Coming Up with a Winning Science Fair Project Idea

So your child is participating in the school science fair, and you’re now trying to help come up with science fair project ideas. Irrespective of whether your child was forced to take part in the science fair or even if science is a much-disliked subject, you can turn the situation around with a winning science fair project idea. Here are six tips to share with your child to ensure (s)he enjoys working on the project, learns a lot in the process and maybe even ends up with a prize!

"Science Fair, 09" by Rich Bowen is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Science Fair, 09” by Rich Bowen is licensed under CC BY 2.0

1. Begin Early

The science fair is a long way away, and you figure you have more than enough time to come up with a good science fair project idea and see it through to the end. Great! That’s no reason to put off starting on the project. You never know what complications may arise once you actually begin. Even the seemingly simple task of coming up with a good idea may take a lot more time than expected. The last thing you want is to find out that you have only one week left for the project, and an understandably limited choice of ideas to choose from. With more time in hand, you have the liberty of choosing a topic that truly interests you, spending enough time to do research and understand the topic in detail, and collecting the necessary information in a well thought-out and organized manner. And if you’ve got your eyes on the prize, each of these factors will help differentiate your project from the other good ones on display. Believe me, the judges can tell.

2. Choose a topic that really interests you

The right way to go about finding a good science fair project idea is to begin with your interests. Don’t read through a list of ideas and see whether any of them appeal to you. Rather, take some time to think about what kind of topics get you excited. It doesn’t even have to have a direct link to science. What things make you sit up and pay attention? Sports? Cats? Building things with your own hands? Narrow your list down to a few of your favorite topics and spend some time thinking about them. Most probably you will have to do some additional reading on the topic to come up with a question that interests you. The Google Idea Springboard is a great tool to help you out in this area. You’re likely to spend a few weeks if not months working on your project, so having a topic that you love will keep you interested till the end.

3. Come up with a good question that you can work with

A good science fair project idea begins with a good question. How do you define a good question? Firstly, it should not be a question that has already been answered by someone else. If you design a science fair project around the question ‘Which color light do plants grow best in?’, it is unlikely that you or anyone else will learn anything new from it. The experimental procedure and results for such a project can easily be found on the internet. Even if you do decide to do a project based on a science fair project idea you found online, make sure to change the question and ask something new so that you are experimenting and doing research on a slightly different area. Secondly, the question should truly interest you. Don’t adopt a question that someone else finds interesting or exciting. Use your ‘favorite topics’ list, spend time playing with different ideas in your head and only settle for a question that you would genuinely like to know the answer to. This interest will completely change the way you approach the project.

4. Consider the experimental procedure involved

Remember, while trying to settle on your science fair project idea, that you have to come up with a fool proof method for collecting data to answer your question. Consider the kind of time, energy and resources required to set up your experiment, and realistically evaluate whether it can be accomplished with what is available to you. Also check your experiment for any flaws. Is the data that you are collecting quantifiable? Is there any subjectivity involved? Have you considered and taken care of external factors that may affect your results? If you do not know the right answers to these questions, or how to design your experiment accordingly, you will need to spend some time understanding how to set up a scientific experiment.

5. Feel free to change your question based on your background research

It is entirely possible that as you go about collecting the information you need for your project, you realize that your question isn’t a very good one, or that you think of a better and more interesting one. Feel free to change your question according to your findings. This is where point #1 becomes even more important.

6. Make sure you understand all the concepts involved

Don’t worry about finding a topic that sounds highly complicated or scientific. In fact, the more simple your topic, the better you will be able to work with it. Nobody is expecting Ph.D. level research from you. More importantly, you will find the research and data collection far more difficult if you haven’t fully understood the topic yourself. Feel free to ask for help from an adult or the internet in order to learn more about the topic, but when it comes to the project, do all the thinking and analysis yourself. This will help you immensely when it comes to answering the judges’ questions about your project, and your in-depth understanding will show.

As long as you keep these tips in mind, you can be sure to come up with a science fair project idea that will win you over, impress your audience and maybe even tip the judges’ scales in your favor.

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