Your entire project is about a science question you choose to solve. Thus, the project question is very important.
The following gives you a “bird’s eye view” of how to select an astronomy question and how to evaluate the question.
Begin your research by reading different printed science materials, performing exploratory investigations, asking questions of knowledgeable people, and checking out information on the web. From your research information, decide on a topic that you find interesting, such as the Moon.
B. Project Research or “I Have a Topic, Now What Kind of Problem Can I Solve?”
If your topic is about the Moon, find out as much as possible about this celestial body.
1. Read about the Moon.
2. Look for experiments about the Moon.
3. Look for science project about the Moon that others in your grade level have completed.
4. As you research:
- Write down inquiring questions, which are general questions that you are interested in. Example Inquiring Questions about the Moon are:
- What are the lunar phases?
- What is the difference between a lunar and sidereal month?
- Do the surface features of the Moon change position from day to day?
- Select one of the inquiry questions that most interest you and proceed to the next step. For this example, question #3 will be used.
II. Project Question
Inquiry Question: Do the surface features of the Moon change position from day to day?
Evaluate your inquiry question to determine if it is an acceptable science fair project question. Do this by asking yourself these questions:
1. Is the question about animals? No.
(If the answer is yes, you need special permission from your teacher to work with animals.)
2. Does the question compare products? No.
(If the answer is yes, you need to check with your teacher to make sure product comparison is an acceptable project. While some local fair encourage product evaluation some do not. Some regional fairs have a special section for project comparisons.)
3. Can you state a hypothesis for the question? (A hypothesis is a guess about the answer to the question, but the guess must be based on facts. It must be something that is testable with measurable results.)
Yes, a hypothesis can be stated for the inquiry question.
(If the answer is “No, I cannot state a hypothesis for the question.”, then reword the question or select another one.)
Do choose a question that can be experimentally solved with measurable results. The question , “What is the difference between a lunar and sidereal month?” can be answered by finding information about time based on the moon in a science book or dictionary. But, “How does the lunar rotation and revolution rate compare? because it can be determined experimentally by observing and measuring any angular change in the position of one or more lunar surface features during a sidereal month (time of one revolution) of about 27 days.
Do limit your question. The question, “What changes occur on the Moon’s surface during a lunar month? is not specific enough. What kind of changes? Creation of new craters? But, ” What changes, if any, are there in the position of the lunar surface feature, Copernicus, during a lunar month?” would require that only the position of one surface feature be determined.
III. Hypothesis (A testable and measurable guess as to the answer of the project question based on facts.)
1. Example hypothesis
* A non-testable hypothesis might be: Lunar surface features never change. (Never? You have to have a time limit for testing. The word change doesn’t indicate what is to be tested.)
* A non-measurable hypothesis might be: There are big changes in the appearance of the Moon during each month. (What are the changes? Big in what way? Diameter? Etc? You need something specific to compare and something specific to measure.
*A possible testable and measurable hypothesis might be: If the Moon’s rotation and revolution time are equal, then there will be no change in the position of Copernicus. I base this on the fact that if the rotation and revolution rate of a moon are equal, the same side of the moon faces the planet it orbits.
2. Can you think of a way to test your hypothesis experimentally with measurable results? If the answer is no, then you need to reword your hypothesis or select another one.
IV. Project Experiment (Experiment designed to test a hypothesis)
The project experiment at this stage needs only to be a basic design in your mind and not a step?by?step procedure. Think about the experiment and ask yourself the following questions. If the answer to any of these questions is no, you need to redesign the experiment.
A possible experiment might be:
To observe the location of the lunar surface feature, Copernicus, as often as possible to determine if there is any angular change in its position from time to time during a lunar month.
Determine if this can be your science fair experiment by asking yourself these questions:
1.Does it have measurable results? (Results that can be measured with an instrument such as angular measurements using your hands as the measuring tool.) Yes, the angular measurement of Copernicus’ position can be made to determine if its position changes during a lunar month.
2. Does it have an independent variable (variable being changed by the experimenter)? Yes, the time of observations–a lunar month.
3. Does it have a dependent variable (variable being observed that changes in response to the dependent variable)? Yes, the position of Copernicus.
4. Does it have a control ( test in which the independent variable is kept constant in order to measure changes in the dependent variable or a reference decided on by the experimenter as a standard for comparison)? Yes, the control could be apparent flat circular surface of the Moon facing Earth. The location of Copernicus could be compared to the rim and compass coordinates of this circle.
5. Controlled variables (not to be confused with the control) are all the variables that will be the same in each experiment, such as the time of day each observation is made and the type of measuring tool used to make angular measurements.
IV. Data Data is the only way that a judge has to determine if you did an experiment. They like to see tables, charts, or graphs of the measured results. Any project that has data generally gets an automatic second look by judges. If there is no data, judges start to look for the reason why. Usually, the conclusion is that the student doesn’t understand what an experiment is or how to do one.
V. Start Work Once you have decided on your project question, hypothesis and basically how you are going to test your hypothesis experimentally and record data, then start your project by designing the experiment step-by-step. Do perform the experiment 4 or more times. Since time is a factor in this example investigation, You may wish to make 4 observations as close together as possible each day. Record all the results, dating and recording the time of each.
VI. For information on how to develop an idea into a science fair project, record data, and write the conclusion, reports and abstract as well as display the project, see these books:
VanCleave, Janice. Guide to the Best Science Fair Projects. New York: Wiley, 1997.