Although this framework is based on the scientific method and engineering design process, an independent investigation is most successful when it engages in an iterative process with emphasis on reflection and revision.
Independent student projects can be an interdisciplinary experience, combining skills from science, engineering, social studies, math, technology, and language arts. There is an opportunity for students to investigate questions or issues that are relevant to their local community.
Each student will have a unique experience during their project, and these personal journeys are an opportunity for growth and self-discovery. Completing an independent research project can build self-confidence and provide a sense of fulfillment.
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A Scientific Review Committee (SRC) is a group of qualified individuals that is responsible for evaluation of student research, certifications, research plans and exhibits for compliance with the rules, applicable laws and regulations at each level of science fair competition.
ALL proposed research projects involving any of the Restricted Areas of Research (work at a Regulate Research Institution or Industrial Setting, with human subjects, with vertebrate animals, with potentially hazardous biological agents, or with any hazardous chemicals/activities/devices) must be reviewed and approved BEFORE experimentation begins.
ALL projects, including those previously reviewed and approved by an SRC/IRB, must be reviewed, and approved by the SRC after experimentation and before competition in a Fair.
An Institutional Review Board (IRB) is a committee that, according to federal regulations (45-CFR-46), must evaluate the potential physical and/or psychological risk of research involving humans. All proposed high school human research must be reviewed and approved by an IRB before experimentation begins. This includes review of any surveys or questionnaires to be used in a project. Federal regulations require local community involvement. Therefore, it is advisable that an IRB be established at the school level to evaluate human research projects.
For most projects, an IRB is an informal collection of three individuals who can review projects at the localized setting (the school). The composition of this group may change for individual projects based on needed expertise. Students and teachers should work together to collect the signatures from the appropriate individuals.
To ensure student and community safety, as well as a fair and equitable process, there are several potential adult roles for student projects. At all levels, both Middle School and High School, all projects require the supervision and guidance of an Adult Sponsor. Any project in a Restricted Area of Research also requires a Designated Supervisor at the MS level, and a Qualified Scientist at the HS level. In many cases, the same adult can fill multiple roles. Review more detail here.
Students must select a school and teacher to support their participation. In many cases, the teacher is also the Adult Sponsor on the program (see below). The teacher is responsible for:
If students do not have support of a school, contact MSEF for more details.
In schools across the state, there is no standard convention for terms for the STEM process or for the Science & Engineering Fair project components.
Students in grades 6-12 who take part in an independent science/engineering research project as part of an established out-of-school program in Massachusetts, e.g. Big Brothers/Big Sisters, are eligible to compete in the MSEF statewide high school Science & Engineering Fair as a direct entry through their established out-of-school program. The teacher/adult sponsor of record (as noted on MSEF Form 1) for the student(s) must be a representative of the out-of-school program.
Schools can still support student participation as an independent project, with the option of working with an outside mentor or supervisor. A teacher needs to review and sign all the necessary forms. Teacher will still need to set up accounts in zFairs before the student. Remember you will be responsible for understanding all the safety rules, deadlines and for making sure all required forms are submitted on time, and we’re here to help!
MSEF staff are available for support and troubleshooting. Please let us know if you have questions or would like assistance navigating the process. We can also connect you with your Regional representatives.