Science fairs are celebrations of science and youth.
Critical thinking and an experimental mind start at a very young age and a science fair would be a perfect platform to share the growth and development young minds have had through the course of their education.
Winning science fairs could be a gateway to great things. For one, it could ignite a lost excitement for the STEM field or pursuits that are vital to the growth of society and the development of science and technology.
The noble pursuit of knowledge is the essence of a science fair and at a young age, exposure to such activities nurtures a healthy determination for competition, critical thinking essential for problem-solving, and the right amount of flair for the dramatic through artistic presentation.
Yes, science fairs are culminations of STEM learning itself – an exhibition of what has been learned through the years in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, even adding an artistic touch through the pizzazz of presentation.
Technically speaking, however, science fairs are wholesome competitions. One that can spark the best out of the young minds of this generation. It is through this competitive spirit that children learn how to push and progress, think outside the box, and step out of their comfort zones.
A study by Kathleen M. Schmidt and Paul Kelter, scholars who pursued research on the effects of science fairs on the development of children, shared that through the venture, students can “speak in great detail about the processes they used to develop and execute their projects.” This shows a burgeoning understanding in children as they can grasp and recognize how variables of projects work together to produce results and how the association between factors alters the end of a project.
But what goes into winning the science fair? Well, candidly, as an American statesman, general, and diplomat eloquently claimed, there are no secrets to success. There are forces in this world that are simply beyond our control. We can – however – grab hold of what we can.
Through this article, you will learn how to maximize and optimize the elements and aspects of a science fair that are within your control. You will also be given a set of experiments that have won in the past to help you decide on a project you and your young Neil Tyson can work on!
A Winning Science Fair Project
The project itself is, perhaps, the easiest element of the contest that you can and your young scientist can leave your imprint on. Now there have been countless winning projects throughout the years and choosing and developing one of your own can be quite an ordeal. There’ll be some that’ll be discussed in just a bit but for now, concentrate on the more abstract areas of the project.
To create something that the kids can find worthwhile, stick to the concepts that they can comprehend. Nothing excites young minds more than actually being part of the magic trick. Schmidt and Kelter also found that “the opportunity afforded by science fairs for students to choose a topic and design investigations are strengths of the program, and are supported by AMLE.”
This means that being able to choose what to work is what empowers kids to find a positive experience in the concept of science fairs. Parents are merely the brushstrokes to their Bob Ross
Preparation for a science project tends to involve lots and lots of preparation. Once you’re set on a project, research as much as you can. Learn all that you can and as much as you can about it. This is arguably the most important thing to do. The goal is to make you and your child experts on the topic of choice so that you can both teach his fellow students a thing or two about science.
Despite the competition, as a parent, your primary concern is to make sure that your child is having fun. Let them know that it’s important to choose something they’ll enjoy pursuing, something they can be enthusiastic about. This passion borne of enthusiasm can only fuel and fan the flames of determination that can ultimately lead to greater things beyond just the science fair. So find something exhilarating. If they enjoy fixing things, maybe try something mechanical; if they like animals, maybe look into the life of a plant or animal; if the weather is a point of curiosity, you can try something meteorological; and if you find something novel, explore an original idea or give existing concepts exciting twists. Originality, after all, is always a huge part of the criteria in many cases.
Preparations also include coordinating with your teacher, or in this case, instructor, to ensure that you follow guidelines and get clear on the rules and regulations of the competition. Getting a copy of the project rules can also be of great help. That way, you and your child can ensure that you adhere to all the regulations. Rules will also cover the important matter of scheduling. You want to work on your projects on a schedule and get them done before the deadline to ensure punctual participation. Review the due dates and make sure to turn submissions in at the designated times. You may use a timetable if you think that could help you get organized. Make sure to factor in your personal engagements, think about responsibilities, and make note of your external obligations. This will help you mark benchmarks as you divide the important parts of your project into progressions, compartmentalized further by time.
If there’s anything unclear to you and your child, make sure to ask the essential questions and address them through the proper authorities. All these preparations will help you in making sure that there aren’t any surprises down the road.
Once you settle on a topic, have done your research, ensure you had adhered to the rules, and put your schedules into perspective, it’s time you prepare the experiment.
First things first: set the stage for your performance. Logistics is key to a successful project. Make sure to plan your project and set up the experiment in an environment where it’s most conducive to learning. Conduct your experiment in the best and most convenient location.
