HOW TO DO A SCIENCE PROJECT
Step-by-Step Suggestions and Help for
Middle School Students and Parents
1. Get an idea for your project
Find an area that interests you. You might want to look at a list of science fair categories to help decide. Talk over ideas with your family, teacher or friends. Use TV commercials, magazines, newspapers, or books to get more ideas. Think about problems around the house that you would like to solve. You can even test household items.
2. Start a Daily Log
Use a separate notebook or booklet as your Daily Log and divide it into two sections: “Daily Work” and “Data.”
- In the Daily Work section write down all the things you do on your project each day – like a diary. Write a day for each entry to show the day to day record of your progress while doing your project. Don’t be afraid to go into detail. Include your procedure, research, diagrams, changes to the experiment, etc.
- In the Data Section make charts before you start your testing. Record all measurements, readings, etc. in these charts as you measure them during your testing. Record any and all other observations you make while testing also. A good scientist keeps careful, detailed records of findings and test results. Sometimes it’s the unexpected observation that leads to a new discovery.
3. Do a search for background information
Every scientist spends time getting background information. Use the library; write or call experts; write to companies and organizations; use the internet on your computer. Start keeping a bibliography with complete information on every source you used and tried to get. Good research will help you become an expert on your topic. As an expert, you will be able to make a better hypothesis, plan better testing, and draw better conclusions. You’ll also impress others with your knowledge when you share the results of your project with them.
4. State the problem in a question form
This part (often used as a title) asks what you are trying to find or show in your investigation. Make sure your problem is one that can be solved by testing. It must involve more than a demonstration or a collection.
5. State your hypothesis
The hypothesis is an educated guess or a prediction of what you think will happen during your experimentation. Use background information to help you prepare this prediction and to explain it. The results of the test you do later do not have to support the hypothesis in order for the experiment to be a success.
6. Design the experiment
Determine the procedure that you will follow to test your hypothesis and record it in your Daily Log. The procedure should explain the steps to be followed in order to find the answer to your question or problem. Think about necessary safety precautions that will be taken. Make a complete list in your Daily Log of all the materials you will need.
- Identify the conditions (also called Control Variables) that will be kept the same during the experiment. These will help you run a fair, scientific test that will give you valid results.
- Identify the one factor you will change (on purpose) to get a result. This is called the Independent Variable (also called Experimental or Manipulated Variable).
- Identify how your results will be measured. This is called the Dependent Variable (also called Responding Variable). It’s important to have results that can actually be measured. Use metric units whenever possible.
- Identify whether you need a Control Group. This is the group of subjects that is treated in the “normal way” so you can compare them to the Experimental Group (the group of subjects that have the one factor changed).
A good procedure is very detailed – like a good recipe. This makes it easy for other scientists to duplicate your experiment so they can verify your results.
7. Conduct the experiment
Follow your procedure carefully to ensure fair, scientific testing. While testing, record in your Daily Log all data by accurately observing, measuring, describing, couting or photographing. Work safely. If necessary, make changes in your procedure and document them in your Daily Log.
8. Repeat the procedure
The results will be more convincing and valid if you repeat the experiment as many times as possible. For example, an experiment that uses ten plants will give more valid results than one that tested only one or two plants. Testing and measuring the distance a car rolled down a ramp ten times would be more valid than testing it only one time.
9. Analyze the data (Results)
Look at the measurements you recorded in your Daily Log closely. Decide what the results mean. Try to find explanations for your observations. If possible, examine your results mathematically (percentages, mean, median, range, mode). Construct graphs or tables that will go on your backboard to show the results more clearly. The data will help you decide whether your hypothesis is supported or should be rejected.
10. Make conclusions
Conclusions are statements telling what you found out or learned during your investigation. This is a very important part of your project since you probably learned a lot. They are based on the results of your experiment and your hypothesis. Explain how the data you collected supports your hypothesis. If the data doesn’t support your hypothesis, explain why you reject your hypothesis. Explain what further testing might be done to better answer your original question. Tell how people might apply your findings to every day life. Can you explain any unusual findings from your testing?
11. Communicate your results in a summary
Scientists share their findings with other scientists. Write a short (one page) five-paragraph summary that explains the most important parts of your project. An easy format to use is to write one paragraph that summarizes each of the following:
- Problem or question. State it and explain why you chose it.
- Hypothesis. Tell your prediction and explain why you thought it would happen.
- Testing. Give an overview of your procedure telling how you used fair and scientific testing. Tell about your variables, how you had repeated trials or multiple subjects, testing time, and if you had a control group.
- Results. Summarize your data by telling your final measurements, totals or averages. Share a few of the most important observations you made. Compare your Control Group to your Experimental Group – did one do better than the other?
- Conclusions. State whether your hypothesis was supported by the data you collected or not. Tell the most important thing you learned. If the project was to be repeated, what changes would you make?
Practice an oral presentation also. Be an expert on all parts of your project so you’ll be prepared to answer an interviewer’s or classmate’s questions.
12. Construct a display that explains your project
Dimensions – Exhibits will be confined to a table space and must not exceed 2 feet from side to side, 3 feet high, and 15 inches from front to back. Exhibits should be durably constructed and self supported.
Science Folders – all students must display two folders in front of the backboard. The first, the science folder, should include the Daily Log, summary, and list of materials. The following items may also be included in the science folder: research, letters written to obtain information, newspaper articles related to the topic, surveys, graphs, charts, pictures, and definitions of vocabulary words. The second folder should include a report with the bibliography.
Required Parts of the Project and Display
What the students wants to find out, written in question form. The question must be one that can be answered by doing an experiment or investigation.
A statement predicting what might happen as a result of doing the investigation or experiment
Steps the student followed to complete the project.
Explanation of what the data means…graphs, charts, hypothesis.
An answer to the original question that relates to the hypothesis.
A list of materials used to complete the experiment or investigation. The list of materials may be put on the display board or in the science folder.
Factual information. Measurement and/or observations used to confirm the hypothesis. Data may be displayed as pictures, diagrams, graphs, surveys, written explanation, etc.
A journal recording of the steps and procedures of the experiment or investigation.
A written explanation of the project. Include the title of the project, why the topic was chosen, the results (what happened), how the results compared to the hypothesis, and what was learned.
A list of sources of information.
Tips for Exhibitors
13. Be ready to answer questions that judges often ask
Below is a sample of questions that judges often ask students during judging interviews. It is a good idea to practice answering the following questions before meeting the judges:
- Can you explain or describe your project?
- What procedures did you follow that made sure it was a fair and scientific test?
- Where or how did you get the idea for your project?
- What kind of help did you receive while working on your project?
- What are the most important things you have learned by doing your project?
- If you had more time, what things would you do to change or improve it?
- How much time did you spend working on your project?
- How can you apply what you have learned to “real life” situations?