Science fair project ideas needed.
October 3, 2007 2:34 PM   Subscribe

I need ideas for a science fair project for a 6 year old and an 8 year old girl. The more wacky, interesting, ambitious, and unique, the better.
posted by gummo to Education (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I did the effect of classical music on plant growth. It looks pretty impressive too. You have plants, chats, photos day 1 day 2, etc. It's a really easy project as long as you keep logging info.

Also, I apologize if this sounds dickish but I thought of my project on my own. Your kids should too. I remember there being an obvious difference between a project that a kid thought up himself and something the parents invested in more than the kid.

It's okay if a science project doesn't work. It's science!!!!! and they're not expected to find a cure for cancer.
posted by spec80 at 2:45 PM on October 3, 2007

These girls will get a lot more out of doing their science fair projects if they pick a topic they find at least somewhat interesting. Ask them, "What is something you wonder about in the world?" If they can't think of anything, offer them a choice of several things they have shown interest in in the past. Gardening, questions about the atmosphere, the stars, how radios work ... but let them come up with something, they will get so much more out of it. Don't worry about it being ambitious.

Of course, they will get even more out of it if you don't do the project for them. Just for others who find this tag in the future.

When I've judged/attended the statewide science fair, it was always pretty obvious which projects were done by the kids, and which ones the kids had way to much help with.
posted by yohko at 2:47 PM on October 3, 2007

They would for sure do it themselves.

And I wasn't really looking for one idea that I'd latch onto and then make them do. More like, looking for a bunch of ideas. Dozens. To hopefully spark some interest in something that they would like. More like a big list of possibilities to get their mind moving.

Thanks for the input.
posted by gummo at 2:59 PM on October 3, 2007

We always did science projects that involved breaking things or building catapults or building bridges and then seeing how much weight they could support before breaking. Lots of fun! The best was when my boy built different types of lego structures, dropped them from various heights, and documented which structures survived the drop the best. We won 2nd prize every year and he had a lot of fun doing the projects.

This would probably appeal to most boys more than most girls, but maybe your girls would like to have the fun of breaking something for a grade!
posted by aliksd at 3:32 PM on October 3, 2007

I judge local science fairs for that age group every year. The "what does X do to plants" is one of the more frequently visited ideas. It can do very well if the kid executes well, but we almost never mark it highly for originality.

The absolute best projects are something the kid has an almost unhealthy obsession with. We've had one kid we've seen a few years running who is fascinated by the idea of burning trash to generate energy. He's entered progressively more complex and complete versions of the same project for the past several fairs. It's been fascinating to watch. He came in second or third last year, if I remember right. He has always won some award.

A good project can be anything really.

The basic structure of a good project is this:

1. A clear question. It really doesn't matter what it is, but it has to be testable. This is probably the biggest deficiency we see in projects. Note that when they devise their experiments that they should control for the null hypothesis. It's really easy for kids to read effects into negative results. What happens if you don't do anything to your beans?

2. Does the kid understand the project? What do their results say? This is unfortunately where a lot of kids fall down, and it can usually be cured by reading an encyclopaedia entry. Parent coaching can make a difference here. Ask your kids a couple of questions about that their results mean. If this changes, what does that mean to the effects they observed? Why did that happen?

3. Presentation is important too. If the kids can speak well and communicate their results, they'll often at least get an honorable mention.

A winning project will have all of these components.

Some projects that stood out (in the 10-12 age group) in the past few fairs:

-How much gas do you save by going inside rather than using the drive through window?
-Do eye exercises really reduce eye strain?
-Which mouthwash works best? (done with culture plates)
-Do antibacterial soaps really work better? (again with the plates)
-What Playground Surface Material Would Best Reduce The Impact Of A Childs Head? (done with bowling balls and styrofoam helmets)
-Does the cost of a golf ball make a difference in how far it goes?
-Which has cleaner exhaust, a car or a bus? (he used bedsheets to filter the exhausts of several vehicles)

One last thing: PBS and many other sites on the net have project "kits". These often produce very slick-looking projects, but with almost not input on the kid's part. If your kid comes up with one of these, try to get them to change their plan. The kit projects are easy to figure out---we've seen most of them several times---and they never score highly.
posted by bonehead at 3:51 PM on October 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

Take a look at the Internet Public Library's Experiments & Science Fair Projects section - it collects a whole bunch of ideas, and the links have all been vetted by librarians.
posted by needled at 4:01 PM on October 3, 2007

Oh, and while you're at the IPL also check out their Science Fair Project Resource Guide.
posted by needled at 4:07 PM on October 3, 2007

the exploratorium is a pretty good resource for this kind of Q.
posted by twistofrhyme at 4:14 PM on October 3, 2007

I once did a project on germs where I took little bowls of tomato soup and did different things to them. One I boiled and then covered in plastic; one boiled and not covered; one I spit in; one I touched with my finger; one went in the fridge; I might have added something to some of them. Observe.

I also did a project about different kinds of glue - elmers, wood, super, homemade - and tested to see what kinds of materials each one held best. I don't remember what the results were, but I remember being surprised at the answer.
posted by dpx.mfx at 4:38 PM on October 3, 2007

I loved science fair when I was younger; did pretty well too, actually.

The projects I remember were one involving simple machines (pulleys, inclined planes, levers) and the mechanical advantage they resulted in, and the other great one was when I built a little scale model of a Maglev train.

Just think outside the box--the best projects were the ones that weren't overdone. Everyone and their brother has grown crystals (yes, I did that one) and a few of the other really simple ones (the plant example was good).

If you need any more help throughout your project, as far as presentation or whatever goes, I'm sure everyone here would love to help...and if you want, my email is in my profile, I'd be glad to help you as well.
posted by DMan at 7:52 PM on October 3, 2007

When I was about that age I bought a bunch of different sort of rocks and saw which ones reacted to hydrogen peroxide. It was a cool project because it caused weird fizzy reactions which I photographed.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 9:49 PM on October 3, 2007

How about isolating DNA from an onion(you get tons).
posted by Mr. Gunn at 7:36 AM on October 4, 2007

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