While many are not moved by Obama's Sputnik moment, the country doesn't have as strong an interest in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math). However, the increased use of technology tools has led to a larger separation between the creators and users of technology. The cash register has gotten much more sophisticated. However, I suspect that the average fast food worker had more math competence 40 years ago than one does today.
As a result, the high end of technology creators need to evolve and innovate faster than ever before. That means the low end is falling farther behind.
It doesn't matter what level of skill they show at the start. Just get the kids to work on an appropriate idea or topic of interest. Guide them through the steps required to participate. A parent can add a level of discussion as the student works through the process. Help make the adventure of learning enjoyable.
Make sure that the student owns the process. Parent, if you want the display to look good, let the student use premade shapes, letters, pictures, etc. It is their responsibility to create the materials. Sure you can help younger kids print the information, but let it be the student's information. Here is your test--if the judges took the student into a room without you, what could the child explain about the project?
Let's learn from the experience and get better next time. The students will improve critical thinking and project skills by working on school fairs. Kids begin to learn how the school assignments relate to real life.
More complete version in link of Prepare for the Science Fair with instructions on HOW to do a science fair project by Kevin Temmer, talented HS student who may have won a media festival award.
Recently, I helped to judge a science fair. We needed more volunteers to judge these events. There were several students who really showed a flair for science. The key is to get those with a flair for the subject to continue to learn & grow.
Ultimately, I want the kids to figure out what they like to do and to do well in those areas. Part of that discovery is both trying to do things and learning how to take what they know to higher levels of insight.