Creating the best elementary science fair projects
Asking the right questions will make your child's project a success.
For elementary science fair projects, the wise teacher or parent avoids burdening their child with too much detail. Science for the younger set is meant to be as fun as it is educational. There are a few simple ways you can guide your child, however, to brighten their project and presentation.
The Scientific Method
A good science project follows a hypothesis, a scientific question and answer set, of your child's choosing. A hypothesis assumes a fact is true and then seeks to demonstrate that fact in a laboratory environment (or observe that fact in nature).
For example, Galileo's groundbreaking work (pun intended) involving objects of different weights dropped from a height followed a hypothesis like this: "Gravity could make a similar pull on a heavy and a light a stone." The hypothesis asks the question first, makes the educated guess first, than works backwards to test the theory.
The fun of elementary science fair projects is thisówe don't expect younger children to come up with true scientific facts with their hypothesis. Kids naively ask "Can a pound of salt fully dissolve in a pound of water?" or "Can paper airplanes work better flying upside down than right side up?" Elementary projects are without such restrictions. Once a child proposes a fun experiment of their devising, they will be motivated to test it.
Use the Control Method
Mature scientists use a control, a background test made as neutral as possible, to check their work. Little scientists should do the same. Teachers are looking for a control in each project they grade.
For example, with the hypothesis "Upside down paper airplanes fly further than right side up planes" the control would be building and flying planes upright and measuring how far they go successfully before flopping the planes over and retesting.
Most science fair work is printed then mounted onto freestanding tri-fold project display boards for ease of transport. We notice spelling errors and tilted or blurry columns when we read a newspaper, and glaring errors will also mar your child's science project.
The work should be wholly theirs and reflect their grammar and abilities, but you can coach your child to use a consistent theme, a consistent color scheme and consistent shapes and sizes on their board to better present their work. Choosing triangular matting or another non-rectangular shape, or trying an especially elegant font if their work is printed from a computer, adds a bit of dash that project judges will notice.
Sense of Humor
Science fair judges often ask their students to explain or describe their project further in person on judging day. The judges are looking for lighthearted and enthusiastic young scientists who enjoyed performing their projects.
A bit of humor or something special helps a project stand above the rest. Why do an experiment with eggs when you can use live chicks instead?
For the paper airplanes project, a quick interview with a real pilot or engineer will bring your child many ideas they can incorporate into the project. Excerpting the interview into their project and perhaps some photos you take together at a local airport would bring the fair display to an exciting realm of accomplishment for your child.
Results, Observations and Conclusions
Scientists and science teachers sum elementary science fair projects with three keys; results drawn, observations made and conclusions given. Even a young child can meet these three criteria.
Results are simply recording data in a logical flow. How many paper airplanes did the child make for the fair project? How many times did they fly their planes right side up and then upside down? How far did the furthest plane travel? What was the distance of the shortest flight recorded? How many upside down planes landed right side up after takeoff? A few photos taken will round out the results with exciting visuals.
Observations are the fun questions you can share with your child for them to answer on their own or with a bit of guidance. Were some of the flights flown into the wind? Would facing a different direction into or away from the wind yield the same flight results? Did damaged paper airplanes perform differently than fresh ones?
Conclusions are that last section of the project, which often read as dry, even dull, at the elementary school level. "I learned that planes fly better right side up" is easy to have predicted before the hypothesis was given, so help your child come up with a more elegant conclusion to their project.
A good conclusion builds upon a key question the judges will consider, "What would the child do differently if they had to repeat the experiment?" A plan considering new flaps or different construction paper for upside down airplanes the next time shows the child is learning from their experience. Your child will come to understand the patient re-experimentation that is the hallmark of the exceptional scientist.