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How To Get a Science Fair Project A

May 28, 2011 | By Harvey Craft

Test tubesParents and students often don't understand how to make an A on a science fair project. The important thing about the project is the Scientific Method.

Science is not simply a bunch of facts. Science is a process by which truth is confirmed. This is essential to science instruction and should be the purpose of science fair projects. The process of investigation and experimentation in science is known as the scientific method.

Using the Scientific Method in Science Projects

In early elementary science instruction, teachers may not require a strict application of the scientific method. If they don't, they may well be asking a student to prepare an activity to share that is simply related to the science curriculum. This might be a kind of science show-and-tell.

If the application of the scientific method is required, then the student is being asked to do an experiment according to a well-defined procedure. The nature of the experiment is virtually unlimited and need not be difficult or time-consuming, but it must follow the steps set forth in the scientific method.
A simple experiment involving water evaporation and surface area is used below to demonstrate the scientific method process.

Mimic the Scientific Method

Ask a question.
The question defines the purpose of the experiment. A good way to come up with a question is to complete the following: "What will happen if…". 
For example: "What will happen if water is placed in a bigger or smaller container and allowed to evaporate?"

Research.
After the question has been stated, a little research should be used to explain the purpose of the experiment and the reason for the expected results. For example: The basic idea is that water will evaporate faster if more surface area is available. Research should focus on the topic of factors that affect evaporation.

Construct a hypothesis
A hypothesis should use the words "if" and "then" to connect what is done or changed - the independent variable - to the expected outcome - the dependent variable. For example: "If an ounce of water is poured in a saucer and placed next to a test tube with one ounce of water, then the water in the saucer will evaporate faster."

Keep it About the Science Experiment

Bowls of different sizes filled with waterThe example experiment is very simple and done quickly with minimal material. Experiments in general don't need to be complex. But they do need an independent variable connected to a dependent variable.

Test the hypothesis by conducting an experiment.
The stated hypothesis is tested. The procedures should be carefully controlled and described. The only change allowed is the independent variable. In the example used, this would be the surface area of the container. This experiment could be improved by having four containers for water - perhaps bowls of different sizes.

Have Carefully Controlled Variables

Other conditions like temperature, location of equipment, and time allowed are referred to as variables and should be held constant. The idea is to make sure that the one thing that changed (the independent variable) is what caused the actual change, assuming there is any change at all.

Experiments typically have a "control". The control is the condition to which the results are compared. A suitable control for this experiment would be a closed container. For example, one might put a saucer over a bowl which would prevent significant evaporation. Other containers would have progressively smaller openings to allow more space for water to evaporate.

After a reasonable time - in this case 24 hours should be enough - the amount of water in each container should be carefully measured and recorded.

Draw a Conclusion

Child scientist making a discoveryDraw a conclusion.
The conclusion may or may not support the hypothesis. It can be stated simply - "The hypothesis was correct. More water evaporated from the saucer." Depending on the exact nature and design of the experiment, the hypothesis may or may not be correct, but that is not an issue as something important is learned regardless. Students should not be graded on making a wrong guess, but on how faithfully they apply the scientific method. Something is learned, whether right or wrong.

Communicate the results.
A discussion of what happened is appropriate. Rely on research to explain why the experiment turned out as it did. Use a three panel poster to display the results. Photographs help show the way the experiment was set up and performed. A bar graph will show the relative amounts of water evaporated. The independent variable - containers A, B, C, etc. - is labeled on the horizontal axis and the dependent variable - amount of water evaporated - is plotted on the vertical axis.

The scientific method does not complicate a science project - it serves as a guide so that things are done right. It ensures that someone else can test the results. Science projects need not be time-consuming or complex, but they need to follow the correct procedure. The final touch is communication with a poster, which should clarify and use a graph for data. Of course, neatness is important.

Sources:
"The Scientific Method," sciencefairproject.virtualave.net (Accessed: February 2, 2011)
"The Steps of the Scientific Method," buzzle.com (Accessed: February 2, 2011)

About the author:
Harvey Craft
 is a retired educator and former principal, with extensive experience in teaching grades six through to twelve. He is NBPTS certified in Adolescent Science and now spends his time in educational research, consulting, and freelance writing.
Click here to contact or read more articles by Harvey Craft.

Tags : education, children, kids, child, science, fair, project, school, science method, experiment

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