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A Guide to Science Fairs. It’s Due When?!? A Practical Remedy for the Annual Science Fair Panic Attack B.K. Hixson © 2001. National Content Standards. (Grades K-4) Ask a question about objects, organisms, and events in the environment. Plan and conduct a simple investigation.

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a guide to science fairs

A Guide to Science Fairs

It’s Due When?!?

A Practical Remedy for the

Annual Science Fair Panic Attack

B.K. Hixson © 2001

national content standards
National Content Standards

(Grades K-4)

  • Ask a question about objects, organisms, and events in the environment.
  • Plan and conduct a simple investigation.
  • Employ simple equipment and tools to gather data and extend the senses.
  • Use data to construct a reasonable explanation.
  • Communicate investigations and explanations.
(Grades 5-8)
  • Identify questions that can be answered through scientific investigations.
  • Design and conduct a scientific investigation.
  • Use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze, and interpret data.
  • Develop descriptions, explanations, predictions, and models using evidence.
  • Think critically and logically to make the relationships between evidence and explanations.
  • Recognize and analyze alternative explanations and predictions.
  • Communicate scientific procedures and explanations.
  • Use mathematics in all aspects of scientific inquiry.
the scientific method
The Scientific Method
  • Generate a Hypothesis

Take a familiar experiment and change one of the variables. Make a prediction, or hypothesis, about what you think the outcome of the experiment with the new variable will most likely be.

2. Gather Background Information

Read about your topic. Define words particular to your idea, explain concepts that relate, and provide some historical perspective by either charting and explaining the development of the idea or chronicling the accomplishments of preceding scientists.

3. Design an Experiment

List the materials needed, consider safety needs, create a lab procedure, generate data tables. Seek adult approval prior to experimentation.

4. Perform the Experiment

Repeat the experiment at least twice, and if possible, three times.

5. Collect and Record Experimental Data

Record data, take pictures, make drawings, and construct graphs to explain and interpret information.

6. Present Your Findings

Present findings through written and oral presentation. Provide a display.

the hypothesis
The Hypothesis
  • Pick a general topic in science, like physics or botany, that is interesting to you.
  • Find an experiment in that field that gives you many options when it comes time to adapt it for your project.
  • Alter the variables of the experiment to produce a new lab idea-something not yet explored.
  • Select one idea that you want to tinker with and write it as a statement, or educated guess with only one variable.
Check the hypothesis by asking two simple questions:
  • Did I make a prediction?
  • Can my prediction be measured and evaluated using an experiment?
brain tickler 1
Brain Tickler #1

Sometimes it doesn’t take very much to

give you a really great, new idea.

Review the following sequence of letters. Cross out six letters so that the remaining letters, keeping the sequence exactly the same, spell a very common word.


Answer: Sometimes it helps to take things literally. If you cross out six letters the way it is spelled, rather than six letters, one through six, your answer is quite obvious.



generating the hypothesis
Generating the Hypothesis
  • Step One- Pick a Topic
  • Step Two- Do the Lab
  • Step Three- Bend, Fold, Spindle, and Mutilate the Lab
  • Step Four- Create an Original Idea…Your Hypothesis
pick a topic an interests quiz can help with choosing a topic
Pick a TopicAn interests quiz can help with choosing a topic.

1. I like to study things that are:

___a. in a lab (go to #2)

___b. outdoors (go to #3)

___c. living (go to #4)

2. Physical Science, my interests include:

___a. mixing chemicals

___b. building electrical things

___c. rockets, planes, balloons, flight

___d. magnets, magnetic fields

___e. thermometers, heating and cooling stuff

___f. light, colors, filters, illusions

___g. sound, pitch, vibrations

___h. electronics widgets

3. Earth Science, my interests include:

___a. rocks, minerals, fossils, soil

___b. oceans and associated life

___c. stars, planets, space

___d. weather, forecasting, tornadoes

4. Life Science, my interests include:

___a. growing and experimenting with plants

___b. animals and their characteristics

___c. the human body and how it works

___d. microbes, fungi, mold, gooey stuff

___e. ecosystems: forests, swamps, savannas

do the lab
Do the Lab

This introductory lab is great because it gives you opportunities to expand the original idea.

Take a long, skinny piece of paper and fold it into an accordion shape. The bottom fold is wetted and then removed from the water. The whole accordion is lowered toward the water, wet end first. Watch very closely. As the paper nears the water, a very interesting phenomenon occurs.


1 sheet of paper

1 pair of scissors

1 cup of water

  • Procedure

1.Cut a strip of paper from the edge of the sheet. It should be about 1 inch wide and 11 inches long.

2. Fold the paper into an accordion shape. The folds should be about an inch apart with the last fold sticking straight down.

3. Lower the last fold to the surface of the water and get it wet. Remove the accordion from the water.

4. Now, a second time, very slowly lower it to the surface again. Do not put it all the way in the water! As you get closer and closer, you will notice a very interesting and unexpected response.


Water molecules are naturally attracted to each other. As you can see, they have a positive end and a negative end, like a magnet.

