Change THIS, Measure THAT: How to design your own unique science fair project

Back to school time is also: “what am I going to do for a science fair project” time. This happens to be my FAVORITE time of year, but I appreciate that the required project also causes a lot of stress in a lot of classrooms and households!!

START EARLY – here is some help:

Look for ideas that will “test” a relationship between two variables, because the fundamental structure of all science fair projects is to change something and then measure how the change impacted another thing (here the “things” are called variables). Sometimes it is easier to identify what you can measure first. Think of variables that would have numbers and units such as time, distance, angle, speed, growth, age, weight, volume, temperature, circumference, salinity, intensity, hardness, etc. or alternatively some event that happens that you could count (i.e. the number of times something specific happens).

Look for a “statement” in a science book, the newspaper, or on the web that you could test or you want to know more about, such as:

*** Spiders avoid coconut oil.
*** Ants are attracted to raw foods more than processed foods.
*** Salt water intrusion harms lake-side plants.
*** DNA degrades over time.
*** Storing opened containers of tomato sauce upside down will make them last longer.
*** Ocean acidification might kill crabs and oysters.
*** Sunscreen from swimmers harms aquatic wildlife.

Now take your statement and make it a QUESTION, for example:

— Will spiders avoid coconut oil?
— Do ants prefer raw food compared to processed food?
— Does salinity affect plant growth?
— How long does it take for DNA to degrade?
— Will storing an open container of food prolong it’s shelf life?
— How does pH affect the shells of oysters and crabs?
— How does the concentration of sunscreen affect aquatic organisms?

Now make your question into a HYPOTHESIS:

^^^ If there is coconut oil applied to a corner, then spiders will not approach the corner.
^^^ Ants will be attracted to raw, unprocessed foods more (or faster) than processed foods.
^^^ As salinity increases, plant growth will decrease.
^^^ As age increases, the amount of DNA that can be extracted will decrease.
^^^ Upside-right contains will mold faster than upside-down containers.
^^^ As the concentration of sunscreen increases, the density of phytoplankton will decrease.

Based on your hypothesis, design your EXPERIMENT, remember change THIS, measure THAT: There are MANY different ways to test the same hypothesis. Here is just one example:

Change the conditions (with and without coconut oil); Have 2 areas (tanks, walls, rooms, cups, etc.) one with and one without coconut oil and then measure the number of spiders, the time a spider will stay in the area, the frequency with which a spider visits) etc.

Change the food available and measure how many ants come or how quickly the first ant comes.

Change the amount of salt in the water for the plant, and measure the plants’ growth. This could be down as with and without salt (simple) or as a concentration gradient of salinity (more advanced)

Extract DNA from fruits of different ages (i.e. change the age: fresh, less fresh, decaying, decomposing, mush) and measure the amount of DNA extracted from the same weight/volume of each “age”.

Change the way similar jars of the same food are stored and measure the time it takes to see the first signs of mold.

Change the concentration of sunscreen dissolved in water and measure the density of plankton it can support.

Designing your own project is not hard and chances are your teacher will recognize it as original (yes, they have already seen most of the ones on the popular websites …)

Remember to include replication and a control.

Good Luck!

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Guest Blog: How to Write a Research Paper – by Lois

A Step by Step Guide in Writing a Research Paper

Over the decade of school, we have all probably written numerous research papers, probably most of it during our high school and college years. It probably came to a point where you’ve written so many research papers that it has become a second nature for you already. But not everyone has the privilege to have the basic knowledge in how to write a research paper like other people. But for those who still need help, here is a basic step by step process on how to write a research paper that may help out a whole lot.

Step 1: Gathering of Research
This phase is probably the most time consuming part of the whole research paper because it is the step where you have to do intensive research about your chosen topic. Don’t worry if you spend a good amount of time on this part because this will be your content in the main research paper. You can try searching the internet, go to the library to read books related to your topic and also read journal articles.

You can try doing the following:
** Refine your chosen research subject and stick to it
** Develop your research questions and make sure to write it down so you can glance it at every time you need to
** Go to your local library and ask them their opinion on your research area and also do a lot of your research here
** Read journal article abstracts on the same topic you’re interested in writing about.

You can also gain more insight about how research papers flow by reading other author’s papers

Step 2: Organizational Phase
While you’re asking people for guidance and reading journal articles by other authors, try writing down everything you think might be of help for you when you begin writing. Make sure to include citation information, potential quotes you may want to use, summaries and any other journal articles that may be of interest for your research paper.

