For most students, the New Year means it’s time to buckle down and focus on getting their science fair project done. Even if they haven’t decided on a topic, it’s not too late to put together a fun, educational experiment and winning display. Below are five tips for helping your child put together a science fair project that any teacher would love.
1. Do an experiment…NOT an activity
It’s important to know that the point of a science fair project is so that students learn the scientific theory. This requires your child to come up with an actual question that can only be answered through an experiment. “How Do You Build a Model Volcano?” is not really an experiment so much as it is a craft and demonstration. But “Which Ingredient Combinations Create the Biggest Chemical Reactions and Best Lava Flows?” requires your student to conduct an actual experiment and record the results.
This doesn’t mean that he can’t use a science activity kit from sites like SteveSpanglerScience.com or EEME.co, but in order to make it an actual science fair project, your child must be able to perform the experiment more than once, alternating the variables and recording the different outcomes. If your child needs help coming up with an idea, check out Education.com. They have over 2,000 free suggestions – but some of them are more like activities, so keep in mind the importance of finding out answers through experimentation.
2. Neatness is king
The first thing a judge notices is how your display board looks. Is everything spelled correctly? Is it legible? Is it organized? Are the elements straight or crooked? Older kids should ALWAYS try to type and print up their hypotheses, materials, methods, and so on. But if that is not an option, they should use their absolute best handwriting. All the information should be arranged neatly on the display board, and follow some sort of order so that each section of text leads the observer to the next in a logical manner. (If your child needs help arranging her board, look here for some examples.) Don’t be afraid to glue the text to slightly larger squares of colored paper to add frames around each section. This helps define it and show that your child has put a lot of time and energy into creating the board.
3. Graph it
One of the most important elements of any experiment is recording and quantifying the data. This shows that you have observed a measurable outcome and have studied the data in order to be able to draw a conclusion. Journals, graphs, and other records are evidence of your child’s hard work, so put them together carefully. Graphs especially are a great way of relaying a lot of information in an easy-to-understand format, while showing off math skills at the same time.
4. Show examples
Judges love to see pictures or actual samples of your kid’s experiment as it is conducted. Including pictures of the outcomes, or taping samples of the results onto the board, helps the observers understand the process and examine the evidence that lead your child to her conclusion. For example, my daughter monitored the nests of song birds during the spring and collected samples of the materials each species used in their nest. Each sample was placed inside a little plastic bag, labeled, and taped in a row onto the board. This simple step helped to dress up her display board and fascinated the judges.
5. It’s okay to be wrong
The goal is not to impress the judges with how smart you are because you already knew the answer to your own question. Instead, they want to know that your child has actually learned something. They want to see evidence that he wondered about something he didn’t already know, and then went through the process of discovering the answer. If his guess about the outcome proves correct, then they want to see how he proved it. Discovering that his hypothesis was actually incorrect, shows that your son put forth the effort to actually investigate and seek out the truth.
Monica Olivera Hazelton, NBC Latino contributor and the founder and publisher of MommyMaestra.com, a site for Latino families that homeschool, as well as families with children in a traditional school setting who want to take a more active role in their children’s education. She is the 2011 winner of the “Best Latina Education Blogger” award by LATISM.