Science Fair Project Planning

The outline here follows the stereotypical "Scientifc Method"...THIS IS NOT the only way science is done but appears to be the procedure expected and accepted at Science Fairs...

Check out winning projects from past years!

  • Pick something you are interested in. Since science fair projects require a lot of effort. Choose a topic you are interested in or you will not enjoy working on your project or learn much from it.For example, If you like sports you could try to measure how the distance a rugby ball travels in the air is related to the angle at which it is kicked upward. If you like music you could try to measure and compare the volume of sound from different CD's to try to determine which CD's are loudest. Or you could try to determine the effect music has on people's emotions.

  • Get all the assistance you can in performing and understanding your project, but do the work yourself. You will get a much better understanding of why things do and do not work as expected.

  • Don't wait until the last minute to start your project. A good project requires that you spend a lot of time thinking about it. The judges want to test your understanding of your project, of how it works or other scientific and technical issues. You should also allow enough time to repeat your experiment more than once.

  • Your experiment is to test an idea about something, not to prove you are right. Don't get upset if your experiment demonstrates that your idea (hypothesis) is incorrect. You may even want to revise your hypothesis in light of what you find out from your experiments, especially if you find a more interesting line of research.

Practical hints for Science Fair Projects

Defining a problem

  • You'll want to pick a subject for your science project that you like. If you're not sure what you would like to do, consult with local professionals in the subject area you would like to investigate. Many people would be glad to help, they just need to be asked. Also, continue to keep in touch with them, as they could give you advice and direction throughout your project.You need to find out some background information on your topic and try to understand any terms associated with your subject that you’re unfamiliar with. From here you will start to see GAPS in our knowledge, the possibility of a project is beginning to show itself!

Formulating a hypothesis

  • Come up with an idea about something you want to test. A hypothesis is just an idea of what you think might happen under a specific set of conditions. Setting a hypothesis at the beginning is to keep you focused on answering a specific question and to keep your experiment on track. It is not intended to lock you into one idea that can't be changed later on when you find that it was incorrect. An example of a hypothesis would be: Does cigarette smoke have a damaging effect on plant growth?
Designing your experiment
  • Variables: Keep things as simple as possible. A variable is a condition of the experiment that you could change to affect the outcome, eg, temperature, amount of light, etc. It's much better to test only one variable thoroughly.
  • Controls: You need to have a standard to test your experimental results against. For example, if you're studying the effect of cigarette smoke on plant growth, you will probably keep some plants that were not exposed to cigarette smoke to compare them the others to. The plants that grew in the same conditions except for being exposed to cigarette smoke are called "controls". Most experiments will have controls and it's worth taking time to figure out what a good control would be for your experiment.
  • Sample Size: You will need to have several "subjects" in your experiment. For example, you'll need to test the effect of cigarette smoke on several plants, not just one.
  • Time: Allow enough time for complications if things don't go right the first time. You might need to start your experiment over again. Allow 6-8 weeks to complete the experiment. It is usual for an experiment to be repeated. This needs to be taken into account as well.

Collecting data

  • Keep a detailed notebook: Don't cross anything out, you might need to refer back to it later. Entries should be dated with the date and the number of days into the experiment. Include all observations, don't assume you'll remember points and particulars. What might not seem important at the time might be an important result later and might actually support your conclusion, so you'll want an accurate record of it.
  • Quantify your results by reporting things in numbers, not just observations. For example, say that your plants grew 1 centimeter. Don't say that the plants "look bigger today than they did yesterday". Record your numbers in a table. These are "raw data", a list of numbers, and should not appear in your finished project. We will turn this list of numbers into a picture later on - a GRAPH.

Forming a conclusion

  • Did your data support your hypothesis? If not, that's a result too. It doesn’t mean that the experiment didn't work. Also, consider other possible explanations for your results. Did your treatment kill your plants or was it that you forgot to water them? You're not out to "prove" your hypothesis. Think more along the lines of "here's what I thought was going to happen and here's what actually happened" and then go on to explain why you think it happened the way it did.

The Final Presentation Tips:

There are several essential elements to a good presentation: Check out this one!

  • Never show the tables of the raw data. These are lists of numbers, and its difficult to see what is going on. A graph is a picture - making it easier and quicker to see a pattern in the results. If you have to present numbers, use averages, not individual measurements. Also, don't present the data more than once. Don't make a line graph and pie chart of the same data.

  • Report sample size (n=?). Older students should give some statistical analysis of their data, such as standard deviation, chi-squared or students t-test.

  • Have print large enough to read from a distance.

  • Be sure that you understand all the terms and acronyms you present.

  • Think about future experiments and how you could expand on a project. Many students do science fair projects in consecutive years. You should think about expanding and significantly changing your project, not just repeating the same project.

  • Remember those local professionals or experts you consulted at the start? Perhaps they could review your draft presentation and go over how you could present your findings. They might be able to spot areas you need to improve on and point out the strong points that would be worth emphasising.

Ideas for projects

Winning projects details

Taranaki Science Fair rules and projects

Create professional looking posters - download our winning project poster as an example; very cool...

Planning and carrying out a Science Fair project


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