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It All Starts With an Idea

Part II: Tips on how to find inspiration for your project

If you have a hobby, interest or curiosity but aren’t sure how it could inspire a science project, following these steps can help:

·      Keep an Idea Journal.  We ask ourselves questions all day long. Usually we don’t notice when we do it. We probably don’t think of those questions as science either. But those little questions are often unique to us – and can lead to bigger questions that are different from anyone else’s. Keep a pad of paper handy and jot down all the questions you have about what you see, experience or can’t fully understand. Inspiration might strike while you’re at sports or music practice, while you watch a younger sibling or while you look out the window.

·      Get out in the field. If you’re interested in recycling, go to a recycling plant. If you’re interested in fish, go to a big-city aquarium. If you’re interested in birds, take a pair of binoculars and go to a forest or field. Visiting these places will produce all kinds of questions that could lead to projects.

·      Read science articles. If you aren’t sure what interests you most, try reading about a wide variety of science topics. Science News for Students and Science News are both great places to start. Also visit the periodicals room at your local library. Checking out a variety of magazines that focus on science should help you find a topic of interest. In general, reading extensively will provide you an opportunity to go beyond what you see every day. It also may spur an interest in new areas.

The web also can help in generating project ideas. Many projects are fun to do and a great learning experience, even if they have been done before. You can find the directions on how to do many of them from websites such as those below. 

We designed this guide for parents who want to help their children with science fair projects. It includes a guide to completing a science fair project, as well as videos that highlight the projects completed by finalists in one of SSP’s three science competitions.

At SSP, we maintain this science resources page to support independent research by students. The page links to resources designed to help students get started with a science fair project. It also suggests opportunities to further enhance science education.

Science Buddies is a non-profit organization that provides science fair ideas, resources, answers and tools. It also hosts a science fair project guide and an ask-an-expert online bulletin board, staffed by volunteer scientists and top high school students.

The Archimedes Initiative provides a very useful series of online videos that feature students discussing the various aspects of a science fair project. The topics range from formulating a hypothesis to decoding data.

An Internet-based public library, called ipl2, includes a comprehensive science fair project guide with links to multiple web resources.

Many federal and state government agencies, including NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey, provide online science fair guides. The NASA site, for example, uses a series of online videos to guide students through the steps in preparing for a science fair. To search for other guides, try limiting your search to government-hosted websites. You can do that using any search engine, by just adding “site:.gov” to the end of your search term or terms. For example, to search for science fair project information on government websites, type “science fair project site:.gov” into a search engine.

Of course, simply adopting someone else’s idea as your own might not be that rewarding. Instead, consider why you are doing a science project. If you want to ask a new question or want to be able to compete with the project as your own, you should consider using the ideas available in books or on websites as an example. Then ask your own, unique version of that question. You can further personalize your project by formulating your own hypothesis, selecting your own variables and, of course, collecting your own data.        

Another thing to keep in mind: If it turns out that you enjoy research, you may wish to conduct tests on a related theme for more than one year. Indeed, some scientists and engineers work on the same basic type of studies for decades. That’s because results of their first test may suggest how something might be altered to make something work better. Making those changes and testing again can be the basis for a new but related project that allows you to dig deeper into understanding the science or engineering that explains the phenomena you are exploring. And this also argues why it pays to choose a research topic that really interests you — because you might be tempted to continue testing, revising your hypothesis and testing again over many months or years. This article describes students who did just that.

Next: The Basics

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