The Ins & Outs of Science Fairs: Inquiry Based Science Fair Projects

This is the third post in a 5 day series, The Ins & Outs of Science Fairs

science fairs

At the dialectic or logic stage (i.e. middle school), students should be expected to utilize the science skills they have been developing the past few years to design and carry out their own experiment. Students at the grammar stage (elementary school) may feel more comfortable with the project alternatives I described in my post yesterday, The Ins & Outs of Science Fairs: Types of Science Fair Projects.

Scientific inquiry refers to the diverse ways in which scientists study the natural world and propose explanations based on the evidence derived from their work.

An inquiry based project is essentially an experiment whereby a student scientist 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.

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.

Steps to the Scientific Method

  1. Choose Topic – Is there something that interests you? Is there something about it that makes you wonder?
  2. Research Topic – Take time to gather information and discover what others have learned.
  3. Write Your Experimental Question – Ask a specific question that can be answered in a measurable way. Typically, if the question can be stated, “How will _______________ affect _____________?”  students will be able to design a successful experiment.  The first blank would be the independent variable whereas the second blank would be the dependent variable.
  4. Write Your Hypothesis – Based on your knowledge of the subject, make an educated guess or prediction about what you think will happen. Essentially, answer your experimental question before you begin your experiment.  In your report, provide some reasoning for your prediction.
  5. Write Your Step-by-step Procedure or Experimental Plan
  6. Collect all the Materials
  7. Conduct Your Experiment and Collect Data/Observations in a Journal – Your data may include notes, tables, drawings, photographs, or a combination. Use this information to create graphs and charts to help determine if your hypothesis is true or false.
  8. Draw a Conclusion – Don’t worry if your prediction or hypothesis turns out differently than you anticipated. Some of the best science is when our predictions are wrong. Use the data you organized to help determine why? Perhaps you have come up with new questions?
  9. Build a Display
  10. Prepare an Oral Presentation

inquiry scienceInquiry Based Science Fair Projects

For successful inquiry based science fair projects, begin by choosing a general area that interests you and then try to narrow it down from there. Most project ideas can be adapted to fit younger or older students. Here are few ideas to get you started:

Life Science

  • 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

Earth Science

  • 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?

Physical Science

  • 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?

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?

Join me tomorrow when I share details on Preparing Your Display Board and Presentation.

About Eva Varga

Eva is passionate about education. She has extensive experience in both formal and informal settings. She presently homeschools her two young children, teaches professional development courses through the Heritage Institute, and writes a middle level secular science curriculum called Science Logic. In addition to her work in education, she is an athlete, competing in Masters swimming events and marathons. In her spare time she enjoys reading, traveling, learning new languages, and above all spending time with her family. ♥

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