100 Science Fair Projects

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.

100sciencefairMany 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

Life Science

  1. Study the conditions under which mold grows best.
  2. Figure out what is the best preservative to prevent mold growth.
  3. Do plants really respond to music? Affection? Sound?
  4. What type of fertilizer or “plant food” works best?
  5. Sugar level in plant sap at different times and dates
  6. Effect of salinity on brine shrimp or other organism
  7. Can paper chromatography be used to identify different species of plants?
  8. Study the effects of phosphates on aquatic plants.
  9. Compare organic fertilizer versus chemical fertilizer.
  10. Test the effects of heat, light, carbon dioxide, pH level, etc. on the germination rate of monocots compared to dicots.
  11. What factors affect the rate of photosynthesis (temperature, light intensity, water, carbon dioxide, part of the light spectrum, etc.)?
  12. Do the numbers and sizes of leaf stomate vary with different plants?
  13. Study the effect of light or temperature on Vitamin C content of orange juice.
  14. What are the effects of water temperature on the color of fish?
  15. Do the non-smoking sections in a restaurant protect you from second-hand smoke?
  16. Does caffeine have an effect on blood pressure?
  17. Are herbs (or essential oils) a viable alternative to modern medicines?
  18. Which is better – commercial antacids or herbal remedies?
  19. Does playing video games affect heart rate?
  20. What time of bread grows mold the fastest? Compare the buns of various fast-food restaurants.
  21. Are some types of makeup more prone to bacterial growth?
  22. Compare the rate of mold growth on different milk samples (Vitamin D fortified, 2%, 1%, RAW, etc).
  23. Study of insect of animal behaviour versus population density.
  24. Study insects’ adaptations to pesticides or availability of food. Does their body structure change over time?
  25. What is the effect of caffeine or tobacco on the growth of mealworms?

getting started cover

I have written a guidebook to inquiry science with middle school students. It is available in my store.

Earth Science

  1. Does the height of a volcano affect the viscosity of the lava?
  2. Grow a crystal garden. What factors affect the rate and size of crystal growth?
  3. Is there a relationship between sunspot cycles and earthquakes?
  4. Study the small scale wind currents around buildings.
  5. What effects the rate of evaporation the most – temperature, humidity, wind speed, or other factors?
  6. Make observations of geomorphic factors in your local area.
  7. Do the phases of the moon affect the barometric pressure?
  8. Make an instrument to test the soil and find out how compacted it is.
  9. Study the effects of solar activity on radio reception.
  10. What factors affect the slope stability of sand/gravel hillsides?
  11. What substance is best to use in blocking floodwaters?
  12. Study the impact of feed lots on the environment.
  13. How does particle size affect the porosity of soil?
  14. Explore methods of controlling erosion.
  15. Compare the erosion rates of different soil types.
  16. How does the weather affect the salinity of natural aquifers (lakes, rivers, bays, etc.)?
  17. 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?
  18. When are tidal height differences the greatest?
  19. Study the effect of water depth on wave velocity.
  20. Does the moisture content of soil affect the color?
  21. Can mapping earthquakes help identify fault lines?
  22. Build a simple model system to simulate underground water flow, simulate various underground conditions, and test your predictions on water flow.
  23. Which materials make the best compost?
  24. How does soil affect the pH of water?
  25. Investigate how the volume of wet sand changes under pressure.

