SCIENCE FAIR PROJECT TIPS
Here are some tips from a former Science Fair judge in both the school and Regional Science Fair divisions.
Start early. Start VERY early. You know that you are going to have to do a project, so start thinking about it before school even starts in the Fall.
Pick a project that interests you. If you
choose something that you are curious about or if you think that with study, you can find
the answer to something that you have a question about, your project won't be so much of a
In order to have a really good project that
attracts judges' attention in a positive way, try to prove or disprove a hypothesis [(hi -
poth' - uh - sis) --a supposition or theory that may be either proven or disproved through
experimentation] rather than merely copying an experiment that has been done to death,
such as the construction of a "hair hygrometer." After the judges
have seen TWO hair hygrometers, there has already been two too many...even if one
uses unusual hair samples such as boar hair, elephant hair, horse hair...it is still
a hair hygrometer. All of the underlying principles are well-documented, and you
haven't really added anything of significant value.
Some projects are set up to begin a study which is continued through successive science fair projects. Before you try that kind of project, get some expert advice on the merits of your initial hypothesis, and whether or not it can hold up to continued research in the coming years.
Keep good and accurate records of your project. If you are supposed to check an experiment and you miss the checkpoint time, log it as a miss...don't try to fudge the results on the report. If your missing the checkpoint might alter the eventual results of the experiment, make a notation of what differences there might be in the results since you missed a critical moment; or, if there are no differences, list that, too.
Keep good and accurate records of any reference materials that you use...newspapers, magazines, books, personal interviews...whatever.
If necessary, purchase separate notebooks or
folders in which to log your results. Make them as organized and as neat as
possible. Do not decorate them with a lot of drawings, unless you are using
graphical illustrations of various aspects of your project.
Use SPELLCHECKER. Make sure that your
grammar is correct. Judges don't want to see entries such as, "When the jar
broke, I seed that the hole thing had come a part, and my experminent was all
Failure to prove your hypothesis as correct is not considered a failure to
judges...especially if you can see where you went wrong and have a good idea of what to do
to make it right in a future round of experimentation. Judges do see failure to
proof your work and correct mistakes as sloppy and unprofessional. Poor spelling,
which could be avoided by the use of a dictionary or Spellchecker, is not excusable.
Poor grammar can be checked, also. Get someone to proof your work, if you
need help in that area.
Do not schedule the monitoring of an experiment for times when you will not be available to do the check yourself. If a judge sees that you checked on an experiment at 6 AM, Noon, 6 PM, and Midnight every day, the obvious conclusion is that Mommy is the only one who should get credit for your project. The judge knows that unless you were home schooled, you were at school part of the time, and probably in bed long before Midnight. A few innocent questions regarding your extracurricular activities will alert the judges further when they find out that you take gymnastics/debate/band or whatever from 5 PM to 6 PM every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. If you aren't available to monitor your project at the times necessary, choose a different project that YOU can do yourself.
Your Thesis Paper should include your working hypothesis, and an outline of what you plan to do to prove or disprove your hypothesis.
Your Research Paper should include: 1) your working hypothesis (your thesis), 2) the body of detailed research and experimentation along with pertinent dates or dates/times, 3) your conclusion detailing whether or not you proved or disproved your hypothesis...and how you could improve your methodology or alter your hypothesis to one that is more easily proven, and 4) references (bibliography).
If you get outside help such as a mentor from a
high school, college, or university, give them credit as your mentor. Be willing to
discuss how they helped you. If they, however, produced most of the actual results
of your project, the judges will know. Get guidance from experts if you need it, but
do the work yourself.
FOLLOW THE RULES. If there are to be no live animal displays, soil samples, biohazardous materials, glass containers, or bones or other animal products, don't choose a project that demands such items to be displayed for judging. Judges won't blame the Rules Committee for not allowing your complete project display to enter the fair...they will blame you for violating the rules to begin with. Before your project is allowed into a Regional Science Fair, it has to pass inspection by people who know the rules. If your school allowed you to violate the rules for the school fair division, your project, nonetheless, will be stopped at the door of the Regional Fair if it made it that far. Not even parental tantrums and complaints of, "That's just not FAIR!" will save it from disqualification. Each school receives a copy of the numerous rules. Schools may choose to disregard the rules, but the regional project inspectors won't. Some of them are, or have been, judges. If you don't know the rules and your science teacher hasn't given you a copy of the rules, ASK for a copy.
Flashy backboards, lots of color and fantastic fonts may be eye-catching, but that's not what the judges will consider as being relevant. What they will be looking for will be: 1) a good opening hypothesis, 2) thorough research with bibliographical notation (author, book or magazine title, article title for magazines, date of publication, page number), 3) concise (clear and to the point) writing, a clear conclusion, and neatness (of displayed notebooks and papers, backboard, and yourself). Typing or computer printouts on standard printer paper (as opposed to scroll-feed paper) is best. If you do not have access to such equipment, you may want to check with your local junior college or one of the high school computer instructors, and get them to help you as a mentor. In that way, you will have access to the tools that you need.
If you have photographs on your display board, make sure that they are staged with adequate lighting. Use close-ups when necessary. You may need to get outside help in getting good quality photos that are not washed out with a bright flash, or too dark to interpret. If you need help, get it. This is another reason that you start EARLY. You have more time to get help where you need it.
For project judging, it is not a good idea for a
participant to show the judges how much contempt they might feel toward the older
generation, or how they like to disregard cultural norms by wearing skimpy clothing, or
baggy and ill-fitting clothing, or unusual make-up/hairstyles. Judges, after all,
are human. They might want to judge a project solely on its merits, regardless of
how arrogant or sullen the participant may show themselves. However, if your
appearance and/or attitude is too much off the norm...if you look sloppy or bored or
outright sullen...the judges may automatically assume that your work is either sloppy...or
someone else's. You may have more questions to answer before the judges are
convinced that you actually did all of the work yourself.
One of your major goals should be to become so
familiar with your project that you can quickly and thoroughly answer any questions that
the judges propose. Do so in a friendly manner, and speak clearly. Look judges
in the eye when speaking to them. Eye contact signals the fact that you are
confident, and that you take full responsibility for your work.
Don't be afraid to say, "I don't know," if you don't know an answer. Tons of blather and "beating around the bush" to disguise ignorance does not impress judges. A simple, "I don't know," does impress judges...unless it is in answer to a critical part of your project that you should be familiar with....
Practice answering questions about your project with a friend. Ask them questions about their project. It sounds rather silly, but if you practice looking someone in the eye and answering questions for which you haven't prepared answers, you will be more confident during the judging interview.
After every single participant has been reviewed, judges compare notes with each other and vote on the projects that they felt were both the best projects and the best presented. They may elect to interview their chosen top subjects again. If you are interviewed more than once, turn on the charm. You've been standing at your project for what seems like forever and you're tired, but muster your strength and be friendly and polite and eager to answer questions. Your charm, combined with the worthiness of your project, may win out over a competitor's project.
Relax. Judging interviews aren't the end of the world as we know it. Remember that judges are just people. If you have an innovative project that hasn't been done to death...or a real twist to an old problem, and you know your material (and, hopefully, something about related areas to your own project subject), and you appear neat, courteous and friendly, you and your project will stand out as winners, even if you are bested by another project/participant. If you made some mistakes this year, find out what you can do to make corrections--there is always next year.....
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