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How to Develop a Science Project

— Centreville Middle School Science Fair
Updated on Sep 28, 2011

Step 1: Select a Topic Area

The first step in selecting a topic for your science fair project is to decide on a topic that interests you. The topic is a general area of study (birds, plants, friction). Since you will be working on this science project for several months, pick a subject that you already have prior knowledge of and/or find enjoyable. Make sure your topic area is one where:

  • you can actually experiment and collect data. Black holes are exciting but you obviously can get no data
  • you will have access to all resources and supplies you will need while doing the project.
  • you can measure some aspect of the topic. For example, for the topic "Does your mood vary according to the day of the week?", how would you measure mood? In investigation how some factor affects the freezing rate of water, how would you measure freezing time since it is a gradual process?

If you really have no idea where to start, there are many lists that have a lot of good ideas in all the science rooms. You can also look in science books, magazines, newspapers, and computer networks. Don't be shy. Talk to anyone you know who might have an idea. 

Is Your Topic Acceptable?

Use this checklist to see if a topic is a good one for a science project. If your problem is satisfactory, you will be able to do the following: 

You should answer "yes" to all of these.

  • Does the topic sound interesting to you?
  • Can you get measurements or some kind of number for data?
  • Can you measure a change in the variable studied (dependent variable)?
  • Can you change the other variable (independent variable)? 
  • Can you keep other factors from influencing your results?
  • Can you find at last 3 sources of written information on the subject?
  • Can you collect a lot of data? (20 or more numbers)
  • Do you have all the materials you need, or will you be able to get all the materials quickly?
  • Do you have time to do the experiment twice?
  • If the project involves human subjects, are you willing to get permission from every adult and parent permission for every student tested?
  • Is the topic interesting enough for you to read about it before you start?

You should answer "no" to all of these.

  • Could a younger student do the same project?
  • Is it going to cost you more than $5 to do this project?
  • Could anyone be even slightly hurt by your project?
  • Could any of your data cause any embarrassment to anyone?

Step 2: Identifying the Problem

After you find the general subject you want to research for your science fair project, you have to narrow down your topic to a specific question or problem. To do this, it is good to go to the library, or do other research to find a more specific area. For example, if you really found the subject of plants interesting, you would need to go to the library to do research on botany. This would help you narrow down your topic to a smaller area of interest, such as seed germination (sprouting). You next need to find a relationship between this and another variable (e.g. temperature). This then suggests the question that will become your problem: Does temperature affect the rate of seed germination? 

Is Your Topic Acceptable?

If your problem is satisfactory, you will be able to do the following:

  1. Measure a change in the variable studied (seed germination rate). 
  2. Change the other variable (temperature). 
  3. Find background information on the subject. 
  4. Get enough data. 
  5. Be able to get all the materials quickly.  
  6. Have time to do the experiment twice
Examples of Topic Development: 

Topic

Relationship

Problem

Birds Birds and feeder height Does the height of a bird feeder affect the frequency with which birds will visit it?
Body Temperature Temperature and time of day Does your body temperature vary with the time of day?
Pendeulums Pendulum and its length Does the length of a pendulum affect its frequency?
Erosion Erosion and plant cover How does doensity of plant cover affect the rate of erosion?

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