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Physical Science

  1. Explain how trajectory affects flight distance and vice versa in paper airplanes.
  2. Explain how putting a spin on a ball affects the flight pattern. (How does a curve ball work?)
  3. Which anti-bacterial hand lotion is most effective? (Grow your own bacteria in a petri dish.)
  4. Which brand of popcorn is best? (As judged by which brand leaves the least amount of kernels unpopped.)
  5. Which stain remover works best?
  6. Analyze soil samples for their components, ability to hold moisture, fertility, and pH.
  7. Test the mineral concentrations in hard and soft water.
  8. Compare the results of a common gak or silly putty recipe using different types of glue.
  9. What types of paper decompose the most rapidly when buried?
  10. Compare the surface tension of various liquids.
  11. Study the radiation patterns from different antenna types.
  12. Do bends in fiber optic cable cause loss of audio data transmission?
  13. How does the curvature or materials of different lenses affect a light beam?
  14. Does water droplet size affect rainbow brilliance?
  15. How will the height from which an object falls affect the distance another object moves when struck?
  16. How is the density of a substance/object changed as its temperature changes?
  17. Measure your reaction time and compare it to your friends and family with this fun experiment.
  18. How does the position of a violin or guitar affect the volume?
  19. Do different businesses play different tempos in background music?
  20. Do different businesses use different air fresheners or scents to influence their customers?
  21. Determine how high a basketball bounces on different surfaces relative to the height from which it was dropped.
  22. Find out how the simple aperture design of a pinhole camera works to control the way light enters the lens of your camera.
  23. What setting of a digital camera takes the better picture of a small object?
  24. How does the shape of a bottle affect the sound when you blow across the top?
  25. Test the absorptivity of different materials (sorbents) to discover which ones are best at removing oil from water.

science fairs

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

  1. How do different bridge designs affect the strength of the bridge?
  2. What is the most efficient design for a windmill?
  3. How does the weight and shape of an object affect the rate by which it sinks?
  4. Why do the inside of cars get so hot in the sun? What ways can you reduce this heat?
  5. Design and build an automatic recording weather device. Test it over a period of time.
  6. Create a 3-dimensional, free-standing marble run.
  7. Comparing insulative properties of various natural and commercial insulators. Which are the best?
  8. Which style of roof truss is the strongest?
  9. Demonstrate how an AM radio detector can be constructed out of scrap materials and explain the function of the various components.
  10. How does air pressure, materials, and construction of a ball affect its ability to bounce?
  11. Design a spaghetti noodle and mini-marshmellow tower.
  12. 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?
  13. Is there a correlation between electric motor cooling and efficiency?
  14. What is the most efficient design for a windmill?
  15. Invent a device that can launch a pom pom or marshmallow (the farther the better).
  16. Design and construct a robotic insect.
  17. Create a Bristlebot (made from the head of a toothbrush, a battery, and a small motor) and compare the speed of different toothbrushes.
  18. Test a variety of skateboard wheels on their ability to make a 90 degree turn.
  19. 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?
  20. Can you design a toy car that is powered by wind? What is the best design?
  21. Build a water clock.
  22. Can aquatic plants promote pesticide breakdown?
  23. Determine the best gear ratio for your bike, to get the highest speed after a curve and onto a straightaway.
  24. Can rooftop gardens also keep your house cooler and lower your energy bill?
  25. 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:

 

100things

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.

Skyscrapers and Wind Velocity: An Inquiry Based Science Project

Engineering has always been of interest to my daughter. She has enjoyed building toothpick bridges, marveling at skyscrapers when we have traveled to major urban areas, and writing letters to civil engineers to learn more about their work.

Earlier this year, I shared with you an STEM Club activity I put together that focused on the Newspaper Towers & Skyscrapers. My daughter enjoyed this activity so much that she expanded upon it for a homeschool science fair.

One of the tallest buildings in the world is the Shanghai World Financial Center, located in the Pudong district of Shanghai. At the time of its completion in 2008, its 492.0 meters (1,614.2 ft) made it the second-tallest building in the world and the tallest structure in mainland China. The observation deck offers views from 474 m (1,555 ft) above ground level and we had the opportunity to experience this earlier this year.

skyscrapersIn April, she took part in the CurrClick Earth Day Science Fair and it was of no surprise when she expressed interest in doing something with skyscrapers. I tried to dissuade her, knowing it would be difficult to design a fair test that resulted in measurable results. Despite the mis-givings of her tutor and I, she was not deterred.

