Science fair projects are activities that are both fun and educational for students. They can pick topics that pique their curiosity, test their hypotheses by creating their own experiments and learn how to use the scientific method — a practice used by professional scientists around the world.
However, there are many steps to take to make this project a success, and we’re here to guide you through each one of them.
What Is a Science Fair?
A science fair refers to an event, often held in elementary schools, where students share experiments that they’ve conducted and the results that they have found. In some fairs, students will compete for prizes, while others are less competitive.
Science fairs in the U.S. can be traced back to the E.W. Scripps’ Science Service. The mission of this organization, which was established in 1921, was to increase interest and awareness of science by teaching scientific concepts in simpler, less technical terms. This organization was instrumental in organizing the Science Clubs of America, which in 1950 held a national science fair for the first time.
How to Make an Elementary School Science Fair Project
Follow these steps to get your scientific investigation underway:
- Pick a topic you love: You’re much more likely to enjoy this process — and do it well — if you pick a topic you’re passionate about. Don’t limit yourself to scientific topics, but rather think of your most intense interests and how they can be related to science. A science experiment can be created using practically any topic. For instance, if your passion is art, you could investigate the reaction of paint chemicals or how to make artificial colors. Choose a topic that is suitable for your age. While you can pick a topic that is challenging, you don’t want to choose a topic so difficult that you can’t complete it in time.
- Think of a question: Once you’ve decided on your topic, think of a question that you can test.
- Formulate a hypothesis: A hypothesis is an attempt to answer your question.
- Think of a procedure: A procedure is an experiment that can be conducted to affirm or deny your hypothesis.
- Acquire materials: Once you know how you’ll conduct your experiment, start gathering materials you’ll need to do it.
- Record results: By experimenting, you can see if your hypothesis was correct.
- Arrive at a conclusion: Take a good look at the result you got, and determine whether your hypothesis was right or wrong. Also, think of ways you could further explore the question. As you’re doing your experiment, take notes so that afterward you can more easily share what you did and what you learned.
How to Prepare Your Poster
After you’ve finished your experiment and drawn your conclusions, the project is only halfway done — now you create a poster that provides a clear overview of what you did.
Creating Your Display Board
Elementary school students create posters with basically the same format as those presented by professional scientists at conferences. In general, display boards at science fairs are tri-folds, meaning that they’re folded on both sides so that they can easily stand. It’s not uncommon for boards to measure up to 14 inches deep and 3 feet wide. You can find these boards at office supply, craft and drug stores, or you can make your own with cardboard or poster board.
If you decide to make one yourself, it’s probably best to create three separate pieces then attach them with duct tape so that they can easily bend.
Organizing the Display Board
When it comes to organizing your poster, you’ve got several options. However, no matter you decide to do the layout, make sure that it includes these key sections:
- Title: When writing your title, you can simply go with your question or some other message that grabs your audience’s attention.
- Question: Clearly state your question. Also, provide some background why this topic interests you and how you thought up the question.
- Hypothesis: Tell your audience what you guessed the results would be before you conducted the tests.
- Procedures: Clearly explain the steps you took to test your question and why you decided on that procedure.
- Equipment and materials: Include a list of the things you needed for your test.
- Data and results: Describe what happened when you conducted your experiment. Use graphs, charts or other visuals to help convey your results.
- Conclusion: In your previous step, you just described the data. In this step, you want to make sense of them. Mention whether your hypothesis was correct or not, and explain why you think you got those results. Also, if you were to redo the tests, mention what you would do differently.
- References: Include the resources you used, whether they’re websites, books or people.
- Your Name: Also add your grade and the name of your teacher.
Below is an example of a science fair project, including a detailed account of the procedure, results and conclusions.
“Keeping Flowers Beautiful”
“What Solution Can Keep Flowers Fresh for the Longest Period of Time?”
I chose this topic for several reasons. First of all, I love flowers, and I’m always trying to figure out better ways to keep them fresh for longer. Also, this issue is of great importance to many industries and consumers since they buy flowers for many occasions including weddings, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Christmas.
Flower shops often provide customers with an additive to put in the water in their vase, but I wanted to question whether this additive is the most effective solution and whether another could work better. In my project, I tested homemade solutions, commercial preservatives and old wives tales.
I believe that some home remedies will be just as effective as the preservative provided by florists. I hypothesize that the most effective solution will be lemon-lime soda because it contains sugar as well as several chemicals that I believe will inhibit the growth of bacteria that could damage the plant.
Follow these steps to test your hypothesis:
- Thirty (30) daisies (bellis perennis) will be bought from the same store at the same time to make sure they are all equally fresh.
- Using a lab coat, gloves and goggles, certain solutions will be mixed together in 10 one-pint jars with an 8-ounce measuring cup, a tablespoon and a teaspoon. To avoid contamination, wash hands after making each mixture.
- The solutions used are tap water, distilled water, tap water with a teaspoon of salt, tap water with an aspirin pill, lemon-lime soda, tap water with 1 tablespoon of bleach, tap water with 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar, tap water with 1 tablespoon sugar, tap water with 1 tablespoon of mouthwash and tap water with 1 tablespoon of commercial preservative Floralife.
- The stems of the flowers will then be submerged in lukewarm water and clipped at a 45-degree angle. Afterward, they will be put into the solutions. Three specimens will be placed in each of the 10 solutions.
