The most critical aspect of a project is the way the student explores and manages the project. A simple project can offer a great experimental challenge to the imaginative student. The role of the teacher, mentor or guardian should be one of guidance, encouragement and, as needed, constructive criticism.
Organized as Observe, Plan, Explore, Explain, the Science Fair Ready framework walks through the process for developing project ideas, conducting research, analyzing data, and communicating results.
Students’ projects should be of an experimental nature—either investigating a research question or solving a design challenge. Although judges consider the aesthetics of a student’s exhibit, the main areas for evaluation are the scientific or engineering design approach, the thought processes used in completing the project and the student’s mastery of the topic and concepts. The strongest projects are often driven by student interest and what is personally meaningful to them.
The next key step to planning a project is determining your ‘testable question’ or the ‘problem to solve’. The focus needs to be not too broad, but not too limited. It needs to be something that can be observed and measured. Something that can be answered or solved in the time available through experimentation or design and testing.
Once you know what you want to address with your question or problem, you need to determine how you want to address it. This is your research or design plan and where you identify what’s feasible, what materials you need and the process you need to follow.
Depending on the nature of the project, students will need to experiment and investigate according to the plan they devised in the Plan phase. This may involve creating their prototype, testing and revising a design, or conducting multiple trials with different conditions and variables. Data collection and recording observations is critical in this step and we encourage students to record all data in their project notebook. This simulates the experience of researchers in a lab and reinforces a student’s processing and understanding.
This phase can provide complications. It’s important for students to expect this, so they are prepared to work through it, know how to ask for help, and learn from the unexpected.
Once data and observations are collected, students must analyze and interpret their findings. They will learn how to represent their findings and tell the story of their project in a few different ways. Students will need to create graphs & tables, written reports as well as poster presentations that summarize the key pieces of their project and discovery.
Students also will need to present their work through oral communication with a practiced presentation as well as prepare for Q&A with judges and volunteers.