.
    • 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 manageable.

     

  • Providing direction, when necessary, to specific information that will be useful to them.
    • Identifying websites where pertinent information can be found.
    • 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 ISTF Project.

     

  • Analyzing the website the students produce and offering suggestions.
    • 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 competitive entry.

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 scientific field.