When the end of the paper is dipped into the water, the water molecules all line up inside the paper. As the paper is lowered to the surface of the water, the water feels the pull of the water molecules in the paper. When the paper gets close enough, the water molecules in the cup tug on the water molecules in the paper magnetically and pull them down into the water to be with their other water molecules.




bend fold spindle and mutilate the lab
Bend, Fold, Spindle, and Mutilate the Lab
  • Next, you want to identify the variable in the experiment. This is because if you are going to create a new, original experiment, you will be changing the variables.
  • In this case of the invisible water magnet lab the two variables are the liquid (water) that was in the cup and the material (paper) that was folded and dipped.
  • Adaptations of the variable may include:

-using a different liquid

-changing the liquid temperature

-changing the material

-changing the shape of the paper

create the hypothesis
Create the hypothesis
  • Your hypothesis should be stated as a prediction. Be sure it can be measured and evaluated using an experiment!
  • Quick Check. Listed below are four different hypotheses. Read each and decide if it is a hypothesis or not, and tell why.
  • Smoker’s poll among teenagers
  • I predict that the length of a metal rod directly affects the pitch it produces when it is vibrated.
  • The mighty Grand Canyon
  • I predict that the humidity in a closed room, measured as percent water vapor, has no effect on the effectiveness of a Van de Graaff generator’s ability to produce static electric sparks.
1. Smoker’s poll among teenagers

NOT a hypothesis! Kids do not isolate a single variable or make a prediction.

2. I predict that the length of a metal rod directly affects the pitch it produces when it is vibrated.

Hypothesis! The student makes a statement and provides a concrete way to measure and evaluate that statement.

3. The mighty Grand Canyon

NOT a hypothesis! This is a science report because the student is not participating in the program.

4. I predict that the humidity in a closed room, measured as percent water vapor, has no effect on the effectiveness of a Van de Graaff generator’s ability to produce static electric sparks.

Hypothesis! A prediction is made and a way to measure that prediction is laid out in very clear terms.

gathering information
Gathering Information
  • Identify the resources available to you, including:

-contemporary print resources (magazines, newspapers, journals)

-other print resources (books, encyclopedias)

-celluloid resources (films, videos, filmstrips)

-electronic resources (internet, DVDs)

-human resources (scientists, engineers, teachers)

  • Use those resources to determine the following:

-major scientific concepts

-scientific vocabulary

-historical perspective

study before you start
Study Before You Start

A very successful and wealthy businessman was nearing the end of his life on Earth and wanted desperately to take some of his considerable wealth with him.

He knelt down and began praying to the Lord who, surprising the man greatly, appeared beside him. The Lord said, “You have done very well with the gifts that I have given you; you have looked out for those who were less fortunate than yourself. What can I do for you my son?”

The man replied, “I know that I am near the end of my days here on Earth. You know that I began life as a very poor child and worked diligently to earn great wealth. The thought of going to Heaven and not having a thing to take with me is almost more than I can bear. Please, I know that everyone says that you can’t take it with you but could you make an exception in my case?”

The Lord looked deep into the man’s eyes and replied, “I will make an exception just this once. You can have just one suitcase.” He touched the man gently on the head and then vanished.

Overjoyed, the man set about to purchase the largest suitcase that he could find and filled it with gold bars. Almost as soon as he was done packing an angel appeared and said, “It is time to go,” and escorted the man to the Pearly Gates where he and his suitcase got into a long line.

When he finally got to the front of the line, Saint Peter looked down and said, “I am sorry sir, but we don’t allow you to bring anything with you.” The man assured him that the Lord himself had given him permission, so Peter agreed as long as the man would allow him to see what was in the suitcase.

With a large smile the man unzipped the bag and showed Peter the bars of gold. Upon seeing the contents, Peter started laughing uncontrollably. He summoned Gabriel, Moses, and several others who were nearby and they too started laughing.

Finally, the man couldn’t stand it any longer and demanded to know what was so funny. With tears in his eyes, Peter took a deep breath and said, “You could have brought anything you wanted and you packed pavement!”

If only he had done his homework.

As you read about your topic, watch videos, or interview scientists and other professionals, you will want to collect as much information as possible.
  • If a passage is copied or a person is quoted, quotation marks should be used.
  • Three resource synopsis templates are provided.
print resource synopsis sheet
Print Resource Synopsis Sheet

A. Type of Media (circle one)

Magazine Newspaper Journal Encyclopedia

Textbook Dictionary Book

B. Name/Title:____________________

C. Title of Article/Chapter:___________

D. Publisher/Author:________________

E. ISBN (books only):______________

F. Year Published:____Month:_______

G. Volume #___Pages Referenced____

H. Synopsis of Ideas:_______________


I. Print Resource Synopsis, page__of__.

electronic resource synopsis sheet
Electronic Resource Synopsis Sheet

A. Type of Media (circle one)

Internet CD/Video DVD MP3

B. Website/Title:____________________

C. Title of CD/DVD, etc:______________

D. Publisher/Author:_________________

E. Internet address:_________________

F. Year Produced:____Volume #:_______

G. Synopsis of Ideas:_________________


H. Electronic Resource Synopsis, page__of__.

human resource synopsis sheet
Human Resource Synopsis Sheet

A. Type of Professional (circle one)

Scientist Engineer Professor Doctor

Teacher Librarian Other

B. Name:___________________________

C. Title/Position:_____________________

D. Employer:________________________

E. Date Interviewed:_________________

F. Years in Field:____Degree:_________

G. Awards__________________________

H. Synopsis of Ideas:_________________


I. Human Resource Synopsis, page__of__.

When gathering information, pay special attention to the following:
  • Major Scientific Concepts

