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Science Fair Topics
I am struggling with getting my students to find meaningful science fair topics without going to websites that give students the same topics that they try to turn in every year. When students come to me with good ideas I am able to help them turn their topics into meaningful projects, but many are not giving me anything to work with. HELP! What can I do? Any suggestions? Resources?
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Hi Shamika, Welcome to the Discussion Forums!
There's a discussion thread about science fairs that may have some resources of interest to you Science Fail (no they didn't spell it wrong).
Also, the 4-question strategy is a good way to get students to start thinking about what kinds of problems they could delve into. I did a search on google for it and this web URL came up: campus.mst.edu/physics/courses/8/course_material/lab2.pdf
If you do a google search, you will see several URLs that provide similar pdfs. Here's another one that I think does a good job of explaining this 4-question strategy.
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I got tired of the conventional Science Fair so I decided to change it up a bit and did something called 'Truth in Advertising." Students could design a science fair project with the idea to first test whether a claim was true or false and then to create an improvement on the product. I even had a high school boy test the absorbency of Tampons.
Just an idea and a way to get away from the same old tired project.
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Hi Again, Shameka. I forgot to mention my former colleague's website that he has created for his students. You may find it helpful to you (as the teacher), too. It is called Woodlawn Science Fair Resource Page. Best of luck with your quest to help your students do quality science projects.
Off the top of my head, the things that I thought were kind of interesting last year that students did for their science fair topics were:
1) Hydroponics and Earthworms (plant growth)
2) Giving various drinks to plants like coffee, milk, water, etc and measuring their growth
3) Use of various household items and drinks to see how high (in meters) mentos could be launched into the air. House hold item examples were bleach, lemon juice, coca cola, etc.
4) Measuring the strength of sticky foods (peanut butter, natto which is Japanese fermented beans, etc). The students weighed various objects (not so much mass, medium mass, large mass) and then determined to what degree these foods could hold the objects in place (i.e. max carrying capacity).
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One thing that I have done with students is have them list their interests, such as ballet, fishing, football, basketball, reading, etc. Then I have them brainstorm ideas that have to do with their interest. Some ideas that have come out of this: Does the color of the page affect how much someone remembers what they read? Does temperature affect the bounce of the ball? How does the angle of trajectory affect the distance of the thrown football? Which fishing line is the strongest? Because they chose something of interest in their lives, they took more responsibility for it and worked harder to control the variables and set up a reasonable experiments.
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Students can be prompted to realize that any 'I wonder why...' question can be turned into a scientific inquiry, i.e. a Science Fair project.
When I introduce Science Fair (day 1 or 2 of school), I start off with a simple 'Shell Observation Lab' where students write down as many observations as possible about a sample of shells they are given (they get at least five of the same type of shell, with variations in size, color etc). I then ask them to write as many "I wonder....." questions about the shells. They later revisit those questions to identify which questions are testable, and practice making If_then_because hypotheses from those questions.
I ask students to visit the Canadian Virtual Science Fair and critique online projects, see www.virtualsciencefair.com.
I expand on Eileen's idea of getting students to list what they are interested in. I ask them to observe the interest, write down their observations, identify testable questions based on the observations, write "I wonder why..." questions, and turn them into hypotheses as they did with the shells.
Rebecca Austin Datta
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Try looking at the MythBusters website to see if there are some at-home things you can try.
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Since we are sharing on a forum in the Learning Center, I did a quick search using the key words 'science fair projects' and 23 resources popped up. There are some great Journal articles and a couple of book references. I invite you to
1. go to your home page
2. scroll partway down the page to find the words 'Advanced Search'
3. click on Advanced search and enter the key words 'science fair projects' in the adjacent empty field
4. scroll down and click on the word 'search'
Voila! 23 wonderful resources for you to consider.
Here are a couple of examples:
Science Sampler: A (minty) fresh approach to science fair projects By: Nancy Balter
Grade Level: Middle School
The Road to Stress-Free Science Fairs: A long-term approach to learning inquiry takes the stress out of science fairs By: Sarah J. Carrier
Grade Level: Elementary School, Middle School
Science Fairs Plus: Reinventing an Old Favorite, Grades K-8 Grade Level: Elementary School, Middle School
Science 101: What makes for a good science fair project? By: William C. Robertson, Ph.D.
