By Joe Kanooga
To get really good science fair projects from pre-packaged kits takes some creativity, but it can be done. Though many kids science kits are designed with specific experiments in mind and may even come with detailed instructions, it’s probably best to approach the kit as a set of tools that will help you in your own unique research. With this approach, a great kids science kit can help you stand out from other science fair projects.
For instance, one student selected a “miniature greenhouse” science kit, which contained seeds, a flat plastic container of soil, and a clear plastic “greenhouse” lid. He made his experiment unique. He did not study how little he could water with the lid compared to without. Instead, he covered the clear plastic with various colors of translucent plastic to test the effects of colored light on the growth rate of his seedlings.
The most important thing to remember when starting your project is to choose a question you are genuinely interested in, or relates to something you are interested in. Hone your question down making it as precise and concise as possible. Continue to seek simplicity in carrying out your experiment. Question yourself at every stage. Is there any way to get the data in fewer steps or a simpler way? Is there a less complicated way to understand things? Is there a more straightforward way to explain the observations?
Another tip, which should be obvious: Do your own work! Don’t let your science partner take over; don’t even let mom or dad take over. This is your project and if they do it instead, you will only be embarrassed come judging day. The experiment, no matter how nicely it turned out will feel like a lie when you try to explain to the judges all about “your” research. Be a real scientist and do the work yourself. Then, when the big day comes, you will be able to take genuine pride in your research. You will speak with a familiarity you’ve earned all about the details of “my project.”
Start early! Even if you have a pre-assembled kids science kit, which can reduce the workload of an experiment, it is still a good idea to start early. To really learn anything usually requires a series of measurements taken over time. Starting early not only shows responsibility, it allows you the time needed to really gather enough data. It allows you to pursue new angles if you learn anything unexpected, or start over if something goes wrong in one of your trials. Good science fair projects can take several weeks or even more, for planning, setup, and performing the experiment. So start early.
In addition to choosing a kids science kit, you will need to find research sources for background information and ideas. The Internet is an excellent starting point, but also visit your local library for more advanced details on your topic. You will need a lab notebook or research journal in which you write down all your observations. Remember, “If it isn’t in the notebook, it didn’t happen.” You will also need a detailed, written plan, including a supply list (this can be the first entry in your notebook).
Good preparation is the key to success. Do your research, gather your supplies, write your plans. And be sure to get people’s permission for everything (even if it’s just a minor bother, such as the fact that your radio will be going several additional hours per day longer than usual, while you test the effects of music on plant growth). With a good question, a simple approach, and thorough preparation, you are off to a great start turning your kids science kit into your first of many successful science fair projects.
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