science fair project planning guide!

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science fair project planning guide!
By Jennifer Cummings, M.Ed.

Spectacular Science Fair Project Planning Guide!

Spring is in the air! Flowers are blooming, birds are singing, and your child has a science fair project to complete! Spring is unofficially “science fair season” in many schools. Children have spent hours learning new material since September, and teachers often look for ways to let them show what they know. But has the science project assignment been a nightmare in years past? Unsure where to begin? Fearing midnight project wars? Read on, and we’ll help you and your student plan for the best science fair ever!

See below for Science Project Ideas

Pre-Planning Really Pays!

One of the best ways to help guarantee a successful science project is to begin the assignment soon after it is given. Many times science projects are assigned weeks in advance to give students time to complete their projects. However, it can be all too easy to “do it later”, and before you both know it the due date arrives!

On the day that the project is assigned, take time to read through the assignment with your student so you both understand the project and the requirements of the class. While older children may be able to plan their projects themselves, most students in elementary and middle school still require guidance and help gathering materials. So, in order to minimize arguments and last minute trips to the library, begin by creating a plan of action. On a family calendar, make note of any due dates that may be scheduled for proposals, research checks, or other information needed by the teacher. Schedule time for library trips or time to use the internet together for research. Making this information easily noticeable will help to remind you both when there is a new phase of the project coming up.

At this time, it is also important to read through the assignment to determine just what type of project the teacher expects. Can the students do research and present a project on a science topic or famous scientist? Are students required to make up a research question and conduct an experiment? Is there a specific topic to address, such as electricity or plants? What products are needed for the final project- pictures, papers, presentations? By understanding all of these questions you will have a better understanding of what materials you will need and what kind of time you can expect to dedicate to the project.

Finding a Question to Research

Most science fair projects require the student to ask a research question – a question they will try to answer by doing their experiment. Finding a research question to follow can be very scary, but try to remember that often, simplest ideas are best. If you try to crate a project or experiment that is too complex, there is a greater chance that it won’t get completed in time.

To brainstorm some experiment ideas, keep in mind the theme of the project. For example, if the theme is plants, think about everything your student knows about taking care of plants and make a list of those ideas. Then, try to create a question they could answer about plants. For example, they might know that plants need sunlight to grow. Some possible research questions could be:

Can a plant grow with only a light bulb for light?
Can a plant grow without sunlight?
How do the same kinds of plants grow with different amounts of sunlight?

Tried brainstorming and still stuck on a science topic? Not to panic! The internet is a wonderful tool to help research ideas for projects. Many web sites are dedicated to science projects and ideas for all ages. There are also many different books and kits available to you to help find an appropriate experiment for a project. Many sources of children’s books and teaching materials have volumes covering most popular science project topics, from magnets to mummification. As an additional benefit, many of these come with complete supply lists or even the supplies needed for completing the experiment. However you find it, once you have developed a good research question together, you have done the hardest part of the assignment!

The Research Race

Most science projects require some form of research, either as part of a report or as background information about an experiment. Being well organized and beginning quickly will help your student have the best selection of research materials available with minimum hassle. Have your child check at his or her school library for information first. That material is often grade-appropriate and covers the information taught in the school’s curriculum. Also, check your student’s science book; there is often a great deal of information available there, too.

If there is not enough information available at the school there are several other options available for finding out the answers to your science questions. To gather more information plan a visit your local public library. The librarians are usually very helpful and are eager to assist students in finding information that they need. It is important to look to the library early, however, as they often have limited copies of titles and when science projects are assigned there are usually lots and lots of students on the lookout for similar books!

The internet is another popular tool for researching information for science projects. There are literally thousands of web sites dedicated to every imaginable topic of study. However, be sure that the information gathered using the internet is from reliable sources, such as museums, colleges, or other scientific organizations. There may be information that is not really accurate on the web, and using it wouldn’t help the project.

Remember!! Wherever the information comes from, book, magazine, or internet, it is important to remember that your student must give credit to the author of the information when writing a report.

