Mad Science! Surviving the Science Fair

By Maria Wren Co-founder and CEO SMaRT Education

Don’t worry. It’s not rocket science! Or maybe it is…

So, your child has come home from school with a science fair packet (or will very soon). Yaaay!!!! Or maybe not…? If you feel lost, anxious, or even flat out terrified about science fair projects, we are here to save the day!

The first thing you should know is that in Riverside County, the science fair is now the “Science and Engineering Fair.”

Engineering? What…?

Yep. Engineering. Don’t worry. If you have a budding engineer at home, our next blog post will be about exactly that. Now, back to our regularly scheduled program…

Before you jump into buying supplies, know the difference between a science experiment and a demonstration.  We often see the stereotypical volcanoe eruptions and solar system models on cartoons and TV shows but these are not truly science experiments. These are demonstrations.

No matter how cool or creative, models are demonstrations, not experiments

Science experiments answer a testable question. An observation is made. Variables are tested. Data is recorded and a solution emerges (hopefully).

The Riverside County Science and Engineering Fair is open to 4-12th grade students though your school may allow for younger students to submit a project at the school level. While this may not be mandatory, it may be something you do with your child for fun and to get a feel for the process.

Totally Stuck?

Ask your child’s teacher what science subjects they have recently learned about. This may make it easier for your child to pick a topic.

The science fair packets that are sent home are usually created for the whole school and don’t have information about what’s grade level appropriate for your child.

The Scientific Method

The Scientific Method helps scientists answer a question or solve a problem in an organized way. Get familiar with the Scientific Method before taking a trip to buy supplies. This may help guide you in what you need.

  1. Purpose/Question – What do you want to learn?
  2. Research – Find out as much as you can about what you are trying to learn.
  3. Hypothesis – Try to predict the answer to the problem.
  4. Experiment – Design a test or procedure to find out if your hypothesis is correct.
  5. Record the data – Record what happened during the experiment
  6. Conclusion – Review the data and check to see if your hypothesis was correct.

Remind your child that it is not “bad” if their hypothesis was wrong. If it was wrong, encourage them to think about why the results may have been different than expected and to make adjustments based on their findings.

Words your child should know:

  • Independent Variable – the part of the experiment your child will test
  • Dependent Variable – what occurs in response to changing the independent variable.
  • Control – The control should be the part of the experiment where you do not include the Independent Variable. The control lets you compare your results in the experiment.

Science Journals are where your child will record the process. Again, the process. All the little details that go into the planning and executing of the experiment. What materials were used. What the steps were. The results.

Have your child take pictures and notes of EVERYTHING. Even the mistakes, the failures and the flat out disasters are an important part of the process. You won’t be able to fit all of it on the science board but you can use it in the science journal. Note that some schools/districts have rules against showing the student’s face in the pictures, so it is best to avoid having your child’s face in them.

The Science board

Be creative but keep it clean and easy to read. If your child writes like a preschooler, encourage them to type their information on a computer and print it out. Having had some experience as a science fair judge, I can tell you it is difficult to give the projects fair consideration when the information is not legible. Your child may be excellent at verbalizing all the pertinent facts about their project but there is no guarantee that they will be there when the judge comes by to look at their project board and judges simply do not have time to read every page of their journal.

Blog your project!

It may be fun to have your child start a blog for their science fair projects that they can add to year after year. This is good practice for future projects since it allows them to look back easily to see what worked well in the past and what they could have done different. This is also a great way to share their projects with family!

Lastly, if your school has a family science night, GO! You can get ideas and ask questions. Let the kids wander around to get their creative juices flowing!

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SMaRT Education is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math to the youth of the Coachella Valley and surrounding areas.

Author: admin

Maria Wren is the Co-founder and CEO of SMaRT Education and also wears the "editor" hat for this blog. In addition to her work with SMaRT Education, her work as an advocate for our youth spans across the Coachella Valley through her role as a board member of the Academy of Musical Performance and the Coachella Valley Community Trust. She can be reached at Twitter @mariawren77