Tag Archives: science fair help

Science Fair 911 – What If My Results Are Wrong?

By Blog Editor Susan Wells

We take a lot of calls during science fair season and throughout the year from students and their parents for help on projects. One question we receive more than most is a concern when the results of the project didn’t support the hypothesis or have the intended outcome.

Let’s start with the hypothesis. What is a hypothesis?

After you do research on your topic and choose your independent variables, you make an educated guess as to what you think the outcome of the experiment will be. A hypothesis is usually an “I think” statement.

For example, if your project involves testing surfaces in your home for the source of the most bacteria, you will come up with a hypothesis that one will contain the most bacteria.

A sample hypothesis for this experiment could be – “I am testing the bacteria levels on the home phone, the TV remote, bathroom sink faucet and door handle. I think the door handle will have the most bacteria. ”

Conduct your experiment and test the bacteria levels swabbing each surface using a Bacteria Growing Kit. Wait about a week and check your cultures.

What if the door handle sample had a lot of bacteria, but the TV remote had twice the amount?

The experiment did not support your hypothesis.

First, don’t panic.

And don’t be tempted to switch the lids to show your hypothesis to be true. Your results aren’t wrong and your hypothesis isn’t wrong. There isn’t a wrong or right in science experimentation.

Keep in mind that your hypothesis was an educated guess. Your project was to conduct a scientific experiment and find results. The results are what is most important. Being right or proving your hypothesis is not.

What if your friend also conducted the same experiment at their home and found their phone contained the most bacteria?  Or you followed an experiment you found online and did not get the same results?

Again, don’t panic. Your results are your results.

Instead of thinking in right or wrong terms, you think more in supported vs. unsupported. Your results supported your hypothesis or your hypothesis was unsupported by your results.

Science  is about finding an answer through experimentation. A hypothesis will help give you a direction, but this is a situation where having the “right” answer isn’t important.

What if every scientist was more concerned about being right vs. true scientific discovery? What if scientists switched the lids on their Petri dishes so they could match past results? Science would no longer be rooted in facts and would instead be based on feeling. We would not have the knowledge and understanding about our world that we do, thanks to scientific research and discovery.

So own your results, whether they prove your hypothesis correct or refute it. The most important thing about science is not getting it “right,” but making a discovery through experimentation. Just make sure in your conclusion section, you explain how your hypothesis was refuted and why you think that is the case.

Science Fair 911 – Tips for Teachers

By Guest Blogger Debbie Leibold 

So, you’re about to assign science fair projects to your students… now what? No need to worry, the Spangler Science team has some tips to make the science fair fun, interesting, and educational for your students (and easier for you)!

  • First and foremost, if you are excited about the science fair, your students are sure to share your enthusiasm. Making science an integral part of your classroom throughout the year will help ignite students’ interest during science fair season.
  • Consider modeling a science fair experiment for the class.  By doing so, your students will see firsthand how to come up with a hypothesis, create some tests to see the effect of a variable, and learn the difference between a demonstration and an experiment.  If your class science fair project was going on around the same time that your students were working on their own projects at home, the gathering of data, making charts and graphs, and developing conclusions that you do as a class would be great practice for your students as they work on their individual projects.  As we all know, practice makes perfect in any sport, musical instrument, job, etc., so why not practice a science fair project before you actually ask kids to do one on their own?
  • Be sure to create a timeline for science fair projects and effectively follow that timeline to completion. Most projects are assigned months in advance of the actual due date, so remember to keep students on pace to complete their projects within the timeline.
  • Effective communication with parents will certainly help ensure timely completion of projects and quality work from your students. Be sure to send a letter home with your students when you begin the science fair process and follow up with parents on the progress of their children’s projects along the way.  It might be helpful to include a description of the difference between a science demonstration and an actual science fair project and the importance of a variable.  Many parents have little to no science background and are truly afraid of the science fair.  The more you can help them understand the process and the components of a good science fair project, the better the final projects will be.
  • Follow up with your students as they work on their individual science fair projects. Make sure their topic is narrow or specific enough, that they have a question they can answer by running some tests, that they have a variable (meaning their experiment is not just a demonstration), and that they have a way to gather data and document their results. A little feedback early on in the process will make for more engaging and higher quality experiments and a more successful science fair.

