How to Help Your Child Choose a Science Fair Project

education books

You can just about hear the groans from parents and students alike as science fair time rolls around again. No other annual event on the academic calendar is approached with as much dread and panic as the science fair.

Contrary to popular belief, schools don’t hold these events to drive already overburdened parents over the edge. The primary reason for having students take part is to give them a chance to do an in-depth study of a topic that couldn’t ordinarily be done in the limited amount of time allotted for science class. It also gives advanced students an opportunity to go beyond the topics of the science syllabus for their grade to explore an area of personal interest.

Because of the multidisciplinary nature of these projects, students not only gain experience in the scientific method, but they also improve their math and English skills as well.

In fact, taking part in the science fair develops:

  1. Experimentation skills
  2. Logical thinking and problem-solving skills
  3. Writing and public speaking abilities
  4. Advanced research skills
  5. Understanding of the discipline of science and careers in science

So with so much potential good that can come from participating, why do science fairs sometimes turn into a parent’s worst nightmare? The reason is that many parents don’t understand what their role should be, and how to use that role to guide their child. Instead of being a motivator and a catalyst for their child’s creativity, they become the project manager, directing what should be done and how to do it. In the worst case scenario, it becomes the parent’s science fair project, and the child’s only role is to carry it into school and mouth the words that have been written out for them.

To help you understand your role, two academics agreed to talk to TH about what to do when your child says, “What should I do for the science fair?”

The first comment is from science teacher John Owsley:

“Although I am a science teacher who does a ton of demos and other hands-on things, I have historically been terrible about helping my own two kids come up with science projects. I guess it’s that old adage about ‘the cobbler’s kids going barefoot.’ My dilemma was always trying to not project what I thought was cool, interesting, and worth exploring, vs. what they thought was interesting, cool, and worth exploring.

“Simply put, I tended to ask each of them a lot of guiding questions, often starting with things that I knew they were curious about. If that didn’t pan out, I’d ask them to look around and notice things around them for a day. I’d ask them to look for patterns, or to wonder about ’causes and effects’ of things they saw in their day-to-day worlds.

“The Internet is obviously a great source for science projects, but finding and emailing teachers who post on the Internet is an often overlooked option. Most of us have tons of demos that only use common every day things, and are usually fairly easy to set up. If a student can figure out a concept/principle/cause and effect they want to explore, the next step might be searching the ‘net for ’science demos’ about that topic. The next step might be finding a science teacher on the ‘net and emailing them asking for demos, or at least leads on demos. Most teachers are real suckers for answering students’ questions, even when they are not our own students.”

Richard Bavaria, Ph.D., former high school teacher, and assistant superintendent, is currently Senior Vice President for Education Outreach for Sylvan Learning. Here’s his methodology for finding an age-appropriate science fair project:

“1. Interests. What are your child’s interests? Spend some time talking to him about interesting topics that might spark his imagination. There are many timely topics that you can point to in newspapers, magazines or on the Internet. Ecology and the environment are particularly timely, and kids of all ages can discover projects that are appropriate for their level of sophistication. Other topics could relate to geology (rock collecting), chemistry (a cool experiment), or biology (a favorite animal). Each one has a wide range of subjects that span elementary to high school talents. It’s important to steer your child to a topic that motivates him.

2. Research. There are lots of places to find age-appropriate science topics. Again, the Internet is always a good start. You can also go to the library and investigate general interest magazines like National Geographic, Popular Mechanics, and Science. Flip through them for ideas, and visit their Web sites. Check out the Web sites of well-known museums and visit their kids’ pages. The Smithsonian, for instance, has some very interesting kid-centered ideas. The Discovery Channel Web site is one of my favorites, too.

3.  Independence. Try to remember, this is your child’s project, not yours. Support her, lead her, motivate her even nag her when it’s necessary (toward deadline time, especially), but the project is hers. That’s why it’s important for her to choose a topic that’s interesting and challenging for her age and knowledge. Help her to manage her time, to break down a big project into smaller ones, and to keep on track. She’ll be proud of herself, her skills, and her project when it’s all done. Celebrate with her.”

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.