The new school year is well under way. In many science classrooms around the world, students are engaging in hands-on science experiences. Many are beginning to give thought to the annual science fair project that often takes place in the spring.
Inquiry based science fair projects are the keystone of student science fairs. They follow the scientific method rather closely and have several parts including a control and a variable.
Inquiry based science projects allow students the opportunity to become the scientist themselves, using their own observations and experiences to ask questions and form hypotheses. Ultimately students design an experiment to test their hypothesis against variables.
Independent Variable: What the scientist will be changing during the experiment
Dependent Variable: What the scientist will be measuring or observing.
Controlled Variable: What the scientist keeps the same during the experiment.
Many educators believe all hands-on science is inquiry science, but that is not accurate. Inquiry implies that students are in control of an important part of their own learning where they can manipulate ideas to increase understanding. As students learn to think through the designs and developments of their own inquiry, they also develop a sense of self-responsibility that transcends all subject areas.
At the elementary level, science depends on the ability to identify and accumulate facts (grammar stage), organize and analyze those facts (logic stage), interpret and theorize about the facts, and communicate those interpretations and theories to others as they move investigations into their communities and participate in solutions to science and technology issues (rhetoric stage).
The 5 features of science inquiry
- Student Engages in Scientifically Oriented Questions
- Student Gives Priority to Evidence in Responding to Questions
- Student Formulates Explanations from Evidence
- Student Connects Explanations to Scientific Knowledge
- Student Communicates and Justifies Explanations
Although each component is important, helping students use evidence to create explanations for natural phenomena is central to science inquiry. You can reinforce the creation and critiquing of arguments in your classroom by asking, “How do you know?” Student answers (both verbal and written) should include evidence. Additionally, you should look for opportunities for students to critique the use of evidence in science news, reports and other media.
Students should practice science in the classroom the way that scientists and engineers do. Provide opportunities to work in collaborative groups to solve problems and explore challenges. Science and engineering practices should not be isolated inquiry activities, but permeate the entire curriculum.
Below are 100 ideas for incorporating inquiry science into you curriculum and to kick-start the planning for your science fair project.
100 Science Fair Projects
- 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?
- What type of fertilizer or “plant food” works best?
- Sugar level in plant sap at different times and dates
- Effect of salinity on brine shrimp or other organism
- Can paper chromatography be used to identify different species of plants?
- Study the effects of phosphates on aquatic plants.
- Compare organic fertilizer versus chemical fertilizer.
- Test the effects of heat, light, carbon dioxide, pH level, etc. on the germination rate of monocots compared to dicots.
- What factors affect the rate of photosynthesis (temperature, light intensity, water, carbon dioxide, part of the light spectrum, etc.)?
- Do the numbers and sizes of leaf stomate vary with different plants?
- Study the effect of light or temperature on Vitamin C content of orange juice.
- What are the effects of water temperature on the color of fish?
- Do the non-smoking sections in a restaurant protect you from second-hand smoke?
- Does caffeine have an effect on blood pressure?
- Are herbs (or essential oils) a viable alternative to modern medicines?
- Which is better – commercial antacids or herbal remedies?
- Does playing video games affect heart rate?
- What time of bread grows mold the fastest? Compare the buns of various fast-food restaurants.
- Are some types of makeup more prone to bacterial growth?
- Compare the rate of mold growth on different milk samples (Vitamin D fortified, 2%, 1%, RAW, etc).
- Study of insect of animal behaviour versus population density.
- Study insects’ adaptations to pesticides or availability of food. Does their body structure change over time?
- What is the effect of caffeine or tobacco on the growth of mealworms?
I have written a guidebook to inquiry science with middle school students. It is available in my store.
- Does the height of a volcano affect the viscosity of the lava?
- Grow a crystal garden. What factors affect the rate and size of crystal growth?
- Is there a relationship between sunspot cycles and earthquakes?
- Study the small scale wind currents around buildings.
- What effects the rate of evaporation the most – temperature, humidity, wind speed, or other factors?
- Make observations of geomorphic factors in your local area.
- Do the phases of the moon affect the barometric pressure?
- Make an instrument to test the soil and find out how compacted it is.
- Study the effects of solar activity on radio reception.
- What factors affect the slope stability of sand/gravel hillsides?
- What substance is best to use in blocking floodwaters?
- Study the impact of feed lots on the environment.
- How does particle size affect the porosity of soil?
- Explore methods of controlling erosion.
- Compare the erosion rates of different soil types.
- How does the weather affect the salinity of natural aquifers (lakes, rivers, bays, etc.)?
- Some intertidal animals in the low tide zone and others in high tide zones. How much time does each zone spend out of water during a tidal cycle?
