The role of a STEAM EXPO judging is challenging, but it is a very rewarding and worthwhile effort. As a STEAM EXPO judge, you are given the unique opportunity to impact the lives of some very talented young people. Consider this for many of these students, you may be the first professional they have ever met who is engaged in a science or engineering job for a living. You are an ambassador for your profession. You may very well influence their career choices.

Meeting the Student

         When you first approach a student, please do it in a friendly professional manner. Be sure to introduce yourself, explain your affiliation and offer a brief description of your background. Most judges will meet with each student/project on an average of about 5-10 minutes. In some cases, however, at his/her discretion, a judge may determine that spending more time with a student/project would be beneficial.



Conveying Fairness

        As a judge, it is most important to show the students that you are fair and knowledgeable. Your fairness is indicated by a few simple actions:

• Spend about the same amount of time with each student/project

• Listen carefully to the student’s explanation of the project

• Find out more about the project and how it was done.

The questions you pose should not embarrass or intimidate the student. This sounds simple, but oftentimes can be challenging to implement.


Asking Questions


         The best tool for judging is your ability to ask questions. Be sensitive to what the student knows. You can always ask questions that the student can answer and keep a conversation going for ten minutes. Some example questions/variations all students should be able to answer:

 How did you come up with the idea for this project?

What did you learn from your background search?

 How long did it take you to build the apparatus?

 How did you build the apparatus?

 How much time did it take you to run the experiments?

 How many times did you run the experiment with each configuration?

 How many experiment runs are represented by each data point on the chart?

 Did you take all the data under the same conditions?

 How does your apparatus work?

 Do you think there is an application in the industry for this knowledge/technique?

 Were they any books that helped you do your analysis?

 When did you start this project?

 What is the next experiment to do in continuing this study?

 Are there any areas that we have not covered which you feel are important?

 Do you have any questions for me?

Type of Question to Avoid

        "Why didn’t you…?" Probing questions are useful to stimulate the thought processes of the student. A solution or extension to the work presented may be obvious to you because of your years of experience, but the student may not understand why you are asking such a question. If you ask a question of this type, be sure to imply the correct intent, as in "Could you have done…?" or "What do you think would have happened if you had done…?" When phrasing this way, the question is an invitation for the student to think about the experiment in a different way and can turn the question into a positive experience


                                                                  Judges Goals

Improving Communication


       Since you are a judge, most students instinctively think of you as an intimidating figure. The more you can dispel this image, the more likely you are to help the student be less nervous and engage in a better discussion. Again, simple things can make a difference:

      Make eye contact with the student

     If the student is shorter than you, try to stoop, bend, or squat down to lower your eye level


Tip your head to the side a little to indicate interest (this is the universal nonverbal form of communication; even your dog does it!!)

If you wear glasses, look at the student through them, not over the top of the frames


Whenever a student shows a good idea, clear tables/graphs, a clever way to get expensive results with inexpensive equipment, be sure to use a compliment.


Use a tone of voice that indicates interest or inquisitiveness, not skepticism or contempt to assure the perception of fairness, you also need to make sure that one student does not monopolize your time.



Some have a well-rehearsed pitch that may prevent you from having a chance to interact with the student. You have to find some way to break the pattern, and again, your tool is questioning. Politely interrupt with a question, usually in the form of "I’m sorry, I did not quite catch the relationship between that adjustment and this result, "or even some of the "any student can answer" questions, like "How many times did you run the experiment with each configuration?" and "How many experiment runs are represented by each data point?" The idea is not to stop the student from talking but to get the student to interrupt the tape recording and think about what is being communicated to you.


         Many of these students are exceptionally bright. It is easy to think when facing an incredibly impressive display and a supremely confident student that this student’s research is beyond your knowledge. If a project is really and truly completely outside of your experience, you are still knowledgeable in the area of problem-solving and the scientific method. Concentrate on these aspects rather than the details of a particular project. Young people have largely developed their conversation techniques through their interactions with other young people. They tend to actively converse on topics they are most knowledgeable about.


        When teenagers are faced with a discussion they do not grasp, they typically lose interest and look bored. If you keep appearing to be interested, no matter what is said, the student will assume you grasp what is going on. When you ask questions, even the "any student can answer this" type of questions, the student assumes you have kept up with the discussion and are maintaining an interest in their work. You may be struggling during the student’s whole pitch to come up with something, anything, to ask that does not sound completely ignorant, but the student does not know how little of the information makes sense to you. Keep asking questions until it does make sense. Remember, you are not the only judge who will talk to this student. While it is highly unlikely, there is always the possibility that an "imposter project" makes it to the state science fair level of competition. However, because of the judges’ expertise, the questionability of the project can be determined by simply asking for explanations of words that the student uses. Never assume the student knows what the technical terms mean or what a piece of equipment does, how it works, or why it was used. Enter into one of these discussions with the attitude that, if the student cannot explain it to your satisfaction, then the student really does not understand the science of what is going on. Chances are if it does not make sense to you, it just does not make sense.

Scoring the


When you begin to deliberate on the projects, you can use a few simple criteria for your decisions:




High Marks go to:





















 Help students share their experiences with you. 

Objectively assess students’ Creativity, communication, problem-solving, and collaboration (team projects) skills.

Provide positive and constructive feedback.

support students and being a face-to-face role model for them

Show up on the day of the STEAM and provide meaningful, encouraging feedback for students

Be a part of our school community and inspire future innovators.


The quality of the student’s/students’ work is what matters, not the amount of work

Genuine scientific or engineering breakthroughs

Discovering knowledge not readily available to the student

Correctly interpreting data

A clever experimental apparatus

Repetitions to verify experimental results

Predicting and/or reducing experimental results with analytical techniques

Ability to clearly portray and explain the project and its results

In engineering categories, experiments applicable to the "real world"

Why you should be a STEAM EXPO judge