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Organizing and Conducting a Science Fair Project

— The Ohio State University Extension Breads of the Harvest
Updated on Sep 28, 2011

Topic

Getting Started

Whatever the topic you choose, it must be one that you can experiment with yourself. A good way to start is to ask a question that can be answered only be experimenting. Here are some examples of topics chosen by other students and why they can or cannot be selected as good topics:

POOR TOPIC: "Motors"

The topic is too general. If the student is planning to describe how motors work, then he is merely doing a demonstration and not experimentation.

POOR TOPIC: "How Volcanoes Erupt"

This topic will not allow experimentation without visiting real volcanoes. If the student plans to make a model that erupts, then he is doing a demonstration and not experimentation.

GOOD TOPIC: "The Effect of Chemical Fertilizers On Bean Plants"

This could be a good topic because it suggests experimentation. The student must use a good scientific method in completing the project.

GOOD TOPIC: "How Do Pill Bugs React To Various Surfaces?"

This, too, could be a good topic because it suggests the use of an experimental method. The title of the project is in the form of a question. Asking a question is a good approach toward developing your topic.

Purpose

Every Project Must Have A Purpose

Once you have chosen a topic, try to explain the purpose of the experimentation in one to three sentences. You can start this way: "The purpose of this project is __________." Your purpose may include any hypotheses (scientific guesses) that you have as to the outcome of your experimentation.

Here is an example of one student's purpose:

The purpose of this project is to determine if earthworms, Lumbricus terrestris, affect soil nutrients.

In one sentence, the student has described what he is attempting to find out experimentally and what his test subjects are going to be. A likely hypothesis would follow as "I predict that plants will grow better in soil containing earthworms than in soil without earthworms." It can also be stated as "If a plant is placed in soil with earthworms, then it will grow better than a plant in soil without earthworms."

The project title of this example could take two forms:

What Effects Do Earthworms Have On Soil Nutrients?

or

The Effects Earthworms Have On Soil Nutrients.

Research

Library Research

No matter what the topic or purpose of your project, the next step should be library research. What we mean is this: find books, encyclopedias, magazines and any other source that contains information pertaining to your chosen topic.

At first you should look for general information. If the project deals with plants, for instance, then you must know something about plants: their structure, nutrients needed for growth, scientific names, photosynthesis, and other general characteristics of plant life. Your teacher may be able to suggest what you need to know about your topic.

Encyclopedias offer general information about many topics. Try looking up your topic in an encyclopedia. If there is an entry about your topic area, read through it to get an idea of how much there is to learn about the subject. Look for cross-references and listings of related articles.

Some widely used encyclopedias that give good information in the sciences are--

1. Encyclopaedia Britannica. This is a scholarly reference with long articles signed by specialists.

2. Collier's Encyclopedia. Collier's is a general reference for the layman. It is strong in contemporary science.

3. Encyclopedia Americana. This encyclopedia is especially strong in science and technology.

4. World Book Encyclopedia. World Book is a general reference with easy-to-read articles in the sciences. Some science project ideas are included with some of the science articles.

Experimenting

Your project should include controlled experimentation. In other words, if your experiment is done under carefully controlled conditions, what will happen? You, as the experimenter, will change certain conditions and observe how the condition of your subject is affected or changed. This experimentation provides a method for testing your hypotheses.

Your experimental design depends upon the experimentation that you are doing. Bacteria, mice or human beings will require different equipment and procedures than motors, soil and the weather. Whatever the experimentation or the subjects you use, there will probably be many variables. Two types of variables encountered in simple controlled experiments are:

1. INDEPENDENT VARIABLE

The experimenter changes something to observe what will happen. The "thing" changed is the independent variable.

2. DEPENDENT VARIABLE

These "things" that were changed caused something else to happen. The "something else" is the dependent variable.

For example, if the independent variable is the differing amounts of chemical fertilizer added to experimental groups of plants, then a dependent variable would be the difference in height between the experimental groups of plants.

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