- Every other day, the stems will be cut again and put in fresh solutions. These are considered good florist practices.
- The state of each flower will be examined once a day until either 14 days have passed or nothing remains in the vases. The number of specimens remaining in every solution will also be documented every day, as will their color and droopiness.
- Once their state has been recorded, specimens that are wilting, drooping or browning at the edges will be removed so that the bacteria won’t harm the other specimens in the container.
- A chart that shows how long each specimen stayed fresh will be made, accompanied by photos of the changes.
5. Equipment and Materials
Here’s what you’ll need for this experiment:
- Ten 1-pint jars to contain the flowers in the solutions
- A teaspoon measure
- A tablespoon measure
- An 8-oz. cup measure
- A pair of gloves
- A protective lab coat
- Tap water
- Distilled water
- 30 cut daisies (bellis perennis)
- A 1/2 cup of cider vinegar
- 12 cans of lemon-lime soda
- A 1/2 cup of sugar
- A 1/2 cup of Floralife
- A 1/2 cup of bleach
- A 1/2 cup of mouthwash
6. Data and Results
- In the tap water, mouthwash and aspirin solutions, the flowers stayed fresh for seven full days. Every other homemade solution that I used in my project caused the flowers to wilt faster.
- By 14 days, the freshest specimens were the ones in the sugar water. One of the flowers in the lemon-lime soda solution browned in the middle, as did all of the Floralife specimens.
- By 21 days, the specimens in the sugar water still had not browned, although they had significantly wilted. The specimens in the soda had wilted. The Florarlife specimens still had the brown color, but no wilting of the petals occurred.
My hypothesis that the lemon-lime soda would be most effective was incorrect. The specimens in the soda, the floral additive and sugar water solutions all remained at Stage 1 for seven days and fresh enough for display for a full 21 days.
Although Floralife research suggests that it is more effective than any alternative, my results showed that both lemon-lime soda and sugar water can help keep flowers fresh for the longest time. This suggests that florists and consumers could save by using sugar water instead of the more costly floral preservatives.
Science Fair Project Ideas
If you’re having trouble coming up with a topic that interests you, below are some science fair ideas for inspiration:
- Soaking pennies: A long-time favorite of elementary school students, dirty pennies are collected in this experiment and soaked in a variety of acidic liquids such as lime juice, lemon juice, vinegar and salsa. This experiment is best for kindergartners or first graders.
- Creating circuits: Students interested in technology can make simple circuits using everyday objects. This is also most suitable for kindergartners or first graders.
- Rainbow rubber eggs: This fun experiment involves submerging eggs in vinegar, adding a few drops of food coloring and waiting a few days to see some cool results.
- Teleidoscopes: These objects are like kaleidoscopes but do not have an end, allowing you to view anything you want. Looking through one of these is a fantastic experience. This project is most appropriate for kids between second and fourth grade.
- Density tower: This experiment involves layering liquids of different densities on top of one another without having them mix together.
- Growing salt crystals: Salt crystals can be grown overnight in the fridge.
In addition to the necessary steps mentioned above, we’d also like to share some general tips to boost the quality of your presentation.
- Document everything: Through the entire process, record all your activities, thoughts and findings in a journal. Some science fairs actually request that you include your notebook as part of your presentation. For professional scientists, keeping a detailed log of their experiments is critical.
- Write on separate pieces of paper: It’s much easier to write all titles and other text on pieces of paper and then glue them to your board than to write directly on the board. You can also type them out with a computer and use attention-grabbing colors and fonts — just make sure that the font and font size are easy to read from a few feet away.
- Take photos: One of the easiest ways to help explain the process is with pictures, so remember to keep a camera nearby and take photos throughout the experiment. Then, print out your best photos and include them on your board — breaking up the text with pictures will make your project easier to digest.
- Make it colorful: If your teachers allow it, consider buying a colorful board. Other ways to add color include printing out your titles and text on colored construction paper, scrapbook paper or cardstock. You can also make your project pop with stickers, cut-out letters or colored paper.
- Lay everything out before pasting: Before grabbing the glue, first lay everything out that you want to include on your board. The hypothesis, procedures and materials should be on the right, the data and results should be in the center, and the conclusion, personal information and resources should go on the right. Depending on how much you include for each section, you may need to adjust this layout. Once you’re happy with the placement of everything, paste it to the board.
- Use glue dots or glue sticks: These two types of glue are the easiest to use. You can use regular glue as well, but it sometimes causes wrinkles in the paper and can be difficult to change the position of things after the glue has dried.
- Limit parental involvement: Parents should give their children the opportunity to do as much of the work as they can for their age. Although requirements vary from school to school, parents are usually allowed to type up the notes their children have made — just make sure that your child is telling you what to write. Your child should be able to explain every step of the process to the panel of judges. It’s a good idea to have your kids practice explaining what they did to you or other members of your family.
How Does the Judging Work?
Some science fair projects are assessed by a panel of judges and the winners may advance to regional or state levels. At elementary school science fairs, however, it’s less common to award placements. Instead, judges may point out the best parts of each project, award ribbons and leave commentary. At the elementary level, the objective is usually to just encourage students to continue participating in these events.
Check out Our Science Programs
If you live in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware or Maryland, and your child is between the ages of 4 and 11, explore the fun and educational science programs offered by Science Explorers. Our programs, which include summer camps and after-school science clubs, are designed to get kids excited about science and create lasting memories in the process.