A Parent’s Guide To Surviving Science Fair {Post 1}

We recently concluded our study of the scientific method. Before this in-depth study of the procedure that concluded in a science fair, I really had no idea how much effort it took to follow the method correctly.

It was sometimes like torture.

But now that it’s over, and I have had the chance to reflect on the last few months of hard work, the painful parts are becoming a distant memory, and I’m resting in the beauty that ended in a fun and rewarding celebration, where our kids had the chance to tell others about all they learned.

So, I thought I’d take you through my experience, pass out a few tips, and share with you the greatest takeaways. I’ll be posting bits and pieces over the next few weeks. If you have questions please leave them in the comments and I’ll try to address them!

Ask A Question, & Background Research

The scientific method is responsible for many of our greatest scientific discoveries. Not only will learning it help our kids be better investigators and help build in them a love of inquisitiveness, it will help them understand what ‘good science’ is. I’m thankful that we had the opportunity to follow the method, step-by-step, and to fully immerse ourselves in the importance of each element. There is so much to be learned from each one.

The steps of the scientific method, are:

1. Ask a question
2. Do background research (and possibly alter the question)
3. Construct a hypothesis
4. Create a research plan
5. Test with an experiment
6. Analyze data and draw conclusions
7. Communicate the results

When broken down, each of these steps is it’s own mini-project. This is why it’s really, really important not to procrastinate, and to stay on task. It’s hard to get started. “Ask a Question” seems like such a simple thing to do, but really, it isn’t, because there are a billion and a half questions out there. For our family, we began with something we had already studied this year: Electricity.

After our study of The History of Scientists in Semester 1, we built upon the foundations of what we had learned from Faraday, electricity and magnetism. We went to the library.

I think that deserves repeating: We went to the library!

It’s a magical place where they have books about everything! And for science fair, the library is your best friend. We brought home a handful of books which we renewed until we had completed our experiment, and found ourselves opening them up time and time again to reference things, remind ourselves of law or the fundamentals of how something worked – having real life books on hand was invaluable, and so much nicer than researching online.

As a bonus, those books were our only sources of research, so it made the bibliography a snap. No tracking down websites or just doing a sketchy, incomplete bibliography. It was complete, and in research science, that is so important!

The research step is all about learning anything and everything your student can about your topic. We ended up testing different types of fluids to see which ones would conduct electricity with the strongest voltage. So, we researched: electricity, water, conductivity, conductive ions, circuits, and even how these things can effect our health. My girl had pages of research at the end.

This step shows itself to be invaluable when it comes to understanding and communicating the results of the experiment. While some things might not seem important now, when results are not what your student expects, having all of that knowledge about the outskirts of the topic can shed light on what is happening. It also gives your student more ideas of what to measure when experimenting, and allows your student to compare the results in different ways than if their knowledge was more limited.

It’s important to remember that Steps 1 & 2 are interchangeable. You may know what question you want to ask, then research, or you may know the topic you want to study, but aren’t sure about an experiment and so, research and then develop a question. Both are totally acceptable.

My greatest lifeline during our entire science fair season was ScienceBuddies.org. I can’t even tell you how valuable they will be to you. In order to access many of their helpful worksheets and samples, you will need a FREE account. Don’t be scared. They won’t spam you and drive you crazy with emails!

If you have no idea about a project topic, choose, “Find A Project Idea” on the homepage. Your child will need to be present. It will guide you through a list of questions which will use their interests, likes, and dislikes to generate a list of possible project options for them! They usually have step by step instructions and even a supply list. It’s really helpful when you just can’t seem to get going, or you have a reluctant kid who is digging in their heels about science fair in general.

Supplies to get started with Science Fair:

  • Lab Notebook (This can be any notebook with lined pages and a strong binding. Loose leaf papers are not allowed, and neither are spiral ring notebooks. We used these fun looking Yoobi Composition Notebooks from Target.)
  • Books or research materials
  • Pens and Highlighters

Starting your Lab Notebook can be overwhelming. There are some things you need to do first:

  • Use a pen for everything. No pencils allowed in Science Fair! It is inappropriate in the scientific world to be able to erase data. If you make a mistake, simply put one single line through it (so that it can still be read) and make sure it is still legible. In order for our scientific discoveries to be trusted, there needs to be complete transparency in our work. (In my experience, the kids hate this. But it’s part of authentic scientific discovery. So be insistent.)
  • Number every single page (front and back) in INK.
  • Table of ContentsCreate a table of contents. Anyway you want is fine. Here’s what my daughter did. It took 7 pages of numbers and she only used one with actual content, but it worked! Other students did it differently. It doesn’t matter as long as it works for you!
  • Start compiling a bibliography on the last page of your lab notebook. Keeping it all in one place from the get-go will save you man headaches later!

Use the lab notebook for everything! Not just good work – but all notes, rough work, research – just stick it all in there. If something gets done on the computer, or on a scrap paper, glue or tape it into the lab notebook. It should be a complete record of the entire process from start to finish. Don’t forget to date every new entry!

Lab Notebook Research

There is no reason for a lab notebook to look perfectly neat and tidy. It is all about research and discovery! Let your student run wild with the notebook, filling it up with notes and ideas. There are no right or wrongs.

The lab notebook is an incredible record of the process. Praise it! Compliment it! Ask to look through it! Your students will be much happier to use it they know how proud you are of it.

Lab Notebook XA few lab notebook rules:

  • Always use ink
  • Date every entry
  • Do not scribble out things – just place a single line through errors
  • Include everything you do
  • Glue or staple in loose papers and reports
  • Never tear out a sheet of paper
  • Place a large ‘X’ through blank spaces or pages

Good luck researching!
For helpful links please click here to be taken to the Science Fair Links page.

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