Research & Project Planning

She researched numerous skyscrapers around the world and ultimately settled upon three for her design inspiration: the Empire State Building in New York City, the Cayan Tower in the United Arab Emirates, and the Trans America Building in San Francisco.  Each design was significantly different and through her research, she came up with her experimental question: How Does the Design of a Building Affect the Sway Under Different Wind Velocities?

Testing: Design, Wind Velocity, and Sway

She calculated a scale with which to build each model (1/4″ = 1 m). Using three identical boxes as a stable ground upon which to build, she constructed her skyscrapers with rolls of newspaper and wooden skewers as the frame. She then wrapped newspaper around the frame and secured it with tape.

The Cayan tower proved to be the most difficult to build for its design required it to rotate 90 degrees. Despite considerable effort, we could only get our paper model to rotate about 35-40 degrees.

To test the sway, she used a large fan to generate wind at different velocities, being careful to keep the distance and the aim consistent. To measure the wind speed, she used a Kestrel wind meter.

Results

She discovered right away that the sway of each building was so small that it was not possible to measure consistently.  She thereby changed focus and began to take wind speed measurements at different places next to each building, comparing how the wind velocity was altered due to the design of the building.

I was very impressed with her tenacity to see this project through, despite numerous setbacks and disappointments. She persevered and despite not getting an outcome for which she had hoped, she learned how to set a goal, plan a significant project on her own, how to gather scientific data, and the process by which to present it to others.

Many parents will contend that science fair projects are more of a headache than they are worth.  Join me next week when I share tips for coaching your student through the process without losing your hair.

If you are interested in coordinating a science fair for your homeschool community, I encourage you to read my earlier post, Planning a Fun Science Fair in 10 Easy Steps.

Engineering: World's Tallest Buildings Unit Study

To learn more about skyscrapers and to explore the field of engineering with you students, check out my Engineering Unit Study: World’s Tallest Buildings.

Science Milestones: The Lesser Known Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright

Born on June 8, 1867 Frank Lloyd Wright is not only one of the world’s greatest architects, but also the most prolific. He was controversial. He was inspiring. He was a visionary. A writer, an art collector, a philosopher. To honor Wright, I have put together a mini-unit to introduce students to his architectural style and the science of architecture. 

Biography

WrightFrank Lloyd Wright spent more than 70 years creating designs that revolutionized the art and architecture of the 20th century.  He designed 1141 works – including houses, offices, churches, schools, libraries, bridges, museums, and many other building types. Of the total, 532 resulted in completed works, 409 of which still stand.

Whether people are fully conscious of this or not, they actually derive countenance and sustenance from the ‘atmosphere’ of the things they live in or with They are rooted in them just as a plant is in the soil in which it is planted.

His career is generally divided into three periods. and he is widely known for four styles of building. His work during the first period (1893 – World War I) was primarily located in the Midwest and brought forth a new American architectural style – the Prairie Style; born out of his belief that we needed fewer, larger rooms which flowed more easily, his antithesis to the rigid Victorian era architecture. These long buildings stretched out along the flat Midwestern landscape, their horizontal orientation emphasized with bands of windows and spare ornamentation.  Low-pitched roofs with broad eaves served to relate them to the grown, creating shelter in the open.

Between World War I and the mid-1930s, Wright is noted for his commission of Tokyo’s Imperial House and his series of textile block houses in California, hence the Textile Style was born.  This later led way to the Organic Style and then the Usonian Style. His belief that buildings should be made from the land and benefit the land inspired most of his work. These beliefs, avant garde for his time, are still practiced and revered today. He advised his apprentices to,

… study nature, love nature, stay close to nature.  It will never fail you.

The kids and I have had the opportunity to see two of Wright’s works in person, the Gordon House in Silverton, Oregon and the Pilgrim Congregational Church in Redding, California. Sadly, Wright passed away before he saw either of these two buildings constructed.

franklloydwrightThe 88-year-old Wright designed the Gordon Housecommissioned by Conrad and Evelyn Gordon, in his Usonian style in 1957 for the couple’s sprawling farmland acreage that overlooked the Willamette River in Silverton about 30 minutes south of Portland. It wouldn’t be until several years later that the home would actually be built (1964). The Gordon House proved to be Wright’s final Usonian design.

