Dr. Shawn's 10 Easy Steps to Science Fair Success

By Dr. Shawn

So you've got a science fair project due. Don't worry. Whether you love science or wish Newton had never been born, a science fair project can be a great experience. The secret is knowing how to get started and how to keep moving until your project is finished. To help you, I've assembled this list of the ten essential steps you'll need to create a science fair project that will kick tail come judging day.

If you follow these simple steps, you'll not only achieve science fair success, but you're likely to have a lot more fun with a lot less heartache.

Step 1: Select Your Topic

First, you'll need select a great science fair topic.

What makes for a great topic? We'll, since science encompass the entire Universe, just about anything can be the basis for a championship science project. Just remember two things. The science project needs to be interesting to you, personally. And secondly, it needs to be something that is simple and easy to carry out.

For details, please check out my "Four Most Important Secrets to Science Fair Success."



Step 2: Do Your Homework

After selecting your topic, learn as much as you reasonably can about it.

The Internet is likely to be your best resource. You can use the many search engines available to find information. Or try my Super Science Science Research Links page with a vast amount of links to various science related sites on the Internet.

Whatever you do, don't forget about your local library. The Web generally contains only general information. If you want to get into the advanced details of some subject, text books written by world experts are by far the best references. Also, if you want to look up any research papers you find referenced in your study material you will probably have to head into the stacks to find them.

Also, always make sure you introduce yourself to the reference librarian as soon as you walk through the door. Their job is to help you find the information you're looking. Consider them your secret weapon for science fair success so DON't BE SHY!



Step 3: Plan

Once you consider yourself an expert about your topic, plan your road ahead. Your plan should include the following:

  1. Devise a simple and clear sentence that states the purpose of your experiment. What do you want to find out? Remember, the shorter the statement, the better it will be.
  2. Figure out what the "independent variable(s)" will be in your experiment. That is, what things or conditions (temperature, light, amount of fertilizer in the soil, noise, etc.) that you are going to change to see how whatever it is that you are testing (seedlings, a mechanical clock, the ability to shoot hoops, etc.) reacts.
  3. If you think you know enough to have a good idea about what may happen, then make an educated guess as to what you think will happen. We call an educated guess like this an "hypothesis." Remember, your experiment will test your hypothesis. That is, it might prove it wrong, but it can never prove it to absolutely unquestionably right. Science advances when scientists set out to prove ideas wrong. If the idea withstands rigorous testing, only then should you have any confidence in it.
  4. Next, you'll need to devise a detailed procedure outlining exactly how you will conduct the experiment. Step-by-step! Remember, doing science is all about NOT FOOLING YOURSELF! So ask yourself at each step what you need to do to make absolutely certain that errors or outside influences aren't creeping in that can affect your experiment without you knowing about it. This is the most critical part of the whole process!
  5. Finally, think about the data you are going to get. How will you make sense of it? What will you do to figure out what it all means? Will you average it, plot it, find its standard deviation? You must know in advance what you will do to analyze you data, lest you fall into the trap of looking at the results, and then selecting a method of analyzing it that unfairly favors your hypothesis. There may be no easier way for you to fool yourself!
     

Step 4: Prepare

Gather together everything you will need to carry out your experiment. Get everything set up and negotiate with family members for any time and space you will need to complete the experiment. (Need to borrow the corner of your brother's closet to grow your test plants? Make sure everyone in your family knows and agrees before you start your experiment.)

Whatever you do, don't forget to secure your own personal science research journal from your local office supply store. Your science notebook will be your most valuable aid you have. In it, you will summarize your Internet and library research, detail your hypothesis, carefully describe your experiment's design, record all your data, and work through all your analysis. When something unexpected happens, you must write that down as well. Your goal should be to write down enough information so that someone reading your notes would be able to exactly duplicate what you did.

Remember the old Chinese saying: No memory is as firm as faded ink!

Have you ever been certain of some fact only to discover that you had remembered it wrong? So never rely on memory! Your personal motto when it comes to laboratory notebooks (your's or anyone else's) should be, "If it isn't in the log book, it didn't happen."

 

Step 5: Do The Experiment!

Now, follow your written plan. While conducting the experiments make sure you keep detailed notes on everything that you observe. To take pictures or make sketches of your observations whenever doing so would make things clearer.

And don't forget to think about the display that you will eventually need to make to show off your work to the science fair judges. Your notes and your photos be vital!


Step 6: Figure Out What Happened and What it Means

As soon as you are finished with your experiments, its time to organize your notes. (It's OK to recopy your notes so that they are more organized and can be easily understood by others.)

Next, analyze your data.

Ask yourself, what happened? Did the results agree with your hypothesis? Make graphs and charts that will help you "see" what the data mean.



Step 7: Write Your Report

Write a detailed report about your project.

Tell exactly what you did, how you did it, and what you discovered. Be sure you write all about your plan and your experiment. Include your data, and perhaps some charts and graphs to help readers interpret the information. Be sure you also include some of the background information you learned. For More information visit my Secrets to Writing a Winning Science Fair Report page.



Step 8: Make Your Display

No matter how good your experiment, you can't expect to win your science fair without a killer display.

Your display crucial because it is your vehicle to connect with the judges and let them know just what a good job you did. The display must be neat and well organized. It should include background information, the problem, your hypothesis, your procedure, your results, your conclusion, your report, and graphs and charts. You can also include photos or drawings of your experiments. For more information on creating your display, see my Web page titled Display Board--Winning in the Trenches.



Step 9: Rehearse Your Presentation

You're going to have to make a presentation to the judges. So remember the Boy Scout Motto--"Be Prepared."

Know what you are going to say before you have to say it. By rehearsing your presentation over and over. Pretend you're lecturing to a large audience that has come to find out about your experiment. Explain it to them again and again until you can do so clearly and effortlessly. Imagine them asking you questions. How will you answer? When you're comfortable with your presentation and can answer any reasonable question you can think of, then go to phase two.

Please two is to find people to play the role of the judges. Start off with friends and family members, but try to find some people who are as knowledgeable about science as your judges are likely to be. Doing you presentation for them will give you the self-confidence that will keep your calmer and more composed come science fair day than your competition.

Practicing your presentation is absolutely essential if you want to win. You'd hate to do all the hard work to carry out a killer project only to lose because you couldn't explain yourself clearly before the judges, right?



Step 10: Kick Tail!

Stand and deliver.

At the science fair, be as calm and professional as possible. Dress smart. Take yourself seriously and you will be taken seriously by others. Be prepared, be knowledgeable, be confident, and you will do great!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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