Elementary and middle school science projects almost always have to be done in the form of an experiment. The trouble for most students is that most of the time, projects that are on the internet or in books are either demonstrations or models. Since they don’t follow the scientific method, neither of these meet the qualifications of the school science fair.
The good news is that many times, a model can be used in an experiment, and variables can be added to a demonstration, so that it can be one, too. Here are five examples of projects that are modified to become an experiment.
– How hot can a solar heater get? – First of all, finding the answer to this question may result in a fire! Make it an experiment by testing two different solar heater models. Construct two identical heaters, one with a glass front, and the other with a plexiglass front. (The instructions are live here.) Measure the temperature over several days, and see which one got the hottest.
– How can you make a potato canon? – This is a fun activity, and it demonstrates how cool science can be, but it doesn’t test anything. How can you turn it into an experiment? Vary the trajectory, and ask, “At which angle will a potato canon launch a potato the farthest?”
– What happens when you mix chalk and lemon juice? – Studying acids and bases is fascinating, but there are no variables – so it’s not an experiment. Change it up. Soak pieces of chalk in water, a basic solution, and an acid, and note the variance in the weight.
– What happens when bean seeds germinate? – This is a great lesson, but what are kids comparing? Turn it into an experiment by testing “At which temperature do bean seeds germinate the best?” Use different watt bulbs to vary the temperature.
– How do bones change when soaked in vinegar? – This is close to an experiment, but the project I saw didn’t have a way to measure the change. The results of a true experiment must be measurable. Come up with a weigh to measure the amount of weight the bones can support before breaking, and you may just win your middle school science fair.
Remember, an experiment is a test of the relationship between two variables that have measurable results that can be replicated. It amazes me that reputable science publications will label any sort of science activity as an experiment. It doesn’t matter that you’re still in middle school type of project isn’t right. You can do better than ‘real’ scientists! Turn a ‘non-experiments’ into middle school projects that will amaze judges, your teachers – and yourself!