How To Create a Great (Physics) Science Fair Project (and Learn Something at the Same Time)

by Joe Archive on October 3, 2012

To do well in a science fair, you need to do two things – You need to not only demonstrate knowledge of science, but also knowledge of the process of science. While this can be a daunting task if you’ve never produced a successful science fair project before, you should rest easily – it is really not that difficult, especially if you follow a system that will help you cover all your bases and makes sure that you learn everything you need to learn.

Time Required: Over Night to Eight Weeks (or More)

Here’s How:

1. Understand the Scientific Method The scientific method is a process that scientists developed to form and answer questions. In order to truly do science for your project, you need to understand how we do science – and to do that, you need to understand the scientific method.

2. Buy a notebook: Easy, but very, very important. From this moment on, this notebook is your “Project Log” where you will keep track of everything to do with your project (and only you project).

3. Write Down all the Questions You Have. This is not as easy as it sounds. Ask every question you need to know the answer to. Don’t be embarrassed, if you need an answer, you’re probably not the only one who doesn’t know.

4. Create a Schedule That Will Get Everything Done in Time, That You Can Stick To. Get a calendar and mark off the date of the fair (or when your project is due). Spread out the tasks you need to complete over the time you have. Don’t wait to the last month, week or day(!) to try to do everything. Science Fair Project Schedule Checklist

5. Choose a Topic. This seems hard, and it is important, but don’t get too worked up about it: most people get stuck for a little while on this step.

6. Fine-tune Your Topic. You need to turn your topic into a question that can be answered. If you can’t get to a question right now, do some more research (that is step seven, but its ok to mix these two steps up a bit).

7. Research Your Topic. As discussed in the scientific method, we need to find out as much as we can about our topic. This will ensure that you will have a deep understanding of your topic, as well as helping you to develop a question that will work for your project. This will make the rest of your project easier.

8. Develop Your Hypothesis – an educated (you did educate yourself with allthat research, right?) guess about the answer to your question.

9. Design Your Experiment to test your hypothesis.

10. Conduct Your Experiment. Gather all the equiptment you need and follow the steps of the experiment you designed.

11. Analyse the Data and Draw Conclusions. Once you have your data, make any calculations you need for the analysis, produce graphs and charts as required to visualize the data. Then, determine whether your data supports your hypothesis.

12. Write Up Your Project Report. This is a written record of your project. Use the detailed notes you took during each step (you did take them, didn’t you?) to help you here.

13. Put Together Your Display. Check with the rules of your science fair (or the directions from your teacher) to make sure your display is correct.

14. Collect your ribbon – or at least enjoy the fair

Tips:

  1. There are many common misconceptions about what is needed for a great science fair project. It is not about how much money you can spend and it is not about whether you are a geek or not. It is about whether you can put together a project that shows you understand science and the process of doing science. What you Do and Do Not Need for a Great Science Fair ProjectA couple of suggestions from commenter on an earlier version of this post (who actually judges science fairs).

    1. Research means looking at more than the internet. Most high school students cannot tell the difference between legitimate science sites on the web, activist sites, and crackpot sites. Any student who went to the library and actually did a peer review article search is better off.

    2. Narrow your question as much as possible while not making the hypothesis a yes or no type question.

    3. The easiest hypothesis to write is one that says that there will be no effect. Yet, too many students write their hypothesis like they are writing a headline for the World Weekly News (example: students write that magnetic fields will cure cancer instead of saying that magnetic fields will have no effect on cancer).

    4. If you use a piece of equipment, i.e. MRI, flow cytometer, I expect you to now how to actually use it and to understand how it works.

    5. I expect a basic knowledge of statistics. Students need to know that a single rep of a single treatment is worthless.

    6. When I ask a student, how did you “score” the results of your tests, I expect them to understand what I said.

    7. And my biggest pet peeve: Just because line charts are the default in Excel does not mean that is the correct way to display data.

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