Entering an elementary science fair project into a competition involves more than just completing a fun science experiment. The student needs to have a great idea and then create an informative and eye-catching display as well as demonstrating presentation and interview skills.
Choosing Science Fair Projects for Kids
One of the keys to having an award winning project is making the right choice. When choosing a science fair project, there are several things to keep in mind:
Before you choose a project, you have to make sure that the materials are either available or obtainable. You cannot do a project that requires you to observe a Venus Fly Trap if you can't get your hands on one! In fact, it's a good practice to make a short list of possible projects and then investigate how readily available the materials are before making a final decision.
Many parents make the mistake of helping their child choose a science fair project based on what seems easiest or most interesting to them. This is a mistake. Allow your child to choose based on his interests. By doing this you will ensure that it's your child doing the project instead of you.
Some students choose to do projects that require observing plants over a period of months or building complicated contraptions. These can often make very exciting projects. However, you need to make sure that you have the time to complete them before committing to them.
Types of Science Fair Projects for Kids
There are a few different types of projects that you can choose from. If the science fair is going to be judged, make sure that you know the rules so that you don't get disqualified on a technicality.
A model project is a built model demonstrating a scientific principle. For example, one popular science fair project is a model of the solar system that demonstrates how all the planets orbit. A good model will have all the parts clearly labeled and will be as accurate as possible. Models are often the easiest science fair projects to complete.
Demonstrations are often confused with science experiments--but they are not the same thing. A demonstration is similar to a model, but it generally has a reaction or moving parts to demonstrate a scientific principle. For example, the overly common volcano experiment is a demonstration. Demonstrations can be easy, but you do have to make sure that you can get the demonstration to work.
An experiment is something that tests a hypothesis. It needs to have several parts including a control and a variable. It also needs to follow the scientific method rather closely. Experiments can be difficult to set up--most students struggle with identifying both a control and a variable.
Surveys are excellent projects for children. Before beginning any survey, always check with the school administration or parents to make sure proper consent is obtained, if it is needed. Surveys help children organize data, and surveys can test different theories. For example, does eating a healthy breakfast improve students' test scores? Surveys can be used to gather information to prove the statement true or false. The survey could be given to students before a test that ask them what they ate for breakfast that morning. After the test, the grades of the students who ate breakfast can be compared against those of the students who did not eat breakfast. Did the students who ate a healthy breakfast do better on the test than the students who answered that they didn't eat breakfast?
Science Project Suggestions and Ideas
While older children usually want to get more innovative, younger elementary students can learn a lot with some tried and true projects. Consider these classics of science education.
Build a Model of the Solar System
Earth's solar system consists of the nine planets and the sun. There are various ways to design the solar system, such as cutting out circles of different sizes and colors, to represent the planets and sun, or painting Styrofoam balls. The sun and each planet should be labeled. The planets are Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, respectively. Then the planets can be hung from or around the sun by a coat hanger, piece of string, or piece of cardboard to represent the solar system.
Growing a Plant
Growing a plant is a great science project for kids, especially preschool and kindergartners. Place a couple of handfuls of soil into a clear cup. Have children place the seed toward the edge of the cup and place the cup in sunlight. As they water the plant everyday, they will be able to see the roots form from the seed and the stem bud from the soil. Children will learn from the science project that water, soil, sun, and seeds are needed to grow a plant. The lesson can be extended to the parts of the plant: roots, stem, leaves, and flower.
Older children can take growing a plant as a science project to the next level. Ask children what needs to be done in order to grow a plant. Some answers would be that a plant needs water and sunlight in order to grow or a seed must be planted in order for a plant to grow.
Have students think about their answers as well as other possibilities. For example, what could be given to plants instead of water, sunlight, or soil? Will a plant still grow? Will a seed grow if it is on top of the soil instead of planted into the soil? Then have the students write a statement that could either be true or false in regards to growing plants. For example, adding plant food will make a plant grow faster. Plants can still grow with artificial light as opposed to actual sunlight. A seed will not grow unless it is planted underneath the soil.
More Ideas for Great Science Fair Projects
Start by choosing a general area that interests you and then try to narrow it down from there. Most of these project ideas can be adapted to fit younger or older students.
- Build a model of the heart, the eye or another circulatory system.
- Study a particular animal in depth.
- Study a particular biome or habitat in depth.
- Study the conditions under which mold grows best.
