The trouble with picking up a textbook to select your topic and doing a project listed is that they are usually finished projects – meaning that everyone knows not only the experiment but what’s going to happen. No scientist in their right mind would do a experiment if they knew the ending! You’ve got to take a different approach.
Imagine your teacher just strode into class and announced that it’s nearly time for the Science Fair, and projects are due next week. You scope out the room and find Brian Brainiac inventing a new addition to the International Space Station… Corey Comet discovering a new species of octopus… and Darlene Dazzler built a transporter. Your head begins to spin like hamster wheel as you try to hit on the Ultimate Science Project that would make Einstein gape with awe.
The truth is, science fair projects don’t have to be glitzy, glamorous, or even work quite right… they just have to be yours. And they need to be science experiments, not jazzed-up science reports masquerading as projects.
A science experiment is a simple question you want an answer to, such as:
• “Do later bedtimes really make you sleep better?”
• “Does eating high-sugar foods before bedtime make your dreams more wild?”
• “How many balloons will lift a kid into the air?”
• “What kind of grass needs to be mowed the least?”
A science report are questions that don’t require any real testing on your part – all you have to do is research to get the answer. Topics like: What is acid rain? What is the sun made of? How does a power plant work? How does the human body work? Is overeating bad for you? We’ve seen reports win local school science fairs, but they don’t make it into the big time regional or national competition. And they aren’t nearly as much fun as doing your own experiment.
Here is the basic recipe for science fair projects across the globe:
The Scientific Method:
1. Ask a question/Think of an idea
2. Do background research (if possible)
3. Construct hypothesis/Plan your experiment
4. Test with an experiment (This is the fun part, and you can do steps 4 & 5 together)
5. Gather, collect, and record your data and analyze the results
6. Does the hypothesis and results match? If not, go back to step 3.
7. Reach a conclusion
Tips and Tricks for Great Experiments:
1. Repeat good results. If you get the result you’re after, then do the experiment again to make sure you can duplicate what happened. And again. And again.
2. Remove yourself. After you’ve listened to music during a test, ask your friends to do the same thing. This checks to make sure this idea you’re testing can work for everyone.
3. End with recommendations. This is a personal favorite, not a requirement, but I always like to report on the things I would do if I were to continue experimenting. You can easily make three, four, or even five future experiments that you would consider doing that would further refine your conclusion by drawing on the results you found and the experience you gained.
If you can produce consistent results for not just yourself, but for the whole class, and not only that but plans for future areas of study and relate it back to why this was important enough to study in the first place, now you’ve got an experiment worthy of a blue ribbon.
These are the key areas you need to cover for an outstanding science fair project. Remember, you don’t need a Nobel-prize winning project to make headlines at a science fair, nor do you need to sell your car to afford the necessary equipment. Keep it simple, and stick to what you know you can handle so you can do it right and have a lot of fun along the way.