I get it… few parents and kids love science fair projects as much as I do – but that’s OK – I am here to help! Doing a science fair project should be fun and informative, not stressful. For the new year, I recommend tackling the science fair with a new outlook. Design your own project. It is not as hard as it sounds.
There are two basic strategies:
Strategy 1. Take a project and make it your own:
For a student’s first science fair, this is a great strategy. There are many websites and science fair project books that have interesting ideas and tell them exactly what to do, like a recipe in a cookbook. And that is OK – just follow the directions and complete the project, but don’t stop there. Have them select ONE variable (i.e. one “thing”) and change it to see how the change affects the results (i.e. another “thing”). The more often they do this, the more in-depth the project will be. It will also give them practice at conducting experiments.
Basic philosophy: CHANGE one “thing” … MEASURE the outcome in another “thing”.
Strategy 2. Starting from scratch:
To have a truly unique project, the student will have to design it themselves. That means they have to ask the question, write the hypothesis, and design their own experiment. Everything they find online is available to everyone, so you should expect other kids to be doing (or have already done) the same, or a very similar, project.
Basic philosophy: FIND an interesting correlation, old wives’ tale, food hack, hobby, and/or myth and set up an experiment to test if the relationship between two “things” is predictable.
The basic steps are the same:
1. Make the observation (Ask it in the form of a question)
2. State your hypothesis (if THIS THING is changed…then will THIS OTHER THING change?);
3. Do the experiment… change the first thing, measure the second thing.
For example, I have a friend whose son doesn’t love science but loves skateboarding. I know very little about skateboarding. So I had him start but writing down all the “things” associated with a good day at a skate park. We started focusing on the skateboard itself.
— Are they all the same?
— What makes them different?
— What makes them “good”?
— Why do you want a longer/shorter board?
— Why are the wheels different?
— How many different types of wheels are there?
— Why is there a difference in price?
— What do you care most about (speed? distance? control?).
He ended up tackling: “How does the type of wheel affect the speed of a skateboard?”
And then we had it… Change the type of wheel/Measure the speed. He enjoyed the project and did well because he was interested in the topic, cared about the outcome, and contributed to the design.
Good Luck and Happy New Year!
Keep the questions coming!