- Figure out what is the best preservative to prevent mold growth.
- Do plants really respond to music? Affection? Sound?
- Study the Venus fly trap.
- Observe the growth of a bean sprout.
- What type of fertilizer or "plant food" works best?
- Demonstrate how plants draw water upwards from the roots.
- Make a model of an underwater volcano and show how islands are formed.
- Does the height of a volcano affect the viscosity of the lava?
- Make a model of the water cycle.
- Grow a crystal garden.
- Build a model rocket.
- Explore the science of a roller coaster or other amusement park ride.
- Explore how to build a better bridge.
- Explain how trajectory affects flight distance and vice versa in paper airplanes.
- Demonstrate one or all of Newton's Laws.
- Explain how putting a spin on a ball affects the flight pattern. (How does a curve ball work?)
- Demonstrate and explain why Mentos makes soda explode?
- Show how to blow up a balloon without actually putting your mouth on the balloon.
- Explore Newtonian liquids like Oobleck.
- Make your own carbonated beverage.
- Demonstrate and explain the effects of yeast.
- Which anti-bacterial hand lotion is most effective? (Grow your own bacteria in a petri dish.)
- Which brand of popcorn is best? (As judged by which brand leaves the least amount of kernels unpopped.)
- Which gender has better reaction time?
- Which stain remover works best?
- Show how to distill water.
Project Display Tips
Elements of quality kids science projects include not only conducting an original experiment, but also imparting the information learned to the judges and public in an exhibit. Most science fairs establish guidelines for creating the display, and children, parents and teachers should familiarize themselves with the rules.
Students usually follow the scientific method when conducting experiments and often have a record of their discoveries. Include journals, photographs and videos in an exhibit that combines low tech and high tech displays.
A simple way to present projects is to make a large tri-fold display board. Get discarded cardboard from a local retailer company, about the size of a refrigerator. Use one long side, and fold it into thirds. Cover with rolled poster paper (available at office supply companies and school supply companies). Use stencils to cut out letters of the project title, pasting them onto the top of the board. Then, add large matted photographs, outlines, and diagrams to the board that represent the project from start to finish. Some projects lend themselves to the creation of three-dimensional models that help demonstrate components of the project. For example, some students may want to build a roller coaster or create a solar system craft project to illustrate particular points in their projects.
A tape player and/or DVD/VCR cart can be set up with any audio and visual components. Edit and cue the tape(s) to the correct spot before the science fair begins. Computer technology lends itself to science fair projects easily. Elementary students often have enough computer knowledge to create slideshows, Microsoft PowerPoint presentations or even short animated illustrations of their project. Projects that involve the Internet or computers themselves should include computer technology in the exhibits.
If possible, have a working model of any robotic or mechanical science project available for judges and guests to view. A chemical or electrical project should also have a working model or experiment available for demonstration. Projects that make it impossible to have a working demonstration on hand (due to expense, space constraints or safety reasons) should have as many parts of the project on hand as possible.
Elementary Science Fair Project Presentations
Elementary school science projects at fairs often include a communications and English component, too. After all, children need to discuss their project not only with the judges, but also with visitors and other contestants. It is imperative they understand their project hypothesis, project steps/experiment instructions, how and why it did (or did not) work, and the conclusions reached after the project was completed.
Young elementary students (below grade two, usually), should pick easy science projects for the fair that does not involve a lot of parental oversight. After all, they need to understand and explain what they are doing. Older students will have a broader and deeper understanding of complex scientific subjects, making it easier for them to choose a project that is more difficult.
In addition to a question and answer session with judges and a general meet and greet time with the public, students at some fairs may need to give a formal presentation. The presentation should cover:
- What sparked the child's interest in the particular area of science
- Original hypothesis regarding the elementary science fair project
- How the experiment or project was conducted (materials used, steps taken each day or hour to reach the conclusion)
- Whether the student modified his/her original theories regarding the project as it progressed
- Conclusions regarding the results of the project
Elementary students should attempt to memorize as much of their presentation as possible, although the youngest students may have difficulty. Referring to index cards or an outline is usually acceptable at a science fair, although kids should check the rules to be sure.
Elementary science projects take on an exciting meaning if kids know they will be entering a science fair. A little extra time spent on the exhibit and presentation will put the finishing touch on any project, from tornado experiments for kids to science fair organic vs. non-organic projects.