Research and explain the main idea(s) that is/are driving the experiment. It may be a physics law or a chemical rule. Provide a historical perspective withnames, dates, countries, etc.

  • Scientific Words

Define scientific words used in the paper either in the margins or in a glossary.

designing the experiment
Designing the Experiment
  • A well designed experiment will allow you to collect accurate data the first time.
  • You will also be able to replicate the experiment and retrieve supporting data the second and third time you experiment.
step 1 outline the experiment
Step 1-Outline the Experiment
  • Outline each step of the experiment.
  • Make sure you are testing a single variable.
special alert

In the mid 60s, F.B.I. Director Hoover was reviewing a typed letter he had just dictated to his secretary. He didn’t like the format she had used, thinking it was messy, so he scribbled, “Watch the borders” on the bottom of it and asked her to retype it and send it out immediately.

She did exactly as she was instructed and sent the letter out to all the top agents in the field. For the next two weeks agents were put on special alert along the Mexican and Canadian borders.

When you outline your experiment, do your best to avoid ambiguity.

step 2 evaluate safety concerns
Step 2- Evaluate Safety Concerns
  • Goggles and eyewash station
  • Ventilation
  • Fire blanket or fire extinguisher
  • Chemical disposal
  • Electricity
  • Emergency phone numbers
step 3 prepare data tables
Step 3- Prepare Data Tables
  • Prepare data tables prior to beginning the experiment.
  • A good data table includes a title that describes the information being collected, and it identifies the variable and the unit being collected on each data line.
  • The variable is what you are measuring and the unit is how you are measuring it, usually written like this:

Variable (unit)

Time (seconds)

Distance (meters)

Electricity (volts)

this is an example of a well prepared data table
This is an example of a well-prepared data table:

Determine the Boiling Point of Compound X1

step 4 acquire the needed lab materials
Step 4- Acquire the needed lab materials
  • List all of the materials needed to complete the experiment at least three times.
  • Many science materials double as household items.
  • Others may be purchased at a grocery or hardware.
  • Some hard-to-find materials may need to be ordered from a scientific catalog.
step 5 propose an experimental design
Step 5- Propose an experimental design
  • Present a complete experimental design to an adult.
  • Include a master materials list, experimental procedure, and completed data table templates.
the chicken cannon
The Chicken Cannon

When the British were designing their high-speed train, they became concerned about the consequence of accidentally hitting a bird at 180 m.p.h. as the train zipped down the track.

After quite a bit of discussion and some research, they discovered that the American space program, NASA, had designed a cannon that fired chickens at the windshield of the Space Shuttle to test effectiveness for the very same occurrence.

The British borrowed the cannon and were quite excited to try it out on the newly designed, state-of-the-art windshields they intended to use on the new, high-speed trains. They loaded the gun and fired the first chicken at the windshield, only to watch in complete horror as the chicken not only shattered the windshield, but also destroyed the conductor’s chair and imbedded itself in the back wall of the cabin.

Needless to say they immediately sent all the data back to NASA and asked them for any advice to help with their dilemma. The Americans evaluated the data and quickly replied with three words:

“Thaw the chicken.”

As you begin to experiment, double check your procedure and make any necessary adjustments.


Safety Overview

  • Follow the procedure; record any changes
  • Observe safety rules
  • Record data immediately
  • Repeat the experiment several times
  • Prepare for extended experiments
gathering and evaluating the data
Gathering and Evaluating the Data
  • Fill in the data tables .
  • Use the data to create graphs.
  • Collect and prepare other forms of data-recordings, photos, drawings-that will support your hypothesis.
  • Develop descriptions, explanations, predictions, and models.
  • Think critically and logically to make the relationships between evidence and explanations.
  • Recognize and analyze alternative explanations and predictions

Line and Bar Graphs

  • Most common types of graph.
  • Each data point on a line graph is recorded as a dot and then all dots are connected.
  • A bar graph starts on the horizontal axis and moves up to the data line.

Pie Graphs

  • Show relationships between different groups.
  • All data is totaled and a percentage is determined for each group.
example bar graph
Example- Bar Graph

Growth of mutant tomato plants

Height (cm)

Time (days)

example pie graph
Example- Pie Graph

Pie Lover’s Graph

other kinds of data
Other kinds of data
  • Written notes and observations
  • Drawings
  • Photographs, Videotapes, Audiotapes
  • The experiment itself (plants, specimens, etc.)