Science Fair Tips of Success

Science fair projects can be a resounding success for all students, including students who lack confidence about their abilities in science.  This article shares tried and true tips for science fair success so that science fair projects can be both educational and fun.

The most critical element of a successful science fair project is to establish a time line for completing the project and then stick to the time line.  Science fair projects are by nature a lengthy process that can successfully be broken down over time into manageable steps.  Many of us know from experience that a science fair project can turn into a nightmare if it is left for the last minute.  No one is going to feel a sense of accomplishment if the project is slapped together the week before it is due, or even worse, on Sunday night.  

Once the project time line is set, the next step to science fair success is selecting an appropriate topic for the project.  A number of key factors should be considered when selecting a topic, but the most important is that the student who is responsible for the project should be interested in the topic.  For example, a middle school student who enjoys an occasional cup of coffee might be interested in a science fair project that measures the relationship between caffeine and heart rate.  In all likelihood, this topic would not be a good one for a student who shows little curiosity about how the human body works.  

Other factors to take into consideration when selecting a science fair topic are the student’s level of skills and abilities.  For example, a project that intrigues a student but is somewhat above their skill level will require guidance from an involved adult.  It is not unusual for the entire family to participate in science fair projects, and some adult involvement is appropriate.  However, it should be clear to students and their parents that a complex project above the student’s level of skills and abilities will require a major time commitment from Mom or Dad.  Since no science fair project should be Mom or Dad’s project, a topic that is well above the student’s skill level would not be an appropriate choice.
Science fair projects often require the purchase of materials, and some projects are more costly than others.  Parents often contribute toward the cost of materials, and sometimes pay the entire amount.  When selecting a science fair topic, parents should be realistic about their ability to pay for a long list of costly materials unless the school is helping to defray the cost.  

Selecting the actual topic can be accomplished by searching the web for science fair topic suggestions.  For students in grades K-12, Science Buddies offers an extensive list of project ideas, including a topic selection wizard to help choose a science fair project that ties in with the student’s areas of interest.

Another good website for science fair project topics that are geared toward elementary school students is DragonflyTV.  Children can check out the DragonflyTV website and view the show on PBS Kids to watch students in their age group engage in scientific investigations.

Once the student has selected a science fair topic, it is essential that the teacher approve the topic before the student goes forward.  It can be frustrating to purchase project supplies and start working, only to find out that the teacher will not approve the topic.  Similarly, this would be a good time to find out if the teacher plans to review the student’s progress incrementally throughout the project.

Science fair projects follow the scientific method, which can be scary for people who are not familiar with the vocabulary and process.  Again, excellent resources on the web will walk students and their parents through the process.  Science Buddies offers an overview of the scientific method and breaks it down into clear steps that include the question, background research, hypothesis, test, analysis of results, and conclusion.  

The end result of the science fair project is typically a descriptive summary that is displayed on poster board.  The school will require a tri-fold or flat poster board, and some schools supply the poster board.  Poster board presentations should be neat and colorful while describing the topic and how the student followed the scientific method.  It is important to include visuals such as diagrams, graphs, or photographs, but keep in mind that students can be downgraded for a poster board that is too busy or cluttered.  

Some science fair projects require a written report.  The written report would generally be a narrative explanation of the information presented on the poster board.  The teacher should be approached if students have questions about the content of the written report.

A verbal presentation may also be required as part of the science fair project.  The verbal presentation offers students the opportunity to instruct their peers while proudly presenting their successful science fair project.

Science fair projects can feel daunting at first, but following these useful tips will contribute toward science fair success.  Successful students follow a time line and pick a topic that is appropriate in terms of interest, skill level, time, and cost.  To optimize success, students should get the project approved and use resources on the web to guide them through the scientific method.  Final presentation is also a key factor in science fair success.  The final presentation counts as part of the grade and reflects the student’s sense of pride and accomplishment in their science fair project.