Creating a grading/ judging rubric will ensure that every project is assessed equally and on the same criteria. Your rubric should address areas such as:

  • Creativity of question
  • Effectiveness of experiment to prove/disprove hypothesis
  • Clarity of presentation
  • Depth of research
  • Appropriate use of scientific method

You might also consider adding a checklist for the science fair display board. This checklist helps your students remember all the sections they need to include in their experiment and will help you as the teacher make sure the scientific method has been followed. The display board checklist should include the following:

What are you trying to find out?
  • Hypothesis–
What do you predict will happen?
  • List of Materials–
What supplies did you use in your experiment?
What steps did you take to run your tests?
What photos, charts, and/or graphs did you include to show your results?
What actually happened? Explain your results.
”So What?” What did you learn? Was your hypothesis correct?

All projects should also include the following:

  • Standardized testing conditions (as much as possible)
  • A control—something that stays the same in your experiment
  • At least one variable—something that changes in your experiment
  • Multiple tests to show comparisons between the control and the variable
  • Technology integration—Excel spreadsheet, chart, graph, Power Point presentation, internet research, blog, etc.

Once you’ve created a rubric and a checklist, share it with your students and their parents as they begin their science fair projects.  Don’t wait to give it to them until the end.  Having the requirements in front of them at the start will ensure that the final projects do what they are supposed to do!

At Steve Spangler Science, we know that all schools and science fairs have different requirements and, as students get older, the requirements change and get much more elaborate.  The science fair information on our site is meant to be a starting point and a source of ideas.  Adapt our format and our suggestions to what works for you and your science fair.

You know your students’ strengths and weaknesses as well as their interests and passions. If you are able to help your students find a project that is meaningful for them and then provide the scientific support they need to complete the project, your students will be excited about the science fair and, more importantly, excited to share their discoveries with others.

Science Fair 911 – Tips for Students

By Blog Editor Susan Wells 

Whether you are required to participate in your school’s science fair or if you are trying to decide whether or not to volunteer to participate, the hardest part of getting started is finding a project.

I have organized my school’s science fair for several years now, and I have found that once the project is picked, the kids are excited and off to the races.

If you are having a hard time finding a project, please read our post about How to Choose a Topic and Project Ideas.

Once you have your topic, it is time to get working on the nitty gritty of the project. The best place to start is with enthusiasm and lots of energy. Find your motivation and dig in. Hopefully you have chosen a topic that you are interested in and excited about. If not, go back and brainstorm.

Our science fair is strictly voluntary and I am always excited and proud of those students who choose to take time out of their busy activity schedules and homework assignments to put together a science project. I love seeing a light in their eyes when they describe what they are planning. For me, that is science fair at its best. Kids getting excited about science and learning – independently, outside of the classroom.

You are excited, you are motivated and you have a topic, now what? Here are a few tips to see you through to the end. Remember, you are a W.I.N.N.E.R.

Start your project by asking “I wonder why?” or “What if?” A little wonder can lead to a big discovery. Remember to think like a scientist and use the scientific method. Before you can find the answer, you have to ask the question. Make sure you choose something that interests you, so that you stay focused and have fun. Get excited about it.

You have your question, now go learn all about your topic. Ask an expert, visit the library, search online. It’s the job of the scientist to build connections between people who know, experiments that tell and discoveries that you make.

Allow for the unexpected and accept that you may find an answer that leads to more questions. If you know the answer before conducting the experiment, then you really don’t have a good question. It is totally fine to arrive at a conclusion that is a complete surprise.

If you reach a conclusion that is different than you expected, that’s okay! Now is the time to start asking more questions… why did my experiment turn out this way? What are some possible explanations for these results? Now you’ve got it… you are on your way to scientific discovery!

This is where you test your ideas.You’re still gathering information that will help you find your answer. When you experiment, things don’t always go as planned. Don’t consider this a failure – it’s just a part of learning. Don’t give up! Keep asking questions and moving forward with your experiment.

Need some help getting past the roadblocks? Ask a teacher or a parent! Don’t be afraid to ask for help… that is one of the best ways to learn, investigate, and grow.