Everything You Need to Know About Science Homework by Anne Zeman and Kate Kelly

When deciding on an actual experiment, there are three key questions that should be asked:

    1. How much time is required to do the experiment?When deciding on which experiment to do, it is important that your child has enough time to complete the experiment before the due date. If they are trying to document the effect of no sunlight for a month on a plant, and their project is due in two weeks, what a disaster! When deciding on an experiment, look at the time that is available and plan for what you have. Be sure to include time to make the presentation or report needed for school.
    2. What materials are needed for the experiment?

Exactly what will I do?Some experiments sound great, but require exotic materials that are too expensive or unavailable. Be sure that getting the materials won’t make everyone crazy before the experiment even begins. Also, be very cautious when planning any experiment using live animals, even ants! Living critters have a way of not cooperating with scientists, and they often need care, even when the science experiment is done.

Also, have your student make a specific plan as to how they will conduct the experiment. How often will they monitor it? How long will it take? What measurements will be taken? Are there going to be pictures? Answering all of these questions is important in understanding how to follow the procedure (steps) of an experiment.

How can the experiment be presented in class?

Before beginning, have your child decide how they will present their experiment to the class. Can they bring it in when it is done? Will pictures be required to show what happened? Thinking about how to use the experiment in school will make sure your child plans ahead and doesn’t do an experiment that they can’t use.

After your student has answered these questions, they will be ready to begin their new role as a scientist. Always be sure to supervise the experiment, especially with younger children. Be sure to encourage them to record lots and lots of information during their experiment. Having more information will make writing their report or project easier in the end.

Documenting the Data

When your child has completed their experiment, have them plan how they will prepare their project. Always remember to check with the teacher’s instructions for how to present all of their work. Encourage your child to read and follow all requirements in the assignment. A good rule is to have at least 7 days after an experiment ends to when it is due in class. That will give your child a chance to be creative and do their best work on their project. Having that time will also minimize the likelihood that you will both be up at midnight the night before the project is due!

Feel free to assist when you are needed, but be sure to allow your child to complete their project themselves. Science projects, while often a family affair, are ultimately about having your child learn about how scientists work to answer questions about the world. Allowing your child that experience will help build their confidence and their academic skills.

By following the rules of making a schedule, researching early, and staying on task, your child (and you!) can have a great science fair experience! Good luck!

Ideas for Science Projects for Science Fairs

  1. Build a true scale model of the solar system – but be careful because it cannot be contained within the confines of an exhibit. Illustrate how you would locate it in your town. Maybe even do so!!
  2. What is/are Napier’s bones and what can you do with it/them?
  3. Discover how to construct the Koch or “snowflake” curve. Use your computer to draw fractals based on simple equations such as Julia sets and Mandelbrot sets.What is fractal dimension? Investigate it by examining examples showing what happens to lines, areas, solids, or the Koch curve, when you double the scale.
  4. Knots. What happens when you put a knot in a strip of paper and flatten it carefully? When is what appears to be a knot really a knot? Look at methods for drawing knots.
  5. Is there an algorithm for getting out of 2-dimensional mazes? What about 3-dimensional? Look at the history of mazes (some are extraordinary). How would you go about finding someone who is lost in a maze (2 or 3 dimensional) and wandering randomly? How many people would you need to find them?
  6. Physics Project ideas
  7.  Biology Science Projects
  8.  Chemistry Science Projects

 

Jennifer Cummings

Ms. Cummings, author, and editor of the Education and School Section, she has a B.A.in psychology and an M.Ed. in special education from Framingham State College in Massachusetts. She was an elementary teacher in Massachusetts serving both regular education and special education students. She has taught grades 1,4, and 5.

"I believe that families' involvement in their child's education is one of the key ingredients to creating a successful school experience for children. Keeping parents informed about school-related issues helps parents and teachers work together for the best possible outcomes for their children. Learning together makes learning fun - for everyone!" - Jennifer Cummings.
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