Grade Level: Elementary School
Take a look, Shameka, and let us know if you find anything that is intriguing? We hope to hear from you again.
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I just read through all the posts from this discussion and it got me thinking about what happened to science fairs in my state (Hawaii)? I remember participating in the science fair when I was in 6th grade and doing a study on different types of peanut butters (almond, cashew, etc). It was very fun to do, but now a days I don't hear about any science fairs in our state for elementary students. I would love to bring them back because I think it will help interest students in science and also help them experience the scientific process. I'm glad to hear that other school do still have science fairs and I hope that the tradition keeps going on there!
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We dumped the regular science fair years ago because we found that parents were doing the work. We went to a digital science fair. Kids do the work because the parents cant work the technology
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I find the science fair projects to be extremely challenging to guide. I have found the website "Science Buddies" very helpful. They actually have a topic selection wizard the students can use to focus their interests. They also have a teacher's guide section with directions and sample rubrics. That being said, I have actually started to encourage my students to choose simpler projects that may not be so flashy and complicated because they can follow scientific method and paper writing process more easily that way.
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It is challenging to find original and interesting science projects. Something I've tried is to go on the Intel international science and engineering or Siemens math science & tech type competitions, look at the projects abstracts and see if there are any topics of interest to the student, and then help the student scale down the complexity of the project to whatever academic/cognitive level they're at. Helps some students get away from the "I'll just grow some plants and change this and that...type projects"
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Hi all! I agree with everyone! The challenges, the ideas, the strategies.....all familiar. Yes, I do agree that every year it gets even more challenging especially since many of our feeder schools have been really doing a great job in incorporating a lot more science in their day to day lessons, thus, many of the experiments become even more redundant. Like others, I begin having my students fold their papers in half and listing all of their likes and interests on the left column and then asking them to brainstorm possible questions/problems regarding those topics and listing them on the right. To get them warmed up, I asked them, have you ever wondered which search engine is the most used and why? Have you ever wondered if brand x products are as quality as name brand ones? Have you ever wondered whether plants grow better in basic or acidic solutions, although plants need light, have you ever wondered what type of light they prefer (color spectrum)?etc... Just getting them to always ask "why" is a great start and then having them guess an answer and design an experiment to prove it. I do agree though that choosing a topic is quite difficult due to students limited abilities to think critically (though they are getting better) about the world around them. I also introduce the 5 whys strategy which is asking/answering 5 "why" questions to the question (adds details as you gather information as well as it supports the having to think critically after the 2nd why).
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I like your strategies of the "why" questions. It's something that I'm trying to implement with my students. It's been a little difficult because I sometimes forget how young they are. I also tend to look at the big idea and forget to take tiny steps. But, I do believe to increase critical thinking in my students, I need them to think for themselves. Right now, I've been slowly breaking away from "teacher-guided" lessons to get them to start asking questions, "why" or to make inferences. I'm also having a hard time thinking of a lesson for physics. I try to implement my lessons to correlate to each other to help make connections. For example, if we are learning about light then I want to do a writing lesson, an art activity, a science activity, ect., all about light. Do you have any suggestions.
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Hi Alicia! Thank you for your response! As far as any ideas for light energy lessons, NSTA has a superb scipack entitled Light Energy that you may want to look up. I took the physical science course last year and chose that as one of my scipacks and it was awesome! I learned a good deal of information and was able to make a lesson using rainbows to teach about light energy and he components of light...check it out...
At my high school the senior project is very much like a science fair project extended. The students conduct a pracical application to complement their written hypothesis and research. I was able to observe many interesting ones, including how to teach elementary students about solar power using s solar boat building activity (energy resources), how to hybridize water lilies (genetics),and designing humane traps to capture feral cats (invasive species). If we get our students involved in science fairs when they are young, they will have many ideas for their senior thesis and be able to earn a Board of Education diploma. rather than just a high school diploma. It comes with greater honors. Thanks to all you middle school teachers who instill this skill in our students.
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In the district in which I work, the students are permitted to do a project on any scientific topic they wish. To help them make a choice I have the students write down what their interests or concerns are. During a "Do Now" session I meet with one or two students per day to talk about how they can turn their interest into a project. I also meet with students after school to see if we can come up with projects. Not all students want to take the time to do this, but many do and some interesting experiments have come out of it.