In this phase try doing the following:
** Develop a potential thesis statement
** Outline and brainstorm your research paper’s content (you may take a good chunk of time in doing this because this will be your guide in actually writing your drafts)
** Create a meaty bibliography (this is where all your references go)
** Inset notes in your outline and add references

Step 3: Drafting
Once you’re finished writing your thesis statement and outline, it is time to begin writing your first draft.

You can try out these basic steps so that you can be guided:
** If you’re having a difficult time with the introduction, try starting in the middle portion where the gist of your research paper really lies
** Make sure that you site everything
** Edit as you go
** Make tweaks on the outline if needed
** Get in breaks while writing. A good 15 minutes is good to rest your brain and keep it refreshed
** Start early to finish early. Don’t procrastinate

Step 4: Editing Phase
During this phase, you have the chance to remove and add parts in your research paper to make it better. Keep writing drafts until you feel more comfortable and more confident in your paper so that you can proceed to the final draft of your paper.

Try out these steps:
** Try reading your draft out loud and mark the parts that don’t sound right
** Pay attention at the punctuation marks and change anything that needs to be fixed
** Make sure that every part of the paper moves accordingly towards the topic
** Remove passive verbs if you can

Lois Weldon is writer at She lives happily in London with her husband and lovely daughter. Adores writing tips for students. Passionate about Star Wars and yoga.

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Guest Blog – Inexpensive and Easy Science Fair Projects: Magnets – Experiment #3 – by Bruce

Is your science fair coming up, but you’re still not sure what to present for it? Trying to find a last minute idea without breaking the bank can be really frustrating but one simple tool- magnets can give you a few ideas!

This is experiment #3 in a 3 part series of fun, simple, inexpensive projects that will wow your judges at the science fair.

Maglev Technology

You may have heard about this before, especially with maglev trains — But did you know that you could easily create your own maglev train? Then, demonstrating that technology while using a ring magnet works just as well – and you could turn this demonstration into a unique experiment for your science fair.

* First, take two bar magnets and observe how they react when you touch each side of the pole to the other. Next, take a ring magnet on its flat side bring it to the north pole of one of the bar magnets. What happened: Does it attract or repel? The answer will tell you if the ring magnet was on its own north or south pole.

*Repeat this with another a ring magnet of a different size.
What happened: Do you notice any differences? Is the difference something you could measure?

*Now, take a spool of thread and place a pencil in the middle of the spool, standing vertically and slide one ring magnet onto the pencil with the ring magnet’s north side facing up. Then slide the second ring magnet onto the pencil so that the north side faces down.
What happened: Why do you think that is happening with the second magnet?

With the two ring magnets in this position, it will result in levitation of the second magnet.
Now, let’s turn this demonstration into an experiment:

Question: What is the effect of the ring magnet’s size (pick radius, diameter, circumference, weight, thickness, etc.) on the distance (measured in length) in which they repel?

Hypothesis: Predict what will happen BEFORE you conduct the experiment.

Experiment: Vary the size of the ring magnets and measure the distance of repulsion. More: Think about what other variable may effect the distance repelled and design more experiments to test their effects.

Bonus: See if you can figure out to use a magnetic compass to determine what end of a magnet is its north or south pole. This would be impressive for your class/teacher/judge presentation.

When you are feeling stressed or under pressure to come up with a great science project idea for your child, turn to magnets! These examples are just a few simple, inexpensive ways to a great science project.

Bruce Utsler is a freelance blogger and science enthusiast. He is currently studying to become an X-ray technician. He is an expert with magnets, particularly neodymimium magnets. When he isn’t busy studying or experimenting, Bruce likes to hit the streets with his longboard. –

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Guest Blog: 8 tips for writing your report – by Sandra

From Dr. Maille: Some schools require a report as part of your science fair project – this is especially true for higher level competitions. Even if you don’t have to write one, you should because it will help you prepare for your presentation. Ultimately, a well written report will help you stand out against your competition – so check out these great tips from Sandra:

8 tips to edit your work

If you want to distinguish yourself as a great writer, a step above just being good, you need to develop a key skill; the ability to edit your own work.

If you don’t have your own personal editor, you are on your own. Whether you want to be or not. No matter how much you may hate editing, do not skip this important step. The following tips will help make this undesirable task easier to handle.

1. Don’t Edit as You Go
We aren’t talking about fixing typos or rewriting the occasional sentence. Don’t go back and reread the entire chapter, or even the current section. You will always find things you want to change later, if you change it as you write, you will just end up doing it again later.