Take notes, draw pictures, take photos, make recordings and share your discoveries with your friends and families. Test your results to ensure that your facts are correct. When you make your big discoveries, you will need the notes and pictures to help pull it all together.

This is the best part of the science fair experience. It’s time to share what you’ve learned with others. Organize your facts, explain your results, and answer your original question. Create posters, write a report, make a video – just share! The wonder grows, the questions come, and the big discoveries follow.




Science Fair 911 – Tips for Parents

By Guest Blogger Debbie Leibold 

“It’s science fair time!”  Those words cause many parents to panic and ask questions like, “How are we going to have time for this?”  “What experiment should my child do?”  “I have no science background–how am I going to help?”  “Where do we begin?”

Don’t panic… help is on the way.  Completing a science fair project is not as difficult as you might think and, believe it or not, it can even be really fun!  Here at Steve Spangler Science we’ve created an entire science fair section on our website to help students, parents, and teachers through the science fair process.  We take you through the process step-by-step, starting with the challenge of choosing a topic and ending with suggestions for the display board and presentation tips.  We discuss the scientific method in detail and guide you through the requirements of any good science fair project.  We also have a science fair experiment library for you to browse and some excellent sample science fair projects.

Our hope is that you will find the resources you need to help your student get excited about science and, ultimately, that your student will discover something new from his or her science fair project.  As a parent, the best thing you can do for your child is to be enthusiastically involved.  Your enthusiasm will be contagious and you might even have some great parent-child bonding over your Color Changing Milk or your UV Color Changing Beads or even your Baby Diaper polymer activity.  Who knows, you might even learn something new, too!

Here are some other tips that will help you through the science fair season:

  • Keep it simple.  Ask your child what he or she wants to do and make sure the activity stays at your child’s level.  Don’t make this your project.  The topic and the experiment need to be age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate for your child.  Your child has to be interested in the topic and be able to discuss it in detail at the science fair.  There is nothing worse than approaching students at the science fair, asking them about their projects, and realizing very quickly that the parent controlled the project or, worse yet, did the project for the child.  The child doesn’t understand what the project was about and can’t explain the science behind the activity.  Especially for a young student, a science fair project about food or sports or music or plants is great!  It doesn’t have to be worthy of Nobel Prize.  It just has to be something that interests your child, follows the scientific method, and tests only one variable at a time.  (For more information on the scientific method and variables, please visit the science fair section at www.SteveSpanglerScience.com or the earlier blog posts in the Science Fair 911 series.)
  • Use household materials.  Again, by keeping your experiment and your materials simple, you should be able to find most of what you need in your home or at the grocery or hardware store.  This will also keep the expenses minimal for your project.
  • Use outside resources for ideas.  There is nothing wrong with browsing the Internet, watching science videos or television programs, or leafing through science experiment books to get your ideas flowing.  Steve Spangler Science is a great resource for experiment ideas, but you also might want to check out Steve’s science videos on YouTube.  When you look at outside resources, just make sure that you don’t copy someone else’s experiment.  Think about how your child could change something about the experiment to make it his or her own.  Copying someone else’s work isn’t cool, but it also isn’t any fun!  What kind of discovery can your child make if the discovery has already been made? The other important question you and your child need to ask when you are looking at outside resources is, “Is this a demonstration or an experiment?”  A science fair project has to be an experiment and not a demo.  It must ask a question, contain a variable, run tests to find an answer, and then generate some conclusions.  For more information on the difference between experiments and demonstrations, please visit the science fair section at www.SteveSpanglerScience.com or check out the earlier blog post in the Science Fair 911 series.
  • Be excited and learn with your child.  Ask your child lots of questions and help your child make his or her own discoveries.  Open-ended questions like, “Why do you think…” or “What do you think would happen if…” are great conversation starters, especially when they are followed by the comment, “Let’s find out!”  Let your child lead the way!  Don’t do the experiment for your child or provide all the answers.  Allow your child to wonder, question, and explore.  Showing a sincere interest in what your child is doing is a great way to support your child and create a meaningful learning experience.

So take a deep breath and relax…it’s science fair time and it’s going to be great!

