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Science Project Handbook

Used in Collier County Schools, Florida.
Created and Compiled by Cathy & Terry Cavanaugh.

Choose a topic


bullet Why a Science Project?
bullet Expectations
bullet Project Timeline
bullet Glossary of Terms
bullet Categories of Projects
bullet Choosing a Topic
bullet Required Forms
bullet Research Report Checklist
bullet Data Notebook Checklist
bullet Display Checklist
bullet The Display
bullet Display Cautions
bullet The Abstract
bullet Judging Criteria
bullet Awards and Opportunities
You know it's natural for people to be curious about the things around them. Science projects attempt to nurture this natural curiosity. Science projects allow students to:
bullet- Design an experience that will enable them to sort out and make meaningful use of scattered knowledge and isolated concepts.
bullet- Take an open and creative approach to problem solving.
bullet- Apply the basic science skills to a specific area of interest. These skills include: communicating, time/space relationships, measuring, observing, classifying, inferring, predicting, interpreting data, identifying variables, formulating hypotheses, and experimenting.
bullet- See relationships and arrive at satisfactory conclusions based on their observations and experiments.
bullet- Talk about their findings and conclusions.
bullet- Expand interests while new curiosities develop.
bullet- Develop feelings of self-confidence and accomplishment.
bullet- Earn recognition, awards, scholarships, and trips.
This individual science project has standard expectations. They include:

bullet1. Maintaining a scientist's Data Notebook. bullet2. Researching a selected topic. bullet3. Developing an experimental design and carrying out the experimental method of science. bullet4. Completing a written report that includes the problem, purpose, background, hypothesis, procedure, materials, results, conclusion, and a simple bibliography. bullet5. Making a backboard display of required information. bullet6. Orally presenting the project to other students.

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Event:                          Date (approximate): 
 1. Select a topic:		_____ September 
 2. Background research:	_____ October 
 3. Research Plan:		_____ November 
 4. Required Forms:		_____ November 
 5. Begin Experiment:		_____ November 
 6. Data Notebook:		_____ Nov./Dec. 
 7. Finish Experiment:		_____ January 
 8. Project Display:		_____ January 
 9. Turn In Project:		_____ January 
 10. School Science Fair:	_____ February 
 11. County Science Fair:	_____ February 
 12. State Science Fair:	_____ April 
 13. International Science Fair:  _____ May 

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Scientist's Data Notebook:
The student's personal record of all her/his science project ideas, information, notes, events, data, sketches, etc. This book also provides both the teacher and parent a way to monitor the progress of the science project.
The general area of interest explored through the project investigation.
Learning about the topic by reading books, newspapers, magazines, by watching TV, films, or filmstrips, and by interviewing people who are knowledgeable regarding the topic. Information gathered by the student is to be incorporated into a 2 - 5 page formally written report.
This is the specific problem the student is investigating. It should be stated in the form of a question.
This is a statement about what the student is attempting to find out by doing the experiment.
Through the student's research she/he becomes educated enough to make a guess as to what the experiment will show. This is not a random guess, but an educated scientific guess made prior to experimentation.
The step-by-step description of the entire experiment. Notes, paragraphs, diagrams, timelines, etc. are used to maintain detailed records. Even errors and "disasters" are to be included. (Example: Plant #3 fell off the windowsill and broke on December 3.)
A list of everything used while running the experiment including chemicals, equipment, organisms, etc.
The factor or condition in the experiment which the student changes on purpose.
All other factors in the Experiment which the student attempts to keep the same. These conditions should be controlled so they do not change.
The student's observations of everything that happens during the experiment. Measurements should be included whenever possible, even if the student has to create a form of measuring (such as Jane's Rust Scale 1 - 10). Repetition of the experiment provides more convincing results. Results are often displayed in the form of tables, graphs, photographs, etc.
A paragraph written by the student which tells what her/his experiment demonstrated in answer to the problem.
The student's written summary of her/his experimental investigation with emphasis on purpose, procedure, and conclusion. A form will be provided by the teacher when the abstract is due.
Specific requirements and suggestions for making the display will be sent home at a later date.
Research Report:
Contains all of the above information with a Table of Contents. The student should use the formal writing procedure and be as neat as possible. The Data Notebook is to be turned in separately and NOT recopied.