2. Give it a Rest
Sometimes you can be too close to a project to approach it from an editorial perspective. Try waiting a few days after you finish writing before you edit it your work. This will give you a chance to get the ideas you had when you were writing out of your head. If you are in a time crunch and don’t have a few days, at least wait an hour or two.

3. Change the Format
By reading your work from a different format, you will see the words in a whole new light. Printing a paper copy, or converting it to read on your tablet are great ways to change it up. Sometimes even just a different font and type size will help put things in a new perspective.

4. Look at the Big Picture First
On your first pass through the completed document, look for major content issues as opposed to dissecting each individual sentence. Look for these types of things:

● Sections that need major revision
● Chapters or sections that don’t belong at all
● Areas that need more clarification

5. Time to Face the Chopping Block
Chances are, if you are like most writers, you often like the sound of your own typing. On your second pass, look to cut the unnecessary fat from your work. Ten percent is probably a good target to shoot for. If you are wondering what needs to be cut, keep an eye out for these:

● Unnecessary words – descriptive language that doesn’t add any value
● Repetitive points – when you have said something once, that’s usually enough
● Weak language – things like “it is believed that…” or “in my humble opinion….”

6. Spell Check Plus
You should always use a spelling and grammar checker for your work. Be careful however not to rely on this tool alone. There is no substitution for good, old-fashioned proofreading. Spell checkers are great at what they do, but they can’t catch things like homophones and wrong word usage.

7. Slow Down
You may not be able to, but reading your document from the bottom up lets you concentrate on the individual sentence without getting bogged down in the content you already fixed. This last pass through your document should be checking for final formatting and spelling errors.

8. Know When to Stop
There will always be “just one more” thing to change, a comma to move, or a section that you think works better the way it was yesterday. If you find yourself changing things more than once, it’s time to stop.

Here is the cold, hard truth: the work is never going to be perfect. I know that’s hard for some of you to hear, but the sooner you come to terms with this devastating news, the sooner you can put down the proverbial red pencil and do something much more important, getting your report in on time.

Sandra Miller is edtech writer from Brooklyn and uses editing service Help.Plagtracker to make her writing perfect.

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Guest Blog – Inexpensive and Easy Science Fair Projects: Magnets – Experiment #2 – by Bruce

Is your science fair coming up, but you’re still not sure what to present for it? Trying to find a last minute idea without breaking the bank can be really frustrating but one simple tool- magnets can give you a few ideas!

This is experiment #2 in a 3 part series of fun, simple, inexpensive projects that will wow your judges at the science fair.

Did you know you can create your own electromagnet? You can then use them to show the effect of electromagnets on a compass by comparing their magnetic fields.

Electromagnets work as magnets when electrical current is flowing through them. To make one – begin with a large nail, wrap some insulated wire around it and then connect the ends to a battery. Place a compass nearby it and see what happens. How close does the compass have to be to see an effect?

Remember to select ONE variable, predict the effect of that variable, make a change or a range of changes to just that variable, and record your results. The variables in this experiment are the wire, the nail, the battery and a compass or iron filings or small metal objects like paperclips.

Think about the wire: how might different types of wire affect the strength of the electromagnet?

Think about the coil: what happens with the magnetic field when you coil the wire more around the nail? How about if you coil it less? So what effect does the amount of coiled wire have on the electromagnet’s strength as a magnet? If you select this question, be careful not to introduce changes to two variables. You are either exploring the tightness of the coil (using the same amount of wire) or you are exploring the amount of wire (with the same degree of tightness).

Think about the nail: how might different size nails affect the strength of the electromagnet?

Think about the battery: how might different types or brands of batteries affect the strength of the electromagnet?

If you want, you can use iron fillings on a paper plate or napkin and place your electromagnet beneath it. The fillings should arrange themselves around the magnetic field. You can use your these results to create a visual presentation for the science fair.

Problem to solve: How might you measure “strength” so that you have a quantitative dependent variable? (HINT: the closer an object has to be to observe an effect of the electromagnet, the weaker the electromagnet is). Are there other measurements you could make?

Bruce Utsler is a freelance blogger and science enthusiast. He is currently studying to become an X-ray technician. He is an expert with magnets, particularly neodymimium magnets. When he isn’t busy studying or experimenting, Bruce likes to hit the streets with his longboard. –

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Guest Blog – Inexpensive and Easy Science Fair Projects: Magnets – Experiment #1 – by Bruce

Is your science fair coming up, but you’re still not sure what to present for it? Trying to find a last minute idea without breaking the bank can be really frustrating but one simple tool- magnets can give you a few ideas!