For more science fair tips, be sure to check back on Steve’s blog next Monday for the next article in the Science Fair 911 series.



How is a Science Fair Judged and Tips for Science Fair Success

Dr, Maille Lyons, The Science Fair Coach

How is a Science Fair Judged?
It might surprise you to learn that there are no rules on how a science fair must be judged.  In an ideal situation, all science fair judges would review all of the projects, and then interview all of the students, and then come to an agreement on the ranking of the overall best projects.  This, however, is generally not going to happen because of time constraints and limits on the number of judges available.  The next best option is to have groups of judges assigned to natural groupings of projects.  For example, some judges would only judge 5th grade projects while others would only judge 6th grade projects.  Alternatively, some judges would only judge biology projects, while others would only judge physics projects.  In both cases, all judges evaluate all projects in their group and come to a consensus regarding the rankings for that type of project.  Realistically, it is more common that each judge evaluates a randomly assigned group of projects, looking to identify the best 2 or 3 projects from their grouping.  Then other judges, or head judges, evaluate the identified projects against each other.  In larger fairs, sometimes the judges identify many great projects, and then discuss each one to narrow the list down to the top number of spots for awards.

For students, it is less important to know how the judging will be coordinated and more important to know if the judging takes place with or without an interview.  Some fairs interview all students, whereas other fairs only interview students whose projects have been identified as potential winners, and then others have no interview at all.  In all cases, the science fair project backboard must be able to communicate the project details without the student there to explain them.  The best way to check if your project board gets that job done, is to ask an adult that is not familiar with your project (e.g. neighbor, friend’s parent, other teacher, coach, etc.) to read your board and figure out what you did.

Tips for success
Generally, judges are nice people, but it only takes one “mean” judge to ruin a student’s science fair experience. Overall, try not to read too much into body language. Scientists, as a group, are not known for their social skills.  For example, sometimes a judge decides the project is really good, but they need to move on to evaluate all the projects they have been assigned, so they abruptly end the interview and go to the next project. Other times, the judge has decided the project is not in the top tier of projects, comments the student did an excellent job presenting it, because they are just trying to be nice, and then moves on.  Preparation is the key to increasing you chances of an enjoyable and successful experience.

Here are 5 tips for the science fair judging interview:

  • Greet your judge – stand up, look at them, shake their hand, and say “It is nice to meet you, my name is…”  If you are particularly shy, this will be hard for you, so you will need to practice it many times.
  • Be able to summarize your project in 2 minutes or less, but also have a longer, more detailed presentation ready in the event that the judge does not have any immediate questions or time constraints.
  • Think of your presentation as telling the judge a story, highlighting the creative or unexpected aspects. If you encountered any problems along the way that you had to solve, describe that process. Judges love the problem solving aspects because it shows you did some thinking as opposed to just following directions from a project website or book.
  • Understand why your project is important, or exciting, or new.  Scientists start every science paper by putting their new work into the context of what we already know. Balance your knowledge with enthusiasm.
  • Dress neatly. While it is possible to win while wearing in ripped jeans and lose while wearing dress clothes, the impression you leave on each judge is critical in determining if they will advocate for your project in the judging room. Your appearance will factor into that impression, even if it is ever so slight. Therefore, find the least dressing thing that you will not fidget in and put it on for a few hours.


About Dr. Maille Lyons
My name is Maille, which is Gaelic and pronounced “Molly”. I won my first science fair in 6th grade at Joseph Case Junior High School in Swansea, Massachusetts. My project was called “The effect of acid rain on house plants”. As luck would have it my science teacher (Mr. Fonseca) was also my soccer coach. I loved doing projects and did a science fair project every year (required or not) up through my senior year. I enjoyed it so much, that I eventually pursued a career in science and now get to do the grown-up equivalent of science fair projects almost every day. Today I am environmental microbiologist specializing in aquatic bacteria (which means I can only respond to posts at night and on week-ends). I have a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology from the University of Massachusetts (UMD), a Master’s Degree in Biology from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), a post-graduate certification in Epidemiology and Biostatistics from Drexel, and a Ph.D. in Oceanography from the University of Connecticut (UCONN). 

Dr. Lyons shares science fair tips, tricks and advice on her blog, Science Fair Coach