- When are tidal height differences the greatest?
- Study the effect of water depth on wave velocity.
- Does the moisture content of soil affect the color?
- Can mapping earthquakes help identify fault lines?
- Build a simple model system to simulate underground water flow, simulate various underground conditions, and test your predictions on water flow.
- Which materials make the best compost?
- How does soil affect the pH of water?
- Investigate how the volume of wet sand changes under pressure.
- Explain how trajectory affects flight distance and vice versa in paper airplanes.
- Explain how putting a spin on a ball affects the flight pattern. (How does a curve ball work?)
- 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 stain remover works best?
- Analyze soil samples for their components, ability to hold moisture, fertility, and pH.
- Test the mineral concentrations in hard and soft water.
- Compare the results of a common gak or silly putty recipe using different types of glue.
- What types of paper decompose the most rapidly when buried?
- Compare the surface tension of various liquids.
- Study the radiation patterns from different antenna types.
- Do bends in fiber optic cable cause loss of audio data transmission?
- How does the curvature or materials of different lenses affect a light beam?
- Does water droplet size affect rainbow brilliance?
- How will the height from which an object falls affect the distance another object moves when struck?
- How is the density of a substance/object changed as its temperature changes?
- Measure your reaction time and compare it to your friends and family with this fun experiment.
- How does the position of a violin or guitar affect the volume?
- Do different businesses play different tempos in background music?
- Do different businesses use different air fresheners or scents to influence their customers?
- Determine how high a basketball bounces on different surfaces relative to the height from which it was dropped.
- Find out how the simple aperture design of a pinhole camera works to control the way light enters the lens of your camera.
- What setting of a digital camera takes the better picture of a small object?
- How does the shape of a bottle affect the sound when you blow across the top?
- Test the absorptivity of different materials (sorbents) to discover which ones are best at removing oil from water.
I wrote a five day series earlier this year, The Ins & Outs of Science Fairs, to provide a step-by-step approach to creating a successful science fair project.
Engineering & Design
- How do different bridge designs affect the strength of the bridge?
- What is the most efficient design for a windmill?
- How does the weight and shape of an object affect the rate by which it sinks?
- Why do the inside of cars get so hot in the sun? What ways can you reduce this heat?
- Design and build an automatic recording weather device. Test it over a period of time.
- Create a 3-dimensional, free-standing marble run.
- Comparing insulative properties of various natural and commercial insulators. Which are the best?
- Which style of roof truss is the strongest?
- Demonstrate how an AM radio detector can be constructed out of scrap materials and explain the function of the various components.
- How does air pressure, materials, and construction of a ball affect its ability to bounce?
- Design a spaghetti noodle and mini-marshmellow tower.
- How much force is required to advance a lag bolt (large wood screw with a hex-shaped head) into a piece of wood? How do different types of wood compare?
- Is there a correlation between electric motor cooling and efficiency?
- What is the most efficient design for a windmill?
- Invent a device that can launch a pom pom or marshmallow (the farther the better).
- Design and construct a robotic insect.
- Create a Bristlebot (made from the head of a toothbrush, a battery, and a small motor) and compare the speed of different toothbrushes.
- Test a variety of skateboard wheels on their ability to make a 90 degree turn.
- How does ski wax affect the sliding friction of skis? You can model this with an ice cube sliding down a plank: how high do you need to lift the end of the plank before the ice cube starts to slide?
- Can you design a toy car that is powered by wind? What is the best design?
- Build a water clock.
- Can aquatic plants promote pesticide breakdown?
- Determine the best gear ratio for your bike, to get the highest speed after a curve and onto a straightaway.
- Can rooftop gardens also keep your house cooler and lower your energy bill?
- Investigate how changing the angle of an inclined plane affects how the Slinky walks down it. What angle will enable the Slinky to go for the best walk?
For more science resources, check out these wonderful 100 Things posts by my friends at iHomeschool Network:
- 100 Awesome STEM Resources from Amy at Milk and Cookies Blog
- 100 Engineering Projects for Kids from Marci at The Homeschool Scientist
- 100 Infographics for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math from Amy at Milk and Cookies Blog
- 100 Learning Resources for Kids Who Want to Be Game Designers and Programmers from Aadel from These Temporary Tents
- 100 Super-Fun STEM Resources for Kids by Colleen at Raising Lifelong Learners
- 100+ Ideas for Nature Study from Cindy at Our Journey Westward
- 100 Things to do Before, During, or After a Nature Walk from Jimmie at Jimmie’s Collage
This post is one of 100 posts compiled by the bloggers of iHomeschool Network, 100 Things. Be sure to visit and enter to win over $370 in cash and prizes.