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How to Select a Science Fair Project Topic

Advice for Finding a Great Idea

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The key to finding a great idea is start looking early and think about what interests you.

The key to finding a great idea is start looking early and think about what interests you.

Andreas Rentz, Getty Images

Great science fair projects don't need to be expensive or difficult. Even so, science fair projects can be very stressful and frustrating for students, parents, and teachers! Here are some tips for coming up with science fair project ideas, deciding how to turn an idea into a clever project, performing the science fair project, writing a meaningful report about it, and presenting a great-looking, sturdy display.

The key to getting the most out of your science fair project is to start working on it as soon as possible! If you wait until the last minute you will feel rushed, which leads to feelings of frustration and anxiety, which makes good science harder than it needs to be. These steps for developing a science project work, even if you procrastinate until the last possible minute, but your experience won't be as much fun!

Science Fair Project Ideas

Some people are brimming with great science project ideas. If you are one of those lucky students, feel free to skip to the next page. If, on the other hand, the brainstorming part of the project is your first hurdle, read on! Coming up with ideas isn't a matter of brilliance. It's a matter of practice! Don't try to come up with only one idea and make it work. Come up with lots of ideas. First:

Think about what interests you.
If your science project is restricted to a subject, then think about your interests within those limits. This is a chemistry site, so I'll use chemistry as an example. Chemistry is a huge, broad category. Are you interested in foods? properties of materials? toxins? drugs? chemical reactions? salt? tasting colas? Go through everything you can think of that relates to your broad topic and write down anything that sounds interesting to you. Don't be timid. Give yourself a brainstorming time limit (like 15 minutes), enlist the help of friends, and don't stop thinking or writing until the time is up. If you can't think of anything that interests you about your subject (hey, some classes are required, but not everyone's cup of tea, right?), then force yourself to think up and write down every topic under that subject until your time is up. Write down broad topics, write down specific topics. Write anything that comes to mind - have fun!

Think of a testable question.
See, there are LOTS of ideas! If you were desperate, you had to resort to ideas on websites or in your textbook, but you should have some ideas for projects. Now, you need to narrow them down and refine your idea into a workable project. Science is based on the scientific method, which means you need to come up with a testable hypothesis for a good project. Basically, you need to find a question about your topic that you can test to find an answer. Look over your idea list (don't be afraid to add to it at any time or cross off items that you don't like... it's your list, after all) and write down questions that you can ask and can test. There are some questions you can't answer because you don't have the time or the materials or the permission to test. With respect to time, think of a question that can be tested over a fairly short time span. Avoid panic and don't try to answer questions that take most of the time you have for the entire project. An example of a question that can be answered quickly: Can cats be right or left pawed? It's a simple yes or no question. You can get preliminary data (assuming you have a cat and a toy or treats) in a matter of seconds, and then determine how you will construct a more formal experiment. (My data indicates yes, a cat can have a paw preference. My cat is left-pawed, just in case you are wondering.) This example illustrates a couple of points. First, yes/no, positive/negative, more/less/same, quantitative questions are easier to test/answer than value, judgement, or qualitative questions. Second, a simple test is better than a complicated test. If you can, plan to test one simple question. If you combine variables (Like determining whether paw use varies between males and females or according to age), you will make your project infinitely more difficult. Here's the first chemistry question that came to my mind (that I can test): What concentration of salt (NaCl) needs to be in water before I can taste it? I have a calculator, measuring utensils, water, salt, tongue, pen, and paper. I'm set! I can think of a zillion ways to add to this question (Does having a cold affect my taste of salt? Does my taste sensitivity change at different times of the day/month? Does sensitivity vary between individuals?). Got some questions? Proceed to the next section on experimental design.

Still stumped? Take a break and go back to the brainstorming section later. If you are having a mental block, you need to relax in order to overcome it. Do something that relaxes you, whatever that may be. Play a game, take a bath, go shopping, exercise, meditate, do housework... as long as you get your mind off of the subject for a bit. Come back to it later. Enlist help from family and friends. Repeat as necessary and then continue to the next step.

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