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NSTA book store has a new series of books out that I have found helpful with my middle school students called, “Science Fair Warmup, Learning the Practice of Science.” These are available in grade strands, 5 – 12. http://www.nsta.org/store/product_detail.aspx?id=10.2505/9781936959211 What I really like about the investigations included in these books is they are interesting to students and adults alike. Many are based on the old tried and true labs we have all grown up with, but have been “modernized’ to fit the interests of students now. They are easy to use and especially helpful for students that are struggling with ideas. The other really nice part of the books is by spanning through 12th grade, there are always options for those students that need a more challenging project.
If you do a search of the NSTA library, there are other resources available as well. http://www.nsta.org/store/search.aspx?action=quicksearch&text=Science%20Fair
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Thanks for posting this Sandy and reminding us to re-look at our NSTA book libraries. Those of us who have been in the classroom for a while have so many goodies in our bags of strategies and approaches that we appreciate the reminder to review our shelves.
I searched through NSTA journal resources and put together a collection of items available in the Learning Center that speak to science fairs, either offering advice to teachers or delineating projects for students. I widened my search just a bit to include a few outside resources. If you find any of them of value, please share your ideas. Meanwhile enjoy!
Wow, thanks for the great ideas!! I love some of the innovative ideas here! I am excited to try some of these out! We hold our science fair in a public venue, usually Barnes and Noble, so students present not only to judges but to the general public as well. A big portion is on the delivery of the information as well as the process of the investigation. The topic should be interesting to the student but not the prime focus of the grade.
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I have judged several science fairs and am also have trouble with how to handle the parent's projects. Yes science projects can be a great way to get parents engaged BUT it should be the student's project.
Adah I like your idea of "truth in advertising" It places a parameter about this and is a topic accessible to all
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One way to help with too much parent "help" is to include an interview component to the judging process. Ask questions of the student, have them explain their project. This can help you get a handle on how much they were directly involved in the project.
At the high school level, our students are judged by a panel of community members and college professors prior to the public fair.
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I am attaching my collection of science fair articles from the Learning Center. Perhaps it might be a help to people in this forum.
To add to the collection here is a link to the NSTA Science Fair Collection. Now everyone has lots of possibilities among all the posts.
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Hi Shameka, The way I did it this year is to give them the following assignment:
#1) make a list of 10 things you are interested in
#2) Write down a question you have for each of those 10 things
#3) Out of those 10 questions, choose the 5 whose questions you most want answered.
#4) For the 5 that you chose, write "yes" or "no" to the following question.
"could you design an experiment to answer your question?"
Then, I looked at those responses and take it from there..
The problem I encountered this year is that the students got hung up on what they believed "science" looked like, and disregarded their own ideas because they didn't feel that their ideas were "sciencey enough". Some of them had some great original topics which they abandoned, and went to websites to get "recipe labs". I tried to discourage them from this, but they were stubborn, and I was so overwhelmed with being a first year teacher and having 125 students spread throughout 5 periods (and having it a required project for all my students,as mandated by my school) that I just threw in the towel eventually and let them do what they wanted.
In the future, I am going to give them the above assignment in the beginning of the year, cleverly disguised as a "getting to know you" activity, and then possibly give them no option but to choose one of their 5 questions.. and stick with it, changing only if to modify, expand or if their background research leads them to another question.
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Nicole, what a great classroom 'story' and a neat list of how to encourage students to start thinking about projects, science fair or otherwise. This is much appreciated. Thanks so much.
Have you attended a NEED.org workshop? They provide starting energy kits that'd be great for projects and energy kits to use with the lessons found here as well.
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That is a very common issues when running a science fair. I have found that many of our students also notice that picking a topic is the biggest step they face. As a department, over the years we have developed a database of topics students can pick from or get them started on picking a topic. We encourage our students to pick topics that affect our island on Kauai, Hawaii. Many of the topics they pick are multiple year projects, since our students have science fair since 6th grade, I would have them in 9th grade.
Kristal Ann Daligcon
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I have not attended NEED conferences. Do you know more about them or should we Google NEED?
Thanks for the info and for sharing.
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