Take the Pain Out of Science Fair Projects
Instead of dreading the season of science fair projects, make it a pleasure for everyone involved.
By Cathy Neushul
As both a teacher and a parent, I have experienced the stress involved with putting together science fair projects. Teachers find it difficult because they have to clearly articulate their expectations and motivate their class to come up with unique ideas. When you have a class of thirty, discussing the pros and cons of individual projects can be overwhelming. You also want to ensure that the student, and not the parent, completes the project. There are a variety of ways to take the pain out of these types of projects, and make it an enjoyable experience for both you and your class.
Make the Expectations Crystal Clear
Give your class a handout outlining what you expect. Make sure that you describe each of the areas you want them to address. Here is an example of a type of guide.
- Ask a question
- Do research
- Construct a hypothesis
- Test your hypothesis through experimentation
- Analyze your data
- Communicate your results
Make sure that you share your expectations with parents. A great way to do this would be through a classroom blog. You could post handouts, outlines, and rubrics on the site.
Show Your Class the Scientific Process in Action
The best way to understand a concept is through hands-on activities. You can come up with an original experiment idea and walk learners through the scientific process. In this way, you can talk through how you came up with your idea, why you decided to conduct the experiment in the manner you did, etc. By showing them how you completed the process, you can make the assignment easier to understand, and ensure that they feel confident that they can do it on their own.
As part of this class exploration, you should provide visual aids, graphs, and other forms of support for your experiment. You can also encourage learners to question your theory, method, and conclusions. It’s important for them to understand that there are no givens when you are dealing with scientific experimentation. Scientists come up with a theory, test it, and make adjustments as they go. It is a work in process.
Expose Your Class to a Variety of Experiments
One of my favorite science-related educators is Steve Spangler. He has a website with videos involving physics, chemistry, and more. He is adamant about defining the difference between a demonstration and a true experiment. While one involves a quick demonstration of a scientific principle, the other seeks to prove or disprove a hypothesis.
One of my favorite demonstrations involves poking a wooden skewer through an inflated balloon without popping it. You can learn about chemistry and the properties of polymers using this exploration. I find his demonstrations to be informative and a lot of fun. He even has a video about the way to turn a demonstration into an experiment; worthy of a science fair project. This is a great link to share with your class and their parents. It can give them a clearer idea of what you expect.
Give Your Class Many and Varied Examples
Compile a list of videos you can show depicting a variety of different types of experiments. There are a myriad of choices on the web. Afterwards, discuss these questions.
- The steps followed in the scientific process
- What they thought about the experiment
- Ways it could be adjusted to test a new theory
Then, have your pupils come up with a list of things they would like to investigate. Maybe they would like to see how much quicker salt water heats up in the sun, as compared to fresh water. Perhaps they would like to take a small area of a creek or river and analyze the plants, animals, and water over a specified period of time. Whatever they choose to do, it should be something that they find motivating. By making your class willing participants in this process, you can turn science fair projects into science fun projects.
Science Fair Projects:
Use this template as a way to help learners define their interests. They can flesh out their ideas for a science fair project and ensure that they meet the class expectations. It is a great resource to spur class discussion.
This is a simple lesson in which learners are involved in the experimentation process. They conduct a class experiment and then discuss possible science fair projects.
For younger learners, this lesson would be a great way to introduce the idea of science fair projects. It provides simple instructions for completing a report. A teacher could augment this resource with their own videos, research materials, etc.