One year in high school, instead of competing in the usual science fair (typically involving the Intel Science and Engineering Fair through a series of state, national, and international competitions), I was given the choice of competing in a different kind of competition called ExploraVision. A national competition in the US and Canada, ExploraVision is much less of the usual “Effect of Independent Variable on Dependent Variable” business, and rather a science competition that focuses on technological innovation, which might be a strong suit for some people.
Although I personally got farther in science fair, I enjoyed ExploraVision a lot more for several reasons. Each team that creates a project must have 2-4 students in it, requiring a good amount of collaboration—something an innovative project cannot do without. Compared to the science fair, it requires a lot less of the tangible laboratory science, and more of a consideration of real possibilities. For example, one of the past winning teams featured on the ExploraVision webpage presented a project to improve medically implanted devices so they don’t have to keep getting replaced. The project still uses pretty complex science, but ExploraVision projects will typically require more collaborative thinking than experimenting, which some people may prefer.
As explained on the competition’s website, ExploraVision pushes students to not only come up with ideas about the future of scientific technology, but even how to implement these ideas to become a reality. Using a mentor, each of these groups investigates current technologies on any subject of their choosing and brainstorm the future of that technology—how they think it should improve and what else needs to be done in its field. But then, instead of dreaming about the future, ExploraVision competitors come up with elaborate and realistic plans on how viable their ‘future’ ideas are for the current time. Fascinatingly, a lot of students’ ‘futuristic’ ideas could totally be implemented right now, which definitely inspired my own love for science.
So after brainstorming ideas comes what I think is the most useful part of an ExploraVision project—researching current technologies. To me, the point of science fair kind of evaded me and made me a little overwhelmed because I never got the chance to explore the wealth of information out there to be researched. Research and working in a lab usually requires knowledge about a very specific part of a field, something which most high school students do not have yet. This part of ExploraVision was highly useful to me because it allowed me to analyze, on both a broad and specific scope, what applications currently existed in the field I was interested in, and what I thought could change in the near future realistically.
The ExploraVision project requires, as part of its write-up, a section on pros and cons of the team’s idea. To prepare students to be future scientists, this part of the project is also definitely essential, as it is also realistic (I keep using this word because I think even the process of going through an ExploraVision project is useful for the future of a budding scientist, even if a project doesn’t win anything). Although a team’s idea may seem like it solves all problems, there could be some little things that may hinder the development of the project. Eventually, if a project gets far enough in competition, the team is asked to prepare some sort of prototype or design to show how their technology works. Since the teams are asked to think about pros and cons of their project idea so early on, they can now go into the specifics of their project, just as science fair competitors delve into specifics. And once projects reach a high enough level, teams will create a website and even try to make their technology come alive.
As an alternative to the traditional science fair, ExploraVision is worth at least a try for all high school students interested in STEM. If not for the different interface and process of competing, it’s worth it for the experience of having an innovative idea and trying your hardest to make it come true.