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By Daniel, Gr. 5, Cyberstories Editor
Hello my name is Daniel. I have won two science fairs in a row, so I am going to give you some tips for doing science fair projects. Why should you do a science fair project? Science fair is fun. You learn how to do scientific research. It can earn you a scholarship to college when you are older. It could even help you get a job in the future!
Here are the steps to follow to do a science fair project:
1. Pick a good topic. You are going to be spending many weeks, perhaps even months, on your project, so you want to pick a good topic. Start by looking at subjects that interest you and that you want to learn more about. Read everything you can find about the subject. Use the library and the Internet. While you are reading, think of questions you have about the subject that you could answer with an experiment. For example, when I was studying about optics, we did an experiment that showed how light was bent when it passed from air to water. I wondered if the angle at which the light was bent would be the same or different for other liquids. This could be a topic for a science fair project. It also helps if you pick a topic that has a practical side to it. Will your research find an answer that can be used to design something new or change the way something is done?
2. Plan your experiments. To do a science fair project, you need to be able to measure differences. You will have a control case and then you will change a variable. For the light refraction example, the variable that you would change is the liquid. The variable that would respond to this change that you could measure would be the angle of refraction. I have found it helpful to think about what things I can measure with materials I have at home: quantity (counting), temperature (thermometer), distance/length (ruler), time (stopwatch), humidity (hygrometer), mass (scale or balance), volume (graduated cylinder or measuring cup), voltage (voltmeter), light (light meter), or pH (litmus paper or some other indicator). There are lots of other things that can be measured, but you may not have access to the instruments you need to measure them. Once you have decided what variables you are going to control, what you are going to change, and what you are going to measure, write a research plan. This should be detailed. Tell how much of different materials you will use, how many trials you will run and how many different conditions you will test.
3. Conduct experiments. Before you begin your experiments, you need a hypothesis. Based on your background research of the topic, what do you think is going to happen in the experiment? That is your hypothesis. For example, if I thought that alcohol would have a lower angle of refraction than water, I would state that as my hypothesis and set up my experiments to prove or disprove it. You need to record the results of your experiments in a data book. This should be a bound notebook, not a spiral notebook. The results should be written in ink and the pages of your book should be numbered. Once you start your experiments, you will probably find that you need to change your experimental design. That means that some part of your plan will not work. You may have to change the way you take your measurements, or you may have to change the design of your equipment, or you may have to change the materials you are using. This almost always happens in a good project. If it doesnt, what you are doing is probably too easy. The important thing to remember is to allow enough time to make these changes.
4. Examine your results. You need to show your results in a graph or table. Do your results make sense? Do some of the results look bad and some good? If there are bad results, why do you think it happened? Can you make the needed change and run those tests again? You need to have enough results for what is called statistical significance. That means that one result is not enough to make a conclusion. You need to repeat the same test at least 5 times to make sure your results are right. If your results show a lot of variation, you may need to repeat the same test even more than 5 times. Do not rely on your memory. You may forget what happened, so look in your data book and check.
5. Draw conclusions from your results. Did you prove or disprove your hypothesis? What do you now know that was discovered in the experiments? Be careful not to jump to conclusions that are not backed up by your results. If you did not get consistent results, it is better to state that in your conclusion than to claim that you have proven something true or false.
6. Make your display. Pick a bright color scheme for the background and attachments to your display. To find interesting text styles and pictures for your backboard, use an art program with clip art. Use a separate board to make your title stand out. The title needs to be big enough to be read at a distance. Use foamcore or cardboard for your backboard. You can cover it in fabric. In our family, we attach things to the fabric with double-sided cellophane tape. That way we can use the same backboard over again next year. Tell the story of your project in your display. What question did you try to answer? What was your hypothesis? What did you do to answer the question? What answer did you get? These are the things that the judges should be able to see on your backboard. Also, photographs add a lot to a science fair display.
7. Write a report. Most science fairs require you to have a report. It will have the same sections as outlined for the display above. Your report needs to have a good bibliography. You should have at least three references you used to plan your project.
Good luck with your science fair project! I hope you have fun and learn a lot! Below are some links on the Internet that will help you.
Science Service - the International Science and Engineering Fair for Intel
Official Judging Rules for International Science and Engineering Fairs
Search the Access Excellence Collection of projects
Projects from NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab
National Science Teachers' Association web site
World-Wide Web Virtual Library of Science Fairs
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