Thinking Like a Scientist (Science Fairs)

Maybe you are supposed to do a science fair project. Maybe you just think it would be fun to be a scientist so you want to try some experiments of your own. How can you do this?

The first thing is come up with a question. This can be the hardest step of all. How do you come up with a good question? A good science question is one you can answer by yourself through your own observations. So it won’t be a good idea to ask why the sky is blue or how computer hard drives work. You need a question you can answer by modeling what happens or by making your own observations of the real thing. Questions that could end up being answered with numbers are a good choice. Science is based on measurements you can write down and report.

Maybe you like monster trucks. They are often big. Is there some question about the size of trucks that you could answer by making model cars and seeing how well they roll or how hard they are to tip over? 

Everyone talks about the weather a lot. Can you think of a question about weather that you can answer by making your own observations? Can you come up with a question about dressing right for cold or hot weather? How about a question about how often the weather forecasts are right?

Do you have a pet? Is there some question you could explore about what it likes to eat or what it likes to do?

People do interesting things. Could you come up with a question about what kinds of TV shows people like, what kind of music they like or what kind of food they like? What about one that compares how tall a person is with how well they do something? If you are trying to find out about these type of questions you need to test a lot of people before you trust what you find out. Just testing your family will not give you enough data.

Once you have the question picked out you will need to think of an experiment that helps answer the question. Try to set it up so that you can compare things fairly. If you want to find out if boys can throw a ball farther than girls, make sure the boys and girls you are testing are about the same sizes and ages. That way the only difference is that some are boys and some are girls. That would be a fair test of your question. If the boys were all taller than the girls, or played sports a lot more, that might affect how well they throw a ball more than that they are boys. This is called controlling variables and it is kind of hard. Ask a parent or friend to help you think about what variables might be part of your experiment.

Once you have a question and an experiment you need to get going. It will take time to do the experiment, write down what happens, write up a report and make a display. The report and display should tell step by step what you did, and what you found out.

So don’t put it off. Start early if there is a school science fair project due. And have fun with it. A good science fair project is one that feels a little like playing a game or solving a puzzle.

There are some good Web sites with science fair and experiment ideas. You can also use your favorite search engine to look up science fair. Below are a few useful sites.

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