Cheat Sheet

Science Fair Projects For Dummies

From Science Fair Projects For Dummies by Maxine Levaren

If you're doing a science fair project for the first time, you're probably dreading it. Relax! Doing a science project doesn't have to be torturous, because help is here: Review a feasibility checklist for your project idea; know the basics of the scientific method; write a strong research paper; make a memorable display; and know what to expect when you get to the science fair.

Science Fair: A Checklist for Your Project Idea

When you come up with an idea for your science fair project, ask yourself these 12 questions to determine if the project is doable based on your knowledge, skills, finances, and other factors:

  • Do my parents and teacher approve?

  • What's the estimated total cost?

  • Can my family afford it?

  • Do I have the knowledge to do this project?

  • Is there enough information available?

  • What supplies do I need (and where can I find them)?

  • Can I finish by the due date?

  • Is it safe?

  • Is it too controversial?

  • Do I know anyone who can help me with my project?

  • Does my idea follow the rules for student ­science projects?

  • Where can I find the necessary forms?

11 Tips for Writing a Science Fair Research Paper

One of the tasks of entering a science fair is to write a background research paper for your project. Don't be nervous about it, though. Basically, it involves finding and organizing information, and then drafting and polishing your paper.

Before you actually begin planning your paper, make sure you know what your teacher requires. Sometimes, he or she wants one or two pages summarizing what you discovered from your research, while others require a ten-page paper complete with bibliography and footnotes.

Here's how the research-paper process works:

  • Gather all the information you need from books, magazines, the Internet, government publications, and interviews.

  • Keep track of the sources of all your facts.

  • Organize information by grouping related facts together.

  • Use the following three-point formula for your writing the paper.

    The "them" in this formula may be teachers, fellow students, judges, and so on depending on your individual circumstance. Just consider who your particular audience is and fill in the blank:

    • Tell them what you're going to say.

    • Say it.

    • Tell them what you just said.

  • Outline your paper by determining your main headings and grouping related facts under each heading.

  • Write a first draft of your paper using your own words (so that you don't plagiarize anyone else's work).

  • Format the bibliography.

  • Review, edit, and revise the paper.

  • Ask someone else to read it over.

  • Check your spelling.

  • Create your final copy.

8 Tips for Making a Great Science Fair Display

Making an outstanding science fair project display allows your project to stand out among all the others. In a sense, when you produce your display, you create an advertisement for your project, inviting prospective clients (science fair judges) to look at what you have to offer.

Although your prospective clients are very knowledgeable about your category, they have no idea what your particular project is about, so your display has to attract them and tell them just enough to make them want to find out more. The goal of your display is to include lots of information without making it look crowded.

Here are a few tips on how to create an effective backboard display:

  • Check the science fair size requirements before you design the backboard.

  • Make a sketch of your layout to make sure that all your material will fit on the backboard.

  • Glue all material firmly on the backboard.

  • Combine complementary colors that enhance your project.

  • Put titles in larger fonts so they're readable from a distance.

  • Add texture to emphasize your display.

  • Add drawings and photographs to make the display more interesting.

  • Summarize your project hypothesis, materials, procedures, results, and conclusions — you don't need to tell the whole story.

Applying the Scientific Method to Your Science Fair Project

The heart of the scientific method is determining the objective of your science fair project and then stating it in your question and hypothesis; deciding what, if any, variables and controls you plan to use; and determining the experimental and control groups you plan to set up.

Here's a quick look at the parts of the scientific method:

  • Question or Problem: What your project will accomplish or solve — in other words, why you're doing the project.

  • Hypothesis: What you think your project will prove — it's stronger than an opinion, but weaker than a fact.

  • Subject: What you'll test or build during your project.

  • Variables: Factors that you'll change or evaluate in order to test the hypothesis. Variables are most often used in experiments, rather than engineering, computer, or research projects.

    The different kinds of variables are

    • Experimental (independent) variable. What you purposely change during your project in order to test your hypothesis.

    • Measured (dependent) variable. The change you'll evaluate and measure, which occurs when you apply the experimental variable.

    • Controlled variable (control). The factors that must be the same for all samples in your experiment — every time that you do your experiment — in order to ensure that your results are valid.

  • Experimental group: A number of identical subjects to which you apply the experimental variable.

  • Control group: A group of subjects that's identical to the experimental groups, except that no variables are applied.

  • Results: Here, you analyze your results and record the facts and figures that show what happened during the project. Data can be represented in charts or graphs.

  • Conclusions: The conclusions compare the results to the hypothesis to determine if the project proved the hypothesis.

What Happens at a Science Fair

So you've sweated over your brilliant science fair project, created a memorable display, and figured out how to get all your stuff to the science fair. When you get there, what happens next? Here's a thumbnail sketch of what goes on:

  • Setup. Your project will be checked to make sure that it follows the rules, and then you'll be given a display location.

  • Judging. Scientists and engineers who are volunteer judges will look at the projects in their fields and interview the students responsible for the work.

  • Awards ceremony. Usually, a public announcement of the winners is made in each category, along with professional society awards and sweepstakes awards.

  • Fun. You get to meet other students, see different projects, and enjoy whatever activities are planned for exhibitors.

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