This is experiment #1 in a 3 part series of fun, simple, inexpensive projects that will wow your judges at the science fair.

Experiment #1. Magnetic Fields
This simple project will explore how magnetic fields affect the rate at which water flows. This will require water, salt solution, and a few permanent magnets. A good example of an everyday permanent magnet is a refrigerator magnet and these would work well for the experiment. These kinds of magnets can be purchased at most local stores, just try to avoid the flat strip magnets.

This project explores diamagnetism, simply meaning the property of being repelled by both poles of a magnet. Water is the diamagnetic element, meaning that it has permeability or degree of magnetization of less than 1 and it will repel the magnetic force. This will become your hypothesis for the experiment.

HYPOTHESIS: If water repels the magnetic force, then the rate at which water flows will decrease when a magnet is nearby.

PART I: This project can be conducted in a variety of ways, the easiest being to start by measuring (i.e. timing) the flow of 300 milliliters of water through a burette without a magnet (this is the control). You will want to repeat this 3 times and average the results. You would then repeat the same experiment but now with 2 permanent magnets at the bottom of the burette.


Did the water flow faster or slower with the magnets in place? Should you accept or rejection your hypothesis?

PART II: What do you think might happen if salt water is used instead of tap water?

Write your hypothesis:

If salt is dissolved in the water, then the rate at which water flows will (PICK ONE) increase, decrease, or stay the same.

Now repeat the experiment with salt water (i.e. a solution of water and table salt), timing the 300 milliliters of salt water through the burette without a magnet (the control) and then with the two magnets set up just like before.

Record all results in a table and make a bar graph. Then determine if your hypothesis was supported (conclude by accepting the hypothesis) or unsupported (conclude by rejecting the hypothesis).

Other variations to explore:

• How does number of magnetic affect the rate of flow? (compare one, two, three, four magnets)

• How does the distance from the water affect the diamagnetic effect? (i.e. measured as the rate of flow – determine by varying the distance between the magnets and the stream of water)

• How does the temperature of the water affect the diamagnetic effect? (i.e. is the effect measurably larger with hot or cold water?)

This experiment is great because of the low cost and fairly limited time it takes to get the results. Look for 2 more magnet projects coming soon!

Bruce Utsler is a freelance blogger and science enthusiast. He is currently studying to become an X-ray technician. He is an expert with magnets and when he isn’t busy studying or experimenting, Bruce likes to hit the streets with his longboard.

Need magnets or want to learn more about Bruce? see neodymimium magnets

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What will the Science Fair Judge ask me?

Judges are the “referees” in the sport of science fair. As with most refereed sports, the losing teams will often blame the referees for failure and, in some cases that is the case, and in other cases you just got beat.

Since there is no appeal process, no coach’s challenge, and no instant replay for review, the judges’ decisions stand (and will not be explained no matter how much you beg…). SO KNOWING THAT, your project must be well executed and well communicated so that the “bad calls” are minimized.

Here are 10 general questions all students should be prepared to answer:

1. Where did you get the idea for this project?

2. What did you learn?

3. Why are your findings (i.e. results/data/conclusion) important?

4. What was your control (i.e. why is that a control for the independent variable)?

5. Why did you pick that hypothesis (i.e. why did you think that would happen)?

6. Who helped you?

7. What would be an example of the next logical experiment (i.e. what would you do next)?

8. If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

9. What were the hardest/easiest/most challenging/most fun /most exciting/ most unexpected (etc.) parts of the project?

10. Did anything surprise you along the way and why (i.e. how did you overcome that problem)?

Remember that there is a component of judging that is intangible and unpredictable. It is based on the random allocation of projects into rooms or groups. In the ideal situation, all judges would review all projects and all come to one agreement. This is not going to happen because of time constraints. Consequently, your impression on whatever judges you are randomly assigned is critical.

MORE TIPS for students:
• You need to study your project. You are responsible for every word on your backboard and every concept related to every word on your back board.

• Chances are you did the project a considerable time before the actual judging (especially at the higher levels); go back and re-read the log book and your research paper.

• You need to show enthusiasm and knowledge TOGETHER.

• One judge can make a difference – so treat EVERYONE who stops by your project with the utmost respect.

• Depending on your project, you could win while wearing ripped jeans or could lose while wearing dress clothes BUT remember that the impression on the judge is critical and your appearance will factor into that even if it is ever so slight. So if you hate dressing up – find the least dressy thing that you will not be fidgeting in and put in on for a few hours.


