Strategies for Winning Science Fair Projectsby Joyce Henderson, Heather Tomasello
Discover the Secrets of Science Fair Success with This Essential Guide . . .
Written by a science fair judge and an international science fair winner, this must-have resource is packed with strategies and pointers for putting together a winning science fair project. Here you'll get the nitty-gritty on a wide variety of topics, from the fundamentals of the science
Discover the Secrets of Science Fair Success with This Essential Guide . . .
Written by a science fair judge and an international science fair winner, this must-have resource is packed with strategies and pointers for putting together a winning science fair project. Here you'll get the nitty-gritty on a wide variety of topics, from the fundamentals of the science fair process to the last-minute details of polishing your presentation, including:
• Choosing the right project for you
• Doing research and taking notes
• Using the scientific method
• Writing up procedures, data, and conclusions
• Creating eye-catching backboards
• Handling pre-contest jitters
• Dealing with difficult judges
• and much more
With insider tips, checklists, and solid advice from people who've been there, Strategies for Winning Science Fair Projects is the one guide you'll need for science fair season and beyond.
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Why Do You
Want to Be in the
T he fact that you are reading this means that you're probably a student who is considering doing a science fair project. Maybe your teacher is requiring your entire class to do a project and your grade depends upon it. Or, perhaps you're interested in a certain field of science for your future career and want to learn more through science research. Maybe you're college-bound and have heard that science fair competitions offer scholar-ships, internships, and awards. You might be wondering what exactly is involved in doing a science fair project at the middle and high school level of competition. Are the results worth the time and effort?WHAT IS INVOLVED?
In performing a science research experiment, you will be expected to select a specific topic, or research question, that you want to investigate. You'll research this area and develop an experimental plan that follows the scientific method. You'll identify the tools and materials that you need in order to actually perform the experimentation. You'll collect data, analyze the results of experimentation, form conclusions, and identify the direction that future studies may take. During the science fair you will present your work and compete against other students who have completed the same process. Along the way, you'll develop independence, initiative, and discipline.
You may be thinking, "I'll accomplish all of this just by doing a science fair project?"
You will, and probably even more! Science research is perhaps the only activity that brings together every skill and art traditionally taught separately in most junior and senior high schools. Research students must use everything that they've learned from reading, writing, math, grammar, spelling, statistics, ethics, logic, critical thinking, computer science, graphic arts, technical skills, scientific method, presentation, and public speaking. If the test of education is to teach a person to use what they have learned to move toward mastering something new, science research scores 100 percent!
Or, put more simply by Homer Hickham, former science fair winner, author and scientist, "Any time you get a large body of smart kids together and give them prizes for being smart, you've done a good thing."THE BENEFITS
Real Life Applications. Research students are encouraged to think "outside of the box" and search for new and creative solutions to problems. You may find answers that your adult advisors have sought for years. A high school senior identified a new and more precise way to grade prostatic cancer. Her work may change treatment of several different types of cancer in the future. Another student, starting in seventh grade, spent several years examining bacterial levels in water from hundreds of backyard wells. In subsequent projects, she mapped the counts and used satellite data about the influence of weather on well contamination. City planners and water management consultants became interested in her findings. Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte are continuing the work of one student to save an endangered species of sunflower. And, the rocket-building project of a group of students in 1957 led one of them to write a book thirty years later, titled Rocket Boys, which was made into the movie October Sky.Beyond the Local Competition
Certainly, much can be gained from the process of creating a science fair project and from participation in school, county, or district competitions. However, there are greater opportunities available to many students. Science research students are often encouraged to work with established scientists and educators. Fair participants are judged by local as well as world-renowned scientists, but the contact with these experts often begins long before the competition day. You may correspond with and work with scientists throughout your project. One student approached an expert in the field of biodegradation about her project and he invited her to visit his company. His lecture about the effect of quaternary ammonium compounds on carbon prompted her to ask questions and develop a project studying the bactericidal effects of quaternary ammonium salts.
Imagine the Olympics, World Series, and Super Bowl all rolled into one and you'll get an idea of the scope of the International Science and Engineering Fair. Science Service, a nonprofit organization, began sponsoring science competitions in 1950 with the International Science and Engineering Fair. Because of their vision and commitment to science research and education, millions of dollars in scholarships, grants, equipment, and trips are given to students every year. The competition, now cosponsored by Intel Corporation, involves three to five million students participating at local levels and over one thousand projects from forty-eight states and forty other nations proceed to the International Fair. Twelve hundred scientists, engineers, and professionals from every type of industry, all of whom have Ph. D. 's and at least eight years of experience, volunteer their time to serve as judges. In addition to scholarships, grants, trips, and awards that are presented to students with winning projects, the top two students are invited to attend the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden.
