The Non-Scientist Parent's Guide to Science Fair Projects
Types of Science Projects
There are basically five different types of science projects, a fact that is often overlooked on the little half sheet of paper that tells you when your child's project is due. It's very important that you read the directions from your teacher and/or the science fair, and make sure that the project your child chooses fits into the right category.
1. Investigative projects - Most science fairs require students to submit an investigative (sometimes called investigatory) science project. This project requires an experiment that tests an hypothesis. The experiment must follow the scientific method, and often will require that a control group be established. (Don't worry - we explain these vocabulary words here.)
An example of an investigative project would be "How does salt affect the boiling point of water?" This can easily be tested by our experiment which adds different amounts of salt to water and recording the temperature at which it boils.
If you see the words experiment, scientific method, control and/or variable on the project instructions, you'll probably need an investigative project. For some strange reason, most science project books don't give a lot of projects in this category, which is why we developed the 24 Hour Science Project guides.
2. Demonstration projects - In this type of project a student will actually demonstrate a scientific principal, and lots of time the teacher wants it presented in front of the class as an oral report. There is no true experiment performed, because there won't be a control or different variables.
Our project The Yeast Beast, one of our Watch This! Science Projects is an example of a demonstration project. In it, the student adds yeast and sugar to a bottle of warm water, puts a balloon on top, and shows the class what happens. (The balloon blows up!) Other projects could demonstrate static electricity, viscosity, or osmosis.
3. Research project - Years ago, this was called a 'doing a science report'. Students look up information on a topic, and write a paper on what they discovered. Any type of science topic can be used for a research project. The internet has made this process a whole lot easier!
4. Models - For a model project, models are built to explain a scientific principle or structure. Models of rockets, the solar system, and volcanoes are common models. Other models represent a scientific process, such as erosion. For models of dinosaurs and fossils, we recommend Dino-Star. You'll find for constructing volcanos, models of the solar system, simulated eco-systems and more at HobbyTron.
5. Collections - In this type of project a collection of objects is displayed to give an overview of a topic. An example would be a leaf collection or a display showing many different types of simple machines. HobbyTron is a great starting point for getting ideas and equipment for your project collection!
Every school has different requirements for science projects. As you search for a topic, make sure it's the type of project your school requires.