Helping Your Student
Below are some basic steps to help you get started this this process and a general calendar of when to complete each step. We go into more detail about each step later on this page. Here's a helpful document about Science Fair Dos and Don'ts.
Help your child with the following:
Learning about the scientific method
- Purchasing a laboratory notebook.
- Picking a project and conduct background research on their topic.
- Completing the registration form.
- Purchasing the supplies and complete the experiment.
- Analyzing the results of the experiment and draw conclusions on what the data means.
- Building a science fair board and practice explaining the project to others.
General Calendar for Completing a Science Fair Project
- Before the science fair registration form is due: learn about scientific method, purchase laboratory notebook, pick a project
- DON'T FORGET to complete the registration form (this form should be submitted to your child's teacher at school).
- Before beginning the experiment: conduct the bulk of the background research (generally on-going throughout development of a science fair project. This should be completed before building the board.)
- Complete approximately 8-10 weeks before the science fair: Purchase supplies and complete experiment. Check the experiment for information on how long it will take to complete. It is best to have this completed early to allow time to review the results and build the board.
- Complete approximately 3 weeks before the science fair: analyze results and draw conclusions
- Begin approximately 2-3 weeks before the science fair: build board and practice presenting
STEP 1: Help your child learn about the scientific method
The scientific method is the process by which scientists investigate the word around them. It is very similar to basic problem solving, but it is more structured to guide the manner of the investigation. Additional information about the scientific method for you and your child is provided on the student's page of this website. A video on the scientific method and designing an experiment is provided below to help explain experimental setup to parents.
STEP 2: Purchase a laboratory notebooK
Purchase a notebook your child can use to record all of the information about their experiment. Preferably, this notebook is not spiral bound. A standard composition notebook will work well. The picture below is an example of this kind of notebook. If you are able to find one with graph paper, that makes it easier to draw tables. These cost about $2-3 at your local store.
Your child should write down all of their information about their experiment in this notebook. This information includes, but is not limited to:
New vocabulary words or notes from conducting background research for their experiment
The experimental procedure
All of the observations/results from their experiment
Copies of photos from their experiment
If they reject or accept their hypothesis and why
Any references used to research/complete their experiment
Be sure your child follows the following rules when recording information in their laboratory notebook:
Write neatly and in pen.
Date each page of the notebook.
- If you make a mistake, draw a single line through the mistake and write the correct information down. Do not scribble through the mistake. The image below demonstrates the right and wrong way to correct a mistake in the notebook.
- Organize information for their experimental results in a table to make it easy to follow. The following video will demonstrate how to setup a data table in the laboratory notebook: How to Set Up a Data Table
- Include all of the information from their experiment in their notebook. Don’t leave anything out or write it in another place. It is easy to lose or forget information that isn’t included in the notebook.
- Your child will want to bring their laboratory notebook with them to the science fair so the judges can review it. This is not required for grades 3 and 4 (but is highly recommended) for the local STEAM Expo. It is a requirement for the Regional Science Fair.
STEP 3: Help your child pick a project and conduct background research on their topic
It is important your child picks a project they are interested in completing. They may come up with an idea on their own or they may need help selecting a project. The internet is a useful tool for developing or finding a science fair project idea. Be sure the experiment has testable variables. Demonstration experiments like the volcano and tornado in a bottle are fun to do, but they don’t contain variables. The video provided with STEP 1 about the scientific method outlined what variables are and provided an example of an experiment with independent and dependent variables.
Be sure to read through the experimental procedure with your child. Look up any new vocabulary words your child doesn’t already understand and write down their meaning in the laboratory notebook.
STEP 4: Help your child complete the registration form
You will need to register your child for the STEAM Expo. Additional information about when this form is due and who to contact with questions can be found on this form. Your child should submit this form to their teacher at school.
STEP 5: Help your child purchase the supplies and complete the experiment
Purchase all of the supplies listed on the experimental procedure and complete the experiment. Be sure to record all of the data the student collects and observations they make about their experiment in their laboratory notebook. More information on how to collect data can be found on the student's page of this website under “What did you see happen? – Collecting data.”
STEP 6: Analyze the results of the experiment and draw conclusions on what the data means
The student will need to not only be able to describe what they did and what happened, but will also be able to explain WHY their results occurred. They will need to demonstrate an understanding of how their results tie to the concept their experiment covers.
For instance, if a student is trying to determine which plant fertilizer works best, they will want to explain WHY a participate fertilizer worked the best. This will involve looking at the ingredients in each fertilizer and comparing them to the nutrients plants need to grow. This may require them to complete additional research on their topic of interest after the experiment is complete.
Once they understand what their results mean, they should decide if they reject or accept their hypothesis.
- If they reject their hypothesis, it means their experimental results do not support their hypothesis.
- If they accept it, it means their experimental results do support their hypothesis.
STEP 7: Build a science fair board and practice explaining the project to others
The final step involves the student building their board and practicing explaining their project to others. If your child participates in the Austin Public Schools STEAM Expo, a cardboard trifold board will be provided to them by the school free of charge. These boards can also be found at your local big box or craft stores. Be sure to check with the school or science fair organizer to see if there is required size for this board before purchasing one.
Other supplies your child may need to build their board includes:
- Stickers or decals
- Glue stick
- Construction paper
- Photographs of the experiment
- Spray paint
- Large letters for the experiment title
- Other art supplies to decorate the board
All of the information from their board should be typed or neatly written. It is recommended this is done on a separate piece of paper and then glued to the board. The local library has computers and printers available if you don’t have one at home.
Your child should practice explaining their experiment to LOTS of other people. This will help them become comfortable with explaining their project to other people. If they have a partner, they should decide who will explain what parts of the project. Each child should present about an equal amount of the project. They should be able to explain:
- How they came up with their idea
- The general scientific concept that applies to their experiment
- What their hypothesis is
- What the variables are
- What they did during their experiment
- What their results are
- What their results mean
- If they accept or reject their hypothesis and why