Photo above: The Hertford Bridge in Oxford, England. Used by Permission. © Tom Ley 01302 782837

Monday, September 14, 2009

Oh No-the Science Fair Must Go!

It’s that time of year again-time for your student to complete a science fair project! Here is how you can help your child create a project they will want to complete!

To begin, ask your child topic interestes them. If you know they like baseball or skateboarding, start there. If you know they like plants or have said they wonder what would happen if they dropped a piece of candy in water, you have a starting point.

Whatever they pick, start with the topic and then use the following four questions to help them design a question that will serve as the foundation for their experiment:

1. What does __________________ do or how does it act?

2. What materials do you need to design an experiment on ____________?

3. What could you change about the following materials to see if they affect _______________?

4. What will you observe or measure to tell if changing ________________ affects ______________?

Let me model the process for you using my experience last year with my friend’s daughter.

My friend’s daughter, who I will call Beth, is a typical 13 year old. More interested in her friends than doing science, I knew her experiment had to deal with something that interested her. So I began by asking her what she was interested in doing. Her reply: shopping.

Great! So we began with the action of going shopping. What do you do when you shop? (I had to modify the first question to fit with her topic!)

· Buy things-like clothes

· Spend money

Now at this point I have to admit I think she thought I was crazy, but as I said to her-hang with me! From questio one, we picked the action of spending money.

Then using question 2, I asked her-Beth, if we are going to design an experiment around the action of spending money when shopping, what materials would you need? In other words, what would you need, besides money, to go shopping?

Her response:

· a car, a store, a parent to drive you, your friends.

I then asked her if we could use store and friends for the next part of the brainstorming process. So in question three I listed the materials a store and friends and asked Beth if these were the materials we were going to use for our experiment, how we could change them to see if they had any effect on spending money while shopping. She said:
store: change the type of store (department store/chain story (like Wal-Mart),

price range of the store, location of the store (near home or far away)

With regards to friends and what could be changed: gender of her friends (boys or girls)

I stopper her right there and asked her if she wanted to design her question picking gender as what she was going to change in her experiment. I then pointed out to her that she had just identified the independent variable for her experiment. Since we were only going to look at gender, we would have to keep everything else the same-which she recognized were the constants of the experiment.

Lastly I asked her if she was going to design her question for her experiment around gender, what could she observe or measure to see if gender had any affect on spending money when shopping? Her response, after some thought, was to measure the number of times they went shopping or even measure the amount of money they spent.

Cool! When given the choice, she selected the amount of money spent. After about 15 minutes, she had her question for her science fair experiment: What was the affect of gender on the amount of money spent shopping? So in other words, do girls spend more money than boys?

All we had to do was to try and create as fair of a test as possible which meant she had to have equal numbers of boys and girls and preferably around 25 cases each. She decided to track their spending habits as they pertained to shopping-we chose for clothes for three to four months. Because she was doing an experiment that involved human subjects, we talked about getting approval from the school’s review board and having parents sign a release form acknowledging they were aware their child was participating in her study.

Now I know this may not be the most scientific of a study. But was my friend’s daughter excited? Did she learn the concept of designing a fair test? Yes! Could she identify the variables in her study? Did she understand how math was going to be used to communicate her findings?

Try using these four questions to help your child develop their experiment!

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