I put school science fairs right up there with the Cub Scout Pinewood Derby. More often than not, it's a competition between parents. But done right — which might mean allowing your children to do the work (and the learning) themselves — there is no better way to understand a science topic than by doing running a scientific experiment and analyzing the results.
Growing up I really hated science. Or at least I thought I did. Mostly, I now realize, it was because we spent day after day after day reading a incomprehensibly, mind-booglingly boring text and then — once in a blue moon — doing some disjointed, unrelated, gee-whiz “experiment” that the teacher had been handed out on a mimeographed paper. (And if you're too young to know what that is, you just need to understand that it goes right along with walking uphill to school in waist-deep snow — both ways.)
With homeschooling I learned that science is amazing and cool and, yes, interesting. I learned it's illogical to say you don't like science, given its incredibly broad scope. And I found out that when real experiments are incorporated into science, it's great fun that makes understanding science concepts almost trivial. (In case you're wondering, my favorite middle/high school science texts are the Apologia series.)
A couple of days ago a friend asked for some input about good school science fair projects. In response, here are a few basic steps to create a great school science fair project followed by a list of my favorite science fair resources.
There is great stuff out there. You don't need to go it alone!
Basic Steps to a Great Science Fair Project
Choose a Science Topic
Science encompasses about everything in existence. The sky's the limit when it comes to possible topics. Just keep three things in mind. Choose a topic that:
- You are personally interested in
- You have the resources to complete
- Can be done in time for the fair
Do Your Topic Research
Take some time to gain an understanding of your topic. Check out some books or read related periodicals. Talk to some people who work in your areas of interest. You may not have a lot of time to indulge in this, but the more conversant you are in the topic and the greater your understanding, the easier it will be to proceed.
Plan Your Science Project
With your topic in mind, come up with something you want to test. What do you want to learn? What do you think will happen?
Think of the variables you will include, in other words decide on the differences that will be tested and compared to one another. Outline the steps you will take and what kind of data you will gather.
Gather Project Supplies
Gather all the things you need to conduct your experiment and complete your school project. Do this before you start. You don't want to be running around at the last minute trying to gather supplies and you don't want to find out — too late — that a crucial element is unavailable and your work has been wasted.
Conduct Your Science Experiment
Now get to work. Follow your plan. Take photos or video to use in your display. Take notes of what happens at each step with enough detail to appropriately describe what happened and what you learned.
Analyze Your Experiment Results
With your experiment completed, it's time to analyze your results. Look at the data, images, etc. What have you learned? How can you present what you discovered?
Write a Report on Your Science Project
Write out a detailed science report, describing what you set out to do, what you did, and what the results were.
Create a Science Project Display
Now it's time to get creative. Make a display to show all your work. Remember that it's not just about facts and figures, you must also catch the attention of the attendees and the judges. How can you present what you learned in an interesting way?
Practice You Science Project Presentation
If you will be presenting the results to the judges (or just to those who pass by to see the displays), practice what you will say. If you can, practice in front of your parents or another audience. Try to anticipate questions that might be asked and be prepared to answer them succinctly and clearly.
Present Your Science Project to the School
Dress up a more than usual. If you can, wear “Sunday best” attire. It makes a positive, professional presentation. It might not be as comfortable as jeans, but it will help you stand out as someone who takes their project seriously.
On the day of the project, arrive early. Make sure you have ample time to set up. You don't want to be rushed and worried. Get everything ready and review your presentation notes. Then relax, have fun, and do your best.
Great Science Fair Project Resources
School Science Fair Idea Books
There are tons of science fair project books to help you plan your entry. My favorite (pictured above) is Janice VanCleave's Guide to the Best Science Fair Projects. In fact, pretty much any book by Janice VanCleave gets my vote. Her books are conversational, interesting, and have loads of fun, clearly explained ideas.
My suggestion is to look at the books for ideas and then rework them to fit your interest and skill. At very least, tweak them a bit to add some personal flair. Change up some of the variables or expand on the topic. Make it your own rather than just copy one of the outlined projects.
Also check out the entire list of top rated science fair project books. There are many newer ones that have been given high marks.
Online Science Supplies
Since we began homeschooling in 1994, I've used four supply sources for almost all our education supplies. They have a nice selection of science materials and can likely provide anything that you can't get at a local store. You'll be served by great people with really good prices.
School Science Fair Project Help
There are some high quality sites that give detailed help for science fair projects for school aged kids. Here are a few.
- Science Fair Project Guide
- What Makes a Good Science Fair Project
- Science Fair Project Examples & Ideas
- Easy Kids' Science Projects & Experiments
- Make a Science Fair Poster or Display
- Sample Science Fair Judging Sheet
What are the best science fair projects you have done or scene? What are your best school science fair resources?