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Arkansas Independent Films - “Uncontrolled Variables: A Science Fair Story”

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How does hands-on learning make a difference? Find out as you follow students and teachers from three Northwest Arkansas schools — Alma High School, Alpena High School and Haas Hall Academy Fayetteville — as they develop their science fair projects and compete regionally for a chance to enter the International Science and Engineering Fair in “Uncontrolled Variables: A Science Fair Story.”

I love to make films about people who are passionate about their work and are striving to achieve difficult goals.  The science teachers in ‘Uncontrolled Variables’ are wonderful examples of educators who believe that the best way to teach science is to give students the opportunity to do it.

— Producer Dale Carpenter

Through the work of actively involved teachers who are very supportive of science fair, this hour-long documentary shows how dedication and direct application of educational concepts has led to success both in the classrooms and in establishing a record of success at the national level.

Although Alma High School (more than 1,000 students), rural Alpena High School (more than 250 students) and urban charter school Haas Hall Academy (more than 300 students) vary greatly in size and location, each displays a level of enthusiasm that has challenged and propelled students. The science fairs serves as a valuable component of a curriculum designed to develop scientific literacy in all students — including understanding basic scientific principles and appreciating how science works.

Science Fairs’ Evolution


Created during the Cold War period of the 1950s, science fairs were seen as a way to bolster national defense and economic competitiveness by identifying and encouraging the country’s most promising young scientists.


While many school systems’ interest and support for science fairs seems to be waning due to the large workload involved in mentoring student projects, these Northwest Arkansas see them as opportunities, particularly in an system that increasing places emphasis on testing results.

There can be few more effective ways to teach these lessons than by having students work their way through problems as part of a science fair.

Executive Producer Bill McComas

Today, the fairs serve as an important way for students to experience the “arc of science,” including designing good research questions, conceptualizing an appropriate research method, collecting data, making sense of the data and reporting results that are convincing.

Changing Students’ Lives


Along with following the students and teachers as they develop their science fair projects, “Uncontrolled Variables: A Science Fair Story” includes the stories of some former students whose lives were changed by their experience in science fairs.


The goal of the film is to capture what it is like to be involved in a science fair today, as students learn that science is, “ … full of false starts, blind alleys, unjustified assumptions, and unexpected findings.”  Ultimately it should help teachers, parents, and students answer the question, “Is participation in science fair worth the effort?”  Watch Monday, Aug. 21, after the close of “NOVA: Eclipse Over America,” and share your thoughts with us in the comments.


Monday, Aug. 21, 2017

“Uncontrolled Variables: A Science Story”

Due to the broadcast of Monday’s Presidential Address, the start time for “Uncontrolled Variables” cannot be predicted exactly.

The address will begin at 8 p.m. and is projected to last between 15 and 60 minutes. “NOVA: Eclipse Over America” will air immediately after the address and “Uncontrolled Variables: A Science Story” will follow its broadcast.