Before you get the gears rolling, Also make sure you cerebrally plan your project. State your purpose, layout your variables, form a hypothesis, and design your experiment most efficiently. Take note of what you’re looking for as you yield the results of the experiment; what things to record, what things to observe, and be prepared to document every single thing that transpired before you get down to your analysis.
Keeping a log of all that events as they come is a big help. Your notes are going to fill up in no time as you keep track of the procedure, the materials, the changing variables, the controlled variables, and any measurements that may be required.
You and your child will likely run into challenges – assure them that it’s okay – no great breakthrough comes easy. Keep your head up and do the work. Scientists run into challenges every day. It also wouldn’t hurt that judges like a bit of strife and reward persistence.
Have you confirmed your hypothesis? No? Yes? Did you re-do the experiment more than twice? Write those all down! The experiment will either confirm or deny this hypothesis so make sure you do everything correctly. The results are of value whether it proves your hypothesis or not.
If you had crafted a schedule, make sure you document your progress in comparison to the benchmarks you created beforehand. It would help you greatly if you have the timing down earlier than expected because it would give you more time to adjust and review your findings.
Experiments can be long and grueling so make sure you work on a budget. It’s okay if you don’t have all the money in the world for the project. To work through this, you can list down all of the stuff you may need to complete the experiment. It would help if you have things in the house that can help you through the project, so this is where resourcefulness will come into play.
And finally, make sure you always keep safe. Wear goggles if needed, put on hard hats if necessary. Gloves, scrubs, and other safety measures are also welcome, but if you find anything in the house that might help out as an alternative, that can work too. Just make sure it can work as a functional replacement.
Nail the Presentation
STEM is a beautiful field. Responsible for today’s wonders, science and technology can be works of art at the same time. Make sure you make a spectacle out of your presentation. Discoveries are sexy and it would be a waste of all your hard work wouldn’t be dressed for the occasion of the year’s science fair.
Design your display in a way that makes the data shine. Data is King – and it’s what fulfills your purpose in the study. Add images, graphs, charts, and interactive infographics to catch the judges’ attention and make your findings pop right off the page. Make sure you highlight the most important findings and data to tell a story through the elements of your design.
If you make a video, make sure it is audible. Audio is important to explanations and it would be a travesty if the audio doesn’t match the video quality. Ensure your graphs are labeled correctly and are legible from at least 5 feet away. If you have mechanisms in your display, make sure it’s oiled and cleaned for optimal performance.
Rehearse your presentation in front of an honest crowd. The theatrics of the presentation is almost just as important as the findings themselves. It’s a harmonized dance of manner over matter. In the end, after all, no one would be able to immediately digest data without a proper and adequate presentation.
The Cherry on Top: Think Like a Judge
Empathy comes a long way. This is a forgotten aspect of science fairs and it often becomes the secret weapon. Now, remember – there will be questions. So make sure you prepare your child for common questions that may arise. If you’ve done enough research, then you will have little to fear.
Judges often scan for creative thinking. There will be an active effort to find a twist or a novelty in an already existing study. It also helps if you involve your child as much as possible because judges have detection abilities where they are likely to figure out whether a student received too much help or not. Judges have also had a history of liking to see personal notes – just make sure they’re well-organized.
The presentation has a massive impact on the project as well. The display should look coherent and important data should be given due attention. The oral presentation should be smooth, touching most if not all the points in your display. Advice your child to speak slowly and let them know that when the judges ask something, remember that it’s not meant to frighten or intimidate them, but to discover how much you’ve learned through the experiment and the adventure.
Winning Science Fair Projects Through the Years
A few notable science fair winners are James Gunn, who won the McArthur Grant; Dianne Newman, a renowned microbiologist; and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a US stateswoman. These science fair alums went on to do great things in their life. And this is a possibility for your children as well, should they be raised in a STEM-positive environment.
That said, here are some science fair ideas that have won awards in the past and studies that may bring home the bacon for you and your young Einstein too. The following projects are designed for younger minds and remember: age appropriation is an important factor in science fair projects.
How Salty Does the Sea Have to Be for an Egg to Float?
Though a saline solution with varying levels of saturation, test the amount of salt needed to water content before an egg starts to float.
Balloon-Powered Car Challenge
Create a lightweight vehicle that can be moved by a mounted balloon and explain the science behind its movement.
Does Color Affect Taste?
Add food color to the various liquid content and explain the taste as each of the liquids are altered using food dye.
The Candle Carousel
Create a machination designed using a lightweight roof propeller. Using two different cables on opposing sides, watch the lightweight blades start rotating and explain the forces at play.