The Pilgrim Congregational Church was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1958. Sadly however, due to lack of funds, the church was able only to construct a small portion of Wright’s original grand design back in the early 1960s. Built by the church members themselves, the building’s realized section represents only about 20% of the proposed structure. An unusual feature is his use of triangles (which symbolizes the Trinity) in the structure of the church.

Bring it Home

Math, science, art, writing, research, history, and project management are all subjects easily integrated into the study of architecture. Depending upon the age and interest of your child, you may wish to put together a comprehensive architectural unit study. Alternatively, younger students may enjoy a simpler approach, reading a short biography of Wright and marveling at photographs of his completed works. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • If possible, visit a site or building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and/or his apprentices.
  • Learn architecture concepts and the process of designing with the free Architect Studio 3D and have fun designing a Wright-style house under the watchful eye of America’s most famous architect.
  • Design a home inspired by nature and build a 3D model of your design.
  • Explore, create and have fun with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation’s Summer Art and Architecture Camps. The foundation offers students a living experience of Frank Lloyd Wright’s body of work through classes, workshops and special camps, with a focus on Frank Lloyd Wright, architecture, and the arts.

Science Milestones

Visit my Science Milestones page to learn more about scientists whose discoveries and advancements have made a significant difference in our lives or who have advanced our understanding of the world around us.

To find out about more people born in June hop on over to iHomeschool Network’s June birthdays page.

Science Career Options: Hydrogeology

Since she was little, when asked what career she might like to pursue, my daughter has always proclaimed with glee, “I want to be an engineer!”  Upon participating in Wow! these past couple of years, she has learned of the variety of engineering fields and her answer evolved, “… an environmental, architectural, electrical engineer.”  To be honest, I am not quite sure she knows for certain, but I love that her interest has never swayed.

To help her to understand the diversity of career options, we recently had an opportunity to visit an acquaintance who owns a hydrogeology firm locally. Today, I would like to share with you some of the things we learned during our visit as well as explore the career options in hydrogeology.

hydrogeology careers

Hydrogeology

Hydrogeology is the area of geology that deals with the distribution and movement of groundwater in the soil and rocks of the Earth’s crust (commonly in aquifers).  Hydrogeology is an interdisciplinary subject and as such, it can be difficult to account fully for the chemical, physical, biological and even legal interactions between soil, water, nature and society.

Essentially, hydrogeologists study of the interaction between groundwater movement and geology. Groundwater does not always flow in the subsurface down-hill following the surface topography.  Groundwater flows along gradients from high pressure to low pressure and hydrogeologists need to understand several diverse fields at both the experimental and theoretical levels.

During our visit, the engineers shared with us the tools of the trade and anecdotes of specific jobs they had had experience with recently.  We were surprised to learn that much of their work (at least at this office) was related to landfills.

Hydrogeology Careers

While geologists in the energy and mineral industries face are generally susceptible to rise and fall of the economy, those who study the movement and chemistry of water seeping through rocks and sediment find demand for their expertise steady.

“I can’t think of any unemployed hydrogeologists,” says Roy Haggerty, an associate professor of hydrogeology at Oregon State University, Corvallis. Water is essential, irreplaceable, and, as populations and economies grow, increasingly in demand and endangered.

hydrogeology

The work of a hydrogeologist can vary considerably according to the sector, employer and area of specialism.  Hydrogeologists can oversee the cleanup of spills and contamination. They work with experts who specialize in geology, wastewater, water supply, waste management, soils, and organizations that know how to clean up pollution or contamination. They may also help with designs for new facilities to help prevent future contamination.

Environmental consulting companies employ about 80% of hydrogeologists in the United States. New niches open regularly as hydrogeologists collaborate with scientists in other disciplines to tackle huge environmental challenges, such as forecasting how changing climate will affect water resources and aquatic life.

