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Before you start your project, acknowledge that you are preparing an entry to a contest. Contests, whether they are associated with sports or academics have rules. Football players must follow the rules to score. Science fair contestants must also follow the rules if they intend to receive a high score. The basic rule for the science fair contest is that the entry must have a problem that can be discovered experimentally with measurable results. There are other science fair project rules that must be followed and these may vary from one local fair to another. Your teacher is the source for a list of these for your fair.
Read the following information carefully. It contains a basic outline for an energy project. Even though your project may not be about energy, the example can assist you in designing a project about any topic
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 energy.
B. Project Research or “I Have a Topic, Now What Kind of Problem Can I Solve?”
If your topic is energy, find out as much as possible about the different forms of energy: kinetic and potential. What is mechanical energy? Etc.
1. Check out energy on different web sites.
2. Search books for information on energy.
3. As you research, write down inquiring questions, such as:
* What is the difference between linear and rotational energy?
* Do objects roll down an incline at the same speed?
Select one of the inquiry questions that most interest you and proceed to the next step.
Assume the inquiry question selected is: “Do objects roll down an incline at the same speed?
Determine if this can be your science fair question by asking yourself these questions:
1. Is it about animals? No, it is not.
(If the answer had been yes, you would need special permission from your teacher to work with animals.)
2. Does it compare products? No, it does not. (If the answer had been yes, you would 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. Often, regional fairs have a special section for product 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 rotational kinetic energy?” can be answered by finding the definition of the term in a science book. But, “How does the height of an incline affect rotational kinetic energy?” can be answered experimentally by measuring the height of different ramps and the speed of a rolling object at the bottom of each ramp.
Do limit your question. The question “Do all objects roll down an incline at the same speed?” is not specific enough. You would have to test all the different objects that could roll. “How does the diameter of a disk affects its speed down an incline?” would require that you test only disks of different diameters and the results is measurable.
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: Inclines make objects roll faster. (You cannot test all objects)
* A non-measurable hypothesis might be: Big disks are better than small ones. (Big? In what way? Diameter? Weight? etc..Better? You can not test or measure whether something is better. You must have something specific to compare and something specific to measure.
*A possible testable and measurable hypothesis might be: If the diameter of a disk is increased, then its speed down an incline will increase. I base this on the fact that every time the axle makes one turn, a larger disk moves a greater distance at the point of contact than a smaller disk.
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:
An experiment using disks with the same width but with different diameters, such as rolls of adding machine tape with different amount of paper. The disk would be allowed to roll down the same incline.
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 a ruler, scale, stopwatch, or other instrument.) Yes, the speed of the disks rolling down the incline.
2. Does it have an independent variable (variable being changed by the experimenter)? Yes, the diameter of the disks.
3. Does it have a dependent variable (variable being observed that changes in response to the dependent variable)? Yes, the speed of each disk.
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 a disk of a specific diameter. For example, 3 disks could be used and the one with the medium diameter could be arbitrarily decided upon as a standard and the speeds of disks with larger and smaller diameter compared to the speed of the control disk (medium diameter).
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 height and surface of the testing ramp, and the materials the disks are made of.
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 a science fair project 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 your data, then start your project by designing the experiment step-by-step. Do perform the experiment 4 or more times recording the results of each test and averaging the results.
Use the SEARCH on this website to find more information about each step of designing and developing a science fair project.