Organizing and Conducting a Science Fair Project (page 3)
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.
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?
The Effects Earthworms Have On Soil Nutrients.
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.
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.
Results -- What Happened?
What do you do with the data that you collect during the experimentation? Well, if your observations are in words, organize a neat log or charts. If your results are in numbers, organize the data in tables and graphs.
Of course, there are many ways to construct tables and graphs. Certain types will serve best for your data. Your teacher may be able to help you decide on what types of tables and graphs to use.
Once you have completed your experimentation and have collected data, what have you proved? Before you answer that question, consider that data is not always reliable. If you worked with bean plants, for instance, how do you know that all bean plants are exactly like your sample? The answer is, "You don't know." You can only predict or infer that the rest are like your sample. The probability of your sample resembling the total population is not very high if you used five bean plants in each group.
One way to increase the probability, then, is to test a large sample. Fifty, one hundred, or even one thousand bean plants would increase your ability to predict. As a further step, you could have more than one experimental group with each group receiving a different amount of fertilizer. This method would give you even more significant results.
Scientists use statistics to analyze the data collected in an experiment. A statistical treatment of data allows them to predict, or generalize, about larger populations. If you can find someone trained in statistical methods, ask for help in analyzing your data.
You must be careful when drawing conclusions. If someone else repeated your experimentation, would they get the same results? Look over your data. Study it. Do a statistical analysis if you can. Then you can say what you think your experiment shows or seems to indicate.
Your data will either support your original Hypothesis or it will not. You must state this in your conclusion.
Be especially careful that your conclusion is not a new Hypothesis. Any new Hypothesis must be tested.
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