Successful Science Fair Projects
A successful science fair project does not have to be expensive or even terribly time-consuming. However, it does require some planning and careful thought. Projects become frustrating to students, parents and teachers when they are left to the last minute and thus don't have the chance to be as good as they possibly can. You can't rush good science!
A Science Fair Project display usually asks that you include certain sections. Your particular science fair rules and guidelines may use slightly different words to describe them, but be sure you address each of them as you go through your project and then again as you write it up.
Sections of a Science Fair Project
Ideally the title of your project should be catchy, an "interest-grabber," but it should also describe the project well enough that people reading your report can quickly figure out what you were studying. You will want to write your Title and Background sections AFTER you have come up with a good question to study.
Background or Purpose
The background section is where you include information that you already know about your subject and/or you tell your project readers why you chose the project you did. What were you hoping to find out from the project?
The Question (Or Selecting Your Subject)
Probably the most difficult part of a science fair project is coming up with a good subject to research. I suggest to my students that they:
A. think about WHAT INTERESTS them. B. think of a TESTABLE QUESTION about the subject.
If you are doing a project on something that interests you, you will likely enjoy the research more and stick with it long enough to get some good data. Remember, you are being a scientist. Scientists go to work each day because they are interested in what they are studying and because they are curious to know the answers to the questions they are researching.
If you are working to ANSWER A QUESTION, you will be doing real research. (Often students tell me that their parents have suggested doing something such as "volcanoes" or "tornadoes." It is possible to build cute models of these things, but it is pretty hard to come up with questions about them that are testable with materials available to the average person and in the time frame between when the science fair project is assigned and when it is due!) Another problem occurs when students need special equipment to test a question. For example, it might be interesting to find out if television commercials really are louder than regular programming ... but how would you test that without a decible-meter?
Some of the best science fair projects I have seen have also been the simplest. For example, I had students whose parents bought "off-brands" of cereal. They wondered if those brands were really any different from the name brands. They bought 3 or 4 different brands of the same type of cereal and asked permission to test them with the whole class. They had their peers evaluate them for taste, appearance, and sogginess in milk after 1 minute. They also did a cost comparison. They got a lot of interesting data! (I won't tell you what they found out in case you want to do something similar!) Other students who like sports have done experiments with the equipment for their sport: Do new tennis balls bounce higher than old ones? Do basketballs that are fully inflated bounce better than flatter ones? These projects just require some tennis balls or basketballs, some volunteer "bouncers" and a meter tape or meter stick!
There are many good sources for science fair project questions. The Neuroscience For Kids Web Site has some neuroscience-related questions that might spark your interest. Projects involving food - tasting, smelling etc - can be very simple to set up yet also very interesting. "Can blindfolded people taste the difference between ...?" You can also get lots of ideas from science trade books, such as Janice Van Cleave's books ("Biology for Every Kid" etc). If you browse through these books at a store or library, they may give you some ideas for a project of your own.
Reprinted with the permission of Eric H. Chudler. Copyright © 1996-2008, Eric H. Chudler All Rights Reserved.