- Learn about the Scientific Method and how to apply it.
- Choose an experiment conduct background research (learn any new vocabulary words and read about the scientific concept your experiment covers).
- Write a hypothesis for your experiment.
- Complete the science fair registration form.
- Conduct your experiment and record the results in a notebook.
- Review your experimental results and determine what they mean.
- Prepare your board for the science fair and practice explaining your experiment to others.
Before you can select a project for the science fair, you need to learn how to do a science fair project. This includes learning about how to ask questions, make predictions (guesses) collect information (data), and how to conduct an experiment. The following sections will help you learn how to do these things.
How Scientists Study the World – The Scientific Method
Scientists study the world around us by using the Scientific Method. The Scientific Method is a series of steps designed to guide a scientist in their investigation. It is very systematic and ensures that all scientists conduct their investigation in a similar manner. This process can include anywhere from 5-8 steps depending on who you talk to. Some scientists combine some of the steps of the Scientific Method together. The image below outlines the steps in the Scientific Method. You will complete all of these steps as you complete your science fair project.
You already use the Scientific Method every day. It is a form of problem solving. For instance, if you lose your backpack, you will use the Scientific Method to find it. The table below shows how each step you take in finding your backpack relates to the steps of the Scientific Method.
Steps in the Scientific Method
1. Make an Observation/State the Problem
2. Ask a Question
3. Background Research
4. Form a Hypothesis
5. Perform an Experiment
6. Analyze Results
7. Report Findings
Example of Using the Scientific Method: Steps to finding your backpack
1. You realize your backpack is missing.
2. You wonder where you left it.
3. You think about where you last saw it and remember seeing in your mom’s car.
4. You guess it could still be in your mom’s car.
5. You go check your mom’s car.
6. You see your backpack is in the back seat. This proves your hypothesis to be correct.
7. You tell to your mom that you found your backpack.
What Do You Think Will Happen? – Forming a Hypothesis
A hypothesis is a guess about what you think will happen or is causing something to happen. Once you have picked your experiment, you will need to write a hypothesis to predict what you think will happen when you conduct your experiment.
The videos and worksheet linked below will help you learn about how to write a hypothesis for your experiment.
Testing Your Hypothesis – Conducting an Experiment
Once you have written your hypothesis, it is time to test it using an experiment. An experiment has three different types of variables:
- Dependent Variables – This is what is measured in the experiment. The dependent variable is also the result of the experiment. There can be more than one thing you measure, so there can be more than one dependent variable.
- Independent Variable – This is what is changed in the experiment. There should be only one independent variable in an experiment. If there is more than 1, then you never really know what caused the results.
- Controlled Variables – These are other things in your experiment that are kept the same throughout the experiment. There can be many (and should be many) controlled variables.
Be sure to choose an experiment that has all three of these variables in them. Do not choose a demonstration experiment. These are not acceptable (or OK) for the science fair. An example of a demonstration experiment include building a volcano and tornado in a bottle. These experiments do not have independent and dependent variables are not acceptable for the science fair, but they are still fun to do.
Never conduct an experiment without the help of an adult. Science is fun, but it can be dangerous. It is always best to have an adult to help you and make sure the experiment is done safely. The video below provides information on how to safely complete an experiment in your at-home science lab.
Laboratory Safety is #1 (Video)
Now that we have talked about safety, it is time to learn how to conduct an experiment. The videos below talk about variables and how to setup an experiment.
What Did You See Happen? – Collecting Data
When you conduct your experiment, it is very important you write down what happens. This is called collecting data. We use our senses to collect data and we put that data in a laboratory notebook. These notes will be helpful when you build your board for the science fair and talk to others about your experiment and results. Scientists always write down information about their experiments in a laboratory notebook. A normal school notebook can be used as a laboratory notebook.
It is also a good idea to take photos of your experiment, especially at the start and at the end. These help record what your experiment looked like at the start and at the end. For experiments that take a long time (like an experiment that monitors plant growth), you may want to take photos hourly, daily, or every other day. Be sure to note the date and time you took each photo and what the photo is of in your laboratory notebook. For instance, it you have 3 plants you are using in your experiment, you will want to note the date and time the photo was taken and which of the 3 plants are in the photo.
The worksheet and video below provide more information about collecting data and taking measurements.
- Using the Senses to Collect Data Worksheet (PDF)
- Hunting for Properties (Video)
- Measurement Mystery (Video)
- The Metric System Song (Video)
Tell Others What You Found – Building Your Board
Once you have completed your experiment, it is time to build your board for the science fair. This board is built using a trifold board – a piece of cardboard that folds in a way to divide the board into 3 pieces. An example of a science fair board is provided below:
Your board should tell the person reading it all about your experiment. The video below gives some guidance and a quick overview of how to build a science fair board. Your board can be made using a computer or handwritten, but it should be creative, easy to read, and neat.
- How to Build a Science Fair Board (Video)
- Tips and Tricks on How to Make a Creative Board for the Science Fair (Video)
There is certain information that should be included on your board so your experiment is clearly and completely explained. Be sure to include the following sections on your board:
- This should introduce your experiment and talk about the scientific concept behind your experiment. You can also talk about why you chose this experiment.
- Include the hypothesis you developed for your experiment.
- List everything you used to conduct your experiment…pen, pencil, laboratory notebook, camera, and anything else that was needed. It can be useful to also include a photo of your materials here, but it is not required.
- This section explains what you did in your experiment. It should be listed in numbered steps (1, 2, 3…) and be clear and easy to understand. It can be helpful to include some photos of your experimental setup here, especially if you have a complicated experimental setup. It will help the read understand what you did.
- This section explains what you saw happen in your experiment. Include photos of what happened at the start and at the end of your experiment. You can include your data as a data table, line graph, or bar graph too (click the links to learn how to make a data table and graph by hand). You can also make these using a computer. These are easy ways to present your results to others in an organized way.
- This sections explains what your results mean. For instance, if you are testing what fertilizer helps plants grow the best, you will want to explain that the plant that grew the tallest had the best fertilizer. You will also want to explain WHY it is the best fertilizer. This will involve looking at the ingredients included in the fertilizer and researching what types of nutrients help plants grow best and seeing if any of those nutrients are in the fertilizer.
- The conclusion is a short summary about your experiment. It should state what you studied, what you saw happen, why it happened, and state if you accept or reject your hypothesis. This section only needs to be 2-3 sentences long.
- References are the places (sources) for your information for your experiment. If you picked your experiment from the internet, you will want to include that website as a reference. If you used a book, magazine, the internet or other source outside of yourself to gather information for your experiment, then you will want to include those sources as well. This is called citing a source and it gives credit to where you obtained your information. Everyone should have at least a few sources cited on their board.
Now that you have built your board, practice explaining your experiment to someone. You can use your mom, dad, sibling, or a friend. You should be able to explain your experiment to someone without needing to read the information from your board. Practice in front of many different people.
The day of the science fair, the judges will also ask you questions about your project. Below is a link to some of the questions they may ask you. Have the people you practice with ask you some of these questions. Practice until you feel comfortable with explaining your project and talking to another person about it.
Good luck at the science fair!