Science Service and the Intel Corporation also sponsor the annual Intel Science Talent Search (formerly known as Westinghouse Talent Search), the oldest and most prestigious science contest. Since 1942, this competition has provided millions of dollars in scholarships and awards. In the first 59 years of the competition, 2,240 first place finalists received more than $3.8 million in college scholarships. Every student who participates in the Science Talent Search wins some monetary award.
Recently, another science competition has been developed by Science Service and Discovery Communications for students in grades five through eight. The Discovery Young Scientist Challenge is open by invitation. Judges at your ISEF-affiliated fair will select nominees for the Discovery Young Scientist Challenge and prizes will be given out at your local fair, then an entry form is mailed to participants.
Scholarships, Awards, and Prizes. Students often receive scholarships and prizes because of their projects. An invitation to work with a hospital pathologist enabled two high school juniors to develop a team project examining the DNA of breast cancer that took first place at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. One of their awards was a trip to Greece to present their paper at an international science symposium. Another high school senior spent ten days touring Europe, all expenses paid, because of her successful science fair project on grading cancer by the shape and structure of its DNA.
College and Career Success. Science research competition is often the ticket to success in college and in a career in science. College admissions offices face the dilemma of evaluating thousands of applications from intelligent, motivated students. Colleges look for science research participation. They know that these students have the maturity, self-confidence, and the ability to solve problems that predict success in college.
In a recent survey, students listed how they think science research will help them in their academic career beyond high school:
"You learn a lot about responsibility."
"I know how to do research papers."
"It teaches you how to use a computer."
"Helps you decide what field to enter."
"Builds self-confidence and character."
"Gives interaction with others in education."
"It is an outlet to practice public speaking."
"Gives good interviewing skills."
"Increases social skills."
"Helps you know that you had a chance in
your life to be somebody."
Students surveyed also revealed some of their favorite aspects of the work. One student said that he most enjoyed "doing the testing and research; experimenting." Another preferred the "competition and rewards." "The feeling of accomplishment when the project is done" was one student's response. Some enjoyed "working together with other research students." Almost all responded that "being able to gain a large amount of knowledge about something I enjoyed doing" was a favorite part of science research.
Participating in science research competition can influence the direction your life takes. The Intel Science Talent Search reports that 95 percent of former finalists have a career in some field of science. More than half became research scientists or professors at universities. Alumni also include five Nobel Prize winners, two Fields Medal awards (the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in math), three National Medal of Science winners, and scientists who have won awards from the MacArthur Foundation, Sloan Research Fellows, the National Academy of Science, and the National Academy of Engineering.
Who knew when she was in third grade doing a project involving tree rings that Shawn Nobles would someday receive her master's degree in Environmental Education?
Jeremy Reis was always interested in computers; his projects involving artificial intelligence led to a career in computers and web design.THE COSTS
We would not want to miss the downside of science research. As in everything worth taking on, there are challenges and stresses. In fact, those same students surveyed had a lot to say about the difficulties encountered in completing their projects:
"Paperwork and getting approval."
"The time it consumes."
"Trying to get materials."
"Having to figure out what graphs to do."
"Getting the project done at the last minute."
"Set up for fairsÑ it's always the most stressful time."
"The limited time to complete project."
"Waiting for judges."
"Finding out that in middle school the teacher
doesn't do everything for you!"
In spite of all the challenges, the experiments that don't always work, the lab mice that escape confinement, the daphnia that die over Christmas break, the computer program that crashes, students do keep coming back. They may not completely understand the future benefits, but they do know why they enjoy science research. One student summed it up with this comment, "You name it, I've gained it from science research!"WINNING STRATEGY # 3
1. Go into science research because you want to.
2. Expect the experience to be an adventure; you will learn something new!
3. If you never try, you never win.
Meet the Author
JOYCE HENDERSON is a writer and experienced science fair judge. She is the author of two previous books and many magazine articles.
HEATHER TOMASELLO is a science fair award winner, researcher, and academic advisor at the University of Florida.
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