Tips for Parents to Avoid Taking Over Science Fair Projects
Parents today are bombarded by diametrically opposing advice: get involved in your child’s education to ensure their success in life, but don’t hover and rob your child of independence and resilience. When it comes to academic projects, teachers say that regardless of contemporary warnings about letting children be responsible for their own educations, the most common transgressions at science fairs are the adult-level displays that children obviously did not create. As well-intentioned parents, how can we support creative inquiries but not cheat our children out of the discovery experience?
Teachers provide students with the structure of the Scientific Method to guide their inquiries, and keeping those stages in mind—posted in public—is a first step to awareness of the project’s goals. At each stage students must demonstrate that they have mastered a critical educational skill, and parents should recognize this journey and its milestones to better understand their roles along the way. Below is the basic outline of the Scientific Method and suggested questions you can rely on to elicit answers from your child:
- Ask a question: What sounds fun to experiment with? What topic in your book seemed interesting? Are you curious about anything specific? Encourage your child to browse widely before choosing an idea.
- Do background research: Who might help you find relevant materials? Where might sources be found? What keywords might generate the most useful results? Which sites would a teacher deem “appropriate” and “credible”?
- Construct a hypothesis: What is the goal of the experiment? How can you phrase that as a possibility or a prediction? Are the goals and the statement related to each other? Let the student make the final decision and allow room for the teacher to modify or correct.
- Test the hypothesis: What will you need to perform this experiment? Where can you find those items? What safety precautions should you be aware of? Caution: Holding a dowel while a child tapes is different than handling the power screwdriver to build a stable pyramid.
- Analyze data and draw a conclusion: What format will best represent your results? What do you think it all means? How would you sum up the experiment?
- Communicate your results: What was the assigned display format? What are you suppose to be able to explain? Be the audience.
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