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How to Make a Great Science Fair Project Backboard: An example

Many of you should be ready to make your project backboards.

Here is a great example of an attractive board with a good balance of art and science.

Sarah is in the 6th grade.

6th grade science fair project

6th grade science fair project

Some things to notice:
-a catchy title

-a clear testable question

-logical and expected order of sections from left to right

-the data and photos highlighted “center stage”

-used only a few colors (in this case yellow and black to mimic the bees)

-great use of photos to “tell her story”

-just a touch of artistic flair (if there is too much “art” the project will look like an arts-n-crafts project and it might be interpreted as more art than science)

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Guest Blog: School Science Fair Ideas – by Meghan

Meghan is a recent college graduate that leads an educational portal for students.

CHECK OUT: or click on:
Educational Portal

School Science Fair Ideas

The school science fair is a time honored American tradition. It is meant as a celebration of all things science and allows students to receive praise outside of the classroom. Sure the kids who win the science fair are not held in as high esteem as the kids who win the sports events, but it is often the kids who win the science fair that go on to earn big money. Whereas few of the sporting heroes in school will ever make a career out of their efforts.

Many parents get involved with their students science fair projects. This is also becoming a time-honored tradition, as the parent’s education advice morphs into direct manipulation, often resulting in the kid running off to enjoy video games whilst the parents “play” with their project.

A child is sent to school to learn, which is a shame, because they should be taught how to think. Memorizing every state on the map is not going to help them figure out how to pay a mortgage after they lose their job; it is also not going to help them navigate a convoy of petrol tankers. A child should be taught how to think in school. The science fair is a good way to see how far your child has come. It is a good way to see how well they are learning to “think”.

If your child copies a friend’s idea then you may need to encourage him/her to think of something else. Why not take out their text books and scour them (together) to see what principals they may use for their science fair project. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

1 – Creating Hydrogen
A child may rig up a small electrolysis device which fills up small plastic bags with hydrogen. As a little crowd pleaser, the child could explode the bag for the judges. If the child finds a green way of creating the hydrogen, then the green theme may help them win the fair. **

2 – Can smells scare away pests
There are lots of myths that claim that things like Basil smells bad to flies. A child may prove this by growing different herbs and introducing aphids or house flies to the plants. Could the basil be ground into a solution and sprayed on other plants for pest protection?

3 – Can the sun be concentrated?
Could a collecting of mirrors and magnifying glasses be used to heat water using only the sun’s rays?

4 – Smarties or Skittles in cola
They fizz away until the color comes off. Can diet cola fizz away more candies than regular cola? How does Pepsi fair?

5 – Which types of buildings will withstand an earthquake better?
Flexible buildings help, but will a round one fair better than a square one? Will a triangular based building last longer if it only has one central support column?

6 – Boiling points
What substances will lower a waters boiling point? You can show how pure distilled water can be heated until it is explosive.

7 – What grows quicker?
Put radish seeds in soil that has different components and see if you can find what elements make them sprout the quickest.

8 – The science of selling
Are some people more attracted to adverts with certain colors? Can a color really make people not want to look at something? ***

9 – Is it possible to grow stronger in just a week?
Keeping a daily chart of foods and exercise may help the scientist figure out what it is that helps muscles grow. ***

10 – Can heavier planes be forced to fly faster?
Can the downward force being exerted on a flying plane be used to make it move faster diagonally?

**Make sure you have permission to explode the bag!
***Make sure you have permission to do a project involving humans!

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Data Driven Science

Science is all about the data – so many scientists envision the data they are going to generate BEFORE they do experiments.

It is a good way of approaching a science fair project because you will know what you are going to do with your data even before you have it. Unfortunately, sometimes students collect a lot of numbers…. and then don’t know how to graph them, or which graph format is correct, or worse – didn’t collect the data correctly and now can’t graph them.

SO START WITH IMAGINING THE DATA. Here is an example from my lab notebook:

I always imagine the possible outcomes from the experiment BEFORE I conduct it and think about what each would suggest.

This is for an experiment that I was about to do. I knew I was creating different levels of a disturbance as my independent variable (x-axis) and that I was measuring the amount of metabolism in the bacterial community for my dependent variable (y-axis), but I DID NOT know what the data would look like – So I imagined all the possibilities, and what each possibility would suggest, and sketched them in my notebook BEFORE the experiment.

If you need help selecting a graph – check out the Graphing 101 tab under Scientific Method above for details.

In contrast….here is what my daughter’s school notebook looks like….

What a scientific notebook does NOT look like…

She’s not going into a science field.

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