A great way to get kids excited about science is through creating a project for a science fair. It doesn’t have to win a prize to be a fun and rewarding experience! Consider getting involved this year in either a local public or private school science fair or a homeschool science fair. There are lots of opportunities for all grades – you don’t need to wait till high school to participate.

As you do your project, keep in mind that one additional benefit of doing a science fair project is that you can incorporate several subjects at once: research, writing, spelling and grammar, planning and organizing, and logic are just a few of the other subjects you might use.

For a good science fair project, you’ll need to use the scientific method. This emphasizes the importance of experimentation, rather than simply demonstrating scientific principles. The first step to creating a project, of course, is to figure out what sort of project you want to do. Think about what kind of scientific concepts have interested you in the past – do you like nature projects? Electricity investigations? Astronomy? Looking at science magazines might also help you come up with ideas. The local science fair committee should provide you with guidelines and a complete list of categories that projects can fit under.

Once you’ve found a subject, do a little research to help narrow down a workable topic. Come up with your ‘problem’ or key question that will form the purpose of your project. Now you’re ready to do some more research – use books, magazines, and the internet to find out information about your topic. When you’ve studied your subject well, you can begin to analyze your data to form a hypothesis and possibly refine your project’s purpose.

Now for the really ‘hands-on’ part – the experiment stage! Come up with a procedure for an experiment that will help you answer your hypothesis. For instance, you might want to find out how lack of sunlight affects the growth of bean plants. One way to use experimentation would be to cover some bean plants for part of the day so that they get less sunlight. Use a control (in this case, bean plants receiving a normal amount of light) to compare with your other test subjects (the plants receiving less light).

The first step to getting accurate results for your experiment is to carefully control as many variables as possible. It works best to have only one changing variableat a time—in the bean plant example, the changing variable is the amount of light each plant receives. Your constant variables are ones that are kept the same in all your test subjects. With the bean plant example, you need to be sure each plant is treated exactly the same except for the amount of light given to each. Water each the same amount, plant each seed at the same depth, and make sure you use the same kind of soil for each. This prevents other changing variables from throwing off your data.

The second step to getting accurate experiment results is to use multiple test subjects. Using the bean plant example, if you used only three test subjects (one as the control, one with six hours of light and one with two hours) then you might get some skewed results. Other factors than light might play a part in stunting the growth of one of the plants—the seed might have been planted too deep or a parasite might have attacked the roots. To avoid this kind of problem, use more test subjects so that you can average the results and look for consistent patterns.

In the bean plant example, you might want to use six plants altogether. Have two of them be the control (just in case one doesn’t survive)—give them full sunlight and treat them normally. The others can be your ‘test subjects’. Let’s say you cover two with a box for two hours during a sunny part of the day, and the other two you cover for six hours.

An essential part of the experimentation process is to record data. One easy way to do this is to keep a notebook, usually with daily or weekly observations and possibly a graph to show how the results developed over time. You might also want to make sketches or take photographs. Keep in mind that you might use some of these records for your project display at the science fair, so be neat and organized!

Judges often use the following criteria for evaluation of science fair projects, so consider these as you design your experiment: thoroughness (does this project do a good job of covering the topic?), creativity, clarity, skill (what did it take to design and carry out the experiment?), and scientific thought.