Technical Advisors

As always the students who entered the 2002-2003 Internet Science and Technology Fair had no trouble sharing with the ISTF Office their thoughts on participating in the competition. The viewpoints and information shared, however, differed in many ways between middle school and high school students.

Preparing for the Competition:

In 2002-2003, 87% of the high school students were first-time participants in the Internet Science and Technology Fair, whereas 99% of the middle school students entered the ISTF for the first time.

A major difference between the two levels was:

  • high school students indicated that over 75% of the teachers who were primarily involved with their teams were in the field of science while an additional 25% were in the fields of technology or computer sciences;
  • middle school students, on the other hand, reported that in 38% of the projects their primary helping teacher's field was in the sciences or math, while 89% indicated that a teacher either in computer sciences or technology was most directly involved in helping them.

Because this question left room for multiple responses, this figure may be slightly skewed but it appears that many teams participated in the ISTF through their schools' technology classes. This was evident in the interesting ways their projects were presented.

Other notable differences included the time element. Teams began work on the ISTF as follows:

High School Middle School


66.2% 46.2%


22.5% 45.4%


7.9% 7.2%

After deciding to enter the ISTF competition, students on both levels reported generally the same percentage rates when discussing how they approached their projects:

High School Middle School

Decided on a topic and a project focus

92.1% 91.8%

Read the Content Guidelines

91.5% 88.7%

Became familiar with the ISTF website

76.7% 82.8%
Decided on teams 75.1% 75.5%
The one statistic which surprised the ISTF staff was this:
Went to the ISTF Hall of Fame and reviewed previous winners 72.8% 55%

It would seem that students new to the program would have been more curious about previous winning projects and how they were constructed.

Developing Projects for the Competition:

In the ISTF evaluation for students, a list of nine different problems was presented and students were asked to check all that applied. A major difference, again reflecting grade level, is that over three-fourths of the high school students selected "Finding time to work together" as the major hurdle they faced, while only 32.6% of middle school students saw this as a problem.

One-third of the students on both levels agreed that finding a project focus was difficult. This reinforces the information supplied by both teachers and technical advisors in their evaluations. All the team members agreed that much time was spent researching a particular subject, but sometimes the results still did not fulfill the criteria set out in the ISTF of targeting one technical application to solve a problem.

The need for technical advisors -- who the ISTF considers should be an integral part of any team -- was a cause for concern again this year. Twenty-nine percent of the high school teams and 13.6% of the middle school students did not have technical advisors during the 2002-2003 competition. This was not for lack of trying. Many teams included in their final projects information on how they tried to locate a professional scientist or engineer to act as their advisor.

On the high school level, teams who had tech advisors listed the following as the top three ways their mentors worked with their teams:
45% Helped students gain a better understanding of technology related to their project
40.4% Provided information and/or useful web site URLs
35.8% Explained how a project would/would not work
Middle school students' responses to this list were:
52.6% Provided information and/or useful website URLs
49.2% Reviewed/proofread final project website
44.6% Explained how a project would/would not work

Technical advisors shared with us that although they were happy to review the final web sites, they did not feel it was up to them to proofread the materials there. Students and teachers should consider this in the future.

Those students who did have technical advisors commented about the relationship. Here's what one middle school student had to say:

"In addition, our t[echnical] a[dvisor] helped us contact others for further information and cheered us on. He gave us everything that he could to help us to stay ahead."

And from a high school student:

"Although we found our mentor in late point in the project, he was still able to help us a lot. He provided us with the guidance that we needed to organize and complete the project. If it wasn't for our mentor, we would not have finished it properly."

But not all students viewed their technical advisors in a positive fashion, and this was especially true for middle school students who may have had some trouble focusing their topic or difficulty relating to or contacting a professional to be their mentor. Again, good communication between the team and their mentor might have improved the relationship:

"Our technical advisor was not really a part of our project."


"We got an e-mail saying they would help and they never said anything else again." 

Completing the ISTF Projects:

The students on both the middle and high school levels were their own most severe critics when evaluating their web sites. In their remarks about satisfaction with their team's web site, many felt that had they had more time, they would have added additional elements including more information on their topic. Others would have added more graphics/charts/pictures. We believe this reflects a level of ownership that speaks well of all the participants.

Of the students who participated, 10.6% of high school students and 8.6% of middle school students felt that participation in the ISTF had led them to consider a possible career in science or technology. Those who were already considering such careers numbered 56.7% on the middle school level and 58.9% on the high school level.

While the middle school students were very forthright in their feedback, we were happy to learn that 31% of them said that they would participate in the ISTF again. Although 23.1% said they would not, 45.9% of middle school team members said that maybe they would participate again. Some of the students' comments on participation included:

"I thought ISTF was a great experience. I might want to do it again. It takes a lot of time and devotion to finish this project."

"It was a fun project to work on, but a team has to really enjoy the topic and doing the project. It is still a lot of work and took up a lot of time in class. I may consider participating again, but only if a good topic could be found and the team was focused and enthusiastic about it."

On the high school level, 27.8% of the students stated in their evaluations that they would participate again, 40.4% said they would not (many of these students explained that they were graduating high school and going on to college), and 31.8% said maybe they would join an ISTF team.

"It was an interesting and new kind of project for me, if there is a next time, I would choose another subject that would be more appealing to me and easier to research."

Or as one "maybe" student put it:

"I didn't like it, but I didn't not like it. I wouldn't mind doing it again, but I wouldn't ask to do it again."

Now that's a definite maybe!

When asked what they would do differently if they were to participate in the ISTF again, this is what students on the two levels replied:

Middle School High School
Start earlier 51.0% 55.0%
Choose a different topic 46.9% 31.8%
Work harder to find a project focus 39.2% 29.8%
Do more preliminary research on possible projects 38.7% 37.7%
Divide tasks so everyone had a chance to work on all parts of the ISTF 33.8%  26.5%
Work with different team members 27.2% 15.9%
Learn how to work as a team 24.1% 22.5%

And while students had many opinions about the overall experience of the ISTF, 52% of the middle school students and 57% of the high school students felt it was a great learning experience that made students aware of the difficulty of finding useful information on the Internet, helped teach them time management skills and exposed them to the pleasures and perils of working as part of a team.

We want to thank all those students who participated in this year's ISTF competition and to wish the high school seniors who participated much success in their future endeavors. The ISTF staff is looking forward to having some of you with us again in the 2003-2004 ISTF. Have a great summer.