Entering Phase 2 of Science Fair

Weeks Tasks
4Identify the question or investigation for project
Carry out a preliminary project
4Design and carry out a revised project
Research topic
Write the introduction of the project
2Turn in data from the revised project
Write results, graphs, and conclusions 
3Finalize conclusion and prepare board
Attend the 2020 Gateway Science Fair!

This week students tied up the first phase of their science fair work. Students are moving from their preliminary project to the formal question they will pursue for the science fair in February. (note: not every student is in the same spot due to a variety of factors. Still, I wanted you to know where the overall train is currently located) This is how I’ve described the process to the students:

First, a young scientist has an idea for a project and spends 10 days exploring it: They explain their idea to peers and family; they do a bit of research; they test out their experimental methods; perhaps they build a miniature version of a larger engineering task.

Undoubtably, they learn a lot about their original question. In particular, they discover many areas of difficulty: too many variables are at play; the outcomes are hard or impossible to measure; the materials are too expensive; the scope is too large or too narrow. At this point, students revise or refine their original question. In effect, they make their good idea a better idea. 

Then, they begin the formal process. They outline their methods for testing or building; they craft a hypothesis and prepare a system for tracking results; 

The young scientist is now ready to engage with their work over the course of a month. Having done the preliminary project, they have a sharper focus and a great chance of having something scientifically valid to share come January. 

Examples from Students

Originally, August was going to build a bike generator to power his phone. After doing the research and planning, he realized the project wasn’t going to work for him. He’s transitioning to a building his own amplified string instrument. 

Sarah wanted to know about rates of naturalization in the U.S. and how they may have changed over recent years. After navigating her way through the Pew Research Center’s data on the subject, she decided to survey the adults in her life with questions from the naturalization test given to would-be citizens. 

Cassie was curious how water filters might affect pH. After filtering a number of juices and vinegars through a variety of substances, she realized pH isn’t easily filtered. She has adjusted her project to focus on filtering dyes, instead. 

Science and Engineering Practices

The science fair project gives students loads of opportunities to engage with the Science and Engineering Practices (SEP) outlined in the Next Generation Science Standards. For example, the preliminary project focuses on these 4 SEPs:

Preliminary Project Science and Engineering Practices

The Formal Project includes a few more:

Formal Project Science and Engineering Practices

Challenging the students to try out their original idea—to get a feel for the complexities involved—ultimately deepens their understanding of the scientific and engineering methods.