Our visit to the hydrogeology office was memorable.  As we drove away, my daughter exclaimed, “That was really interesting. I had no idea that a hydrogeologist’s work was so important.”  Our guides encouraged us to continue to explore geologic sciences in school.  They also emphasized the importance of good communication skills, particularly writing.  Geologists in all fields need to be able to communicate complicated information to others and write a variety of reports and letters.

In addition, “People skills are invaluable, which is why I say that the most important things I did as a graduate student was go to professional society meetings,” stated Leonard Kornikow, a hydrogeologist with the US Geological Survey.  At the middle school and high school level, talking in depth with adults in fields of interest is equally important.

Salary

Average salary range: $42,000 to $67,000 per year

If you are interested in further exploring geology with your children, there are many activities and curriculum materials available.  I have developed a complete earth science curriculum called Our Dynamic Earth.  It is a ten-week curriculum that incorporates more than 20+ activities and the lesson plans are fully outlined for you.  Background knowledge, notebooking pages, and suggestions for extension activities are included.

Our Dynamic Earth

STEM Club: Newspaper Towers & Skyscrapers

Engineering is one of the fastest growing industries in the world!  My children have always had an interest in engineering fields.  I thereby put together a unit study to provide them with hands-on engineering experiences.

I am delighted to share these activities with you so that you may teach engineering concepts to your children and build on their natural curiosity through hands-on learning.

newspaper towers

Throughout the unit, I shared with the class examples of skyscrapers and engineering marvels around the world.  Students were asked to create graphs and to research a skyscraper of their choice to present to the class.

One of the lessons in the unit involves building structures with rolls of newspaper.  In a friendly competition, students worked individually or in pairs to construct the tallest structure possible using only newspaper and masking tape.

Teams then worked collaboratively to build a structure large enough so they could climb inside. The kids absolutely loved this activity and proclaimed it one of their favorite.

newspaper skyscrapersTo culminate the unit study, the class was then given the challenge of building a skyscraper that is capable of withstanding a windstorm.  My kiddos opted to utilize the same building techniques they had explored earlier: rolled newspaper tubes.

 

Sweetie took the assignment a step farther and employed her brother to help build several skyscrapers, each a scaled model of a real-life skyscraper.  In the photograph above, you can see the Cayan Tower in Dubai and the Trans-America Building in San Francisco under construction.

She plans to use each model in a science inquiry project for Curr-Click and our local homeschool science fair in May. You can read more about her project here, Skyscrapers and Wind Velocity.

Engineering: World's Tallest Buildings Unit Study

The World’s Tallest Buildings is a unit study designed for upper elementary and middle school students that will undoubtedly spark an interest in engineering and design. The projects and activities outlined can be modified for small groups or with individual students. The unit is available for purchase in my store for just $2.95 –  Engineering Marvels: The World’s Tallest Buildings

Wow! Girls in Engineering!

Girls in middle school typically aren’t interested in robotics or french fry oil.  They would rather paint their nails or text their friends.  Several organizations are working to make girls more interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, citing research that says thousands of future jobs will be in those disciplines.  My daughter was one of an estimated 400 girls who will participate in two science based workshops this spring designed specifically for girls, featuring women in a variety of STEM professions as instructors.

WOW14

Girls in Engineering

This first was the annual “Wow! That’s Engineering?” event organized by our local chapter of the Society of Women Engineers.  Currently on its fifth year, it was developed as a way to celebrate National Engineers Week while also expanding accessible science programs for young girls. The activities the girls take part in expose them to a variety of different engineering fields.

At last year’s Girls in Engineering event, the girls built bridges, an electronic circuit board, and a hydroelectric lift.  This year, the stations featured robotics, biofuels, and a build it/plan it cooperative activity. They had a fabulous time and many return year after year.

Contact your local chapter of the Society of Women Engineers to see if there are similar Girls in Engineering events in your area.  You may also wish to read my earlier post for tips on Encouraging Girls in STEM.