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  1. Behavioral and Social Sciences: Psychology, most surveys, archaeology, animal behavior.
  2. Biochemistry: proteins, DNA, enzymes, food chemistry, photosynthesis.
  3. Botany: plants, plant pathogens, plant genetics, algae.
  4. Chemistry: fuels, pesticides, soil chemistry. plastics.
  5. Computer Science: information systems & theory, coding, encryption.
  6. Earth and Space Science: rocks, minerals, astronomy, oceanography, weather.
  7. Engineering: power transmission, electronics, heating, aeronautics.
  8. Environmental Sciences: pollution sources & impacts, ecology.
  9. Mathematics: statistics, logic, probability, number theory.
  10. Medicine and Health: drugs, pathology, sanitation, allergies.
  11. Microbiology: bacteria, viruses, protozoa, fungi.
  12. Physics: acoustics, magnetism, electricity, light.
  13. Zoology: animals, circadian rhythms, physiology

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bulletThink about your own hobbies and interests.
bulletAsk adults for Ideas.
bulletLook through scientific magazines.
bulletAsk science teachers for topic lists.
bulletLook in the library at experiment books.
bulletRead books and newspapers.
bulletLook for problems that need to be solved
bulletLook for a product that you think should be tested
bulletThink of a question that you would like answered from a survey.
bullet Of course, use the WWW!!

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The required forms must be completed and approved before starting any experiment. Forms are available from your science teacher or school science fair director.
Students should keep all original forms and only turn in copies.

A. No humans, no vertebrate, no       A. The research plan only.
 possibly harmful chemicals,
 no possibly harmful organisms. 
B. Humans involved in a survey.       B.  Research plan, Human subject 
                                           form, Informed consent form.
C. Humans involved in experiments.    C.  Research plan, Human subject
                                           form, Informed consent form,
                                           Qualified scientist form.
 D. Vertebrate non-human animals.     D.  Research plan, Qualified
                                           scientist form, Vertebrate
                                           animal form.
E. Harmful chemicals                  E.  Research plan, Qualified
                                            scientist form.
F. Harmful organisms &                F.  Research plan, Qualified                                
 microorganisms (like disease-causing 		scientist form.
 bacteria, poisonous  plants, etc.) 
G.  Multi year projects               G. Current and previous years  forms.                                          

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The research Report is in addition to the information you put on the display backboard. The research Report is placed on the floor of the project. In this report you can go into much more detail than is shown on the display. Include more pictures and more written details which you learned from reading or talking to professionals in your experiment. Also include any materials you sent away for or newspaper articles. The entire Research Report should be typed or written neatly in manuscript form.
bullet Title page (name, address, or school identification)
bullet Table of contents
bullet Background (This should be MORE extensive than the one page summary found on your backboard)
bullet Purpose ( A statement of the reason for doing the experiment)
bullet Problem ( A question the experiment will answer)
bullet Hypothesis (An educated guess about the outcome of the experiment)
bullet Procedure (The steps in doing the experiment)
bullet Materials (Supplies used in the experiment)
bullet Results * (These are written paragraphs describing graphs and charts which are on the backboard)
bullet Conclusion (Your summary of what was learned from the experiment)
bullet Application (How this experiment can benefit us or be used in a real-life situation)
bullet Recommendations (Possible improvements which could be done to make the experiment more valid or additional experiments which can be done due to the results of this experiment)
bullet Summary Interviews/Credits (Interviews of professionals who have given you some insight into your experiment. These are optional)
bullet Glossary (We suggest a minimum of 10 (ten) words defined to help understand technical terminology involved in the experiment)
bullet Bibliography (This should be complete and include ALL sources)
bullet*The bibliography must include the following information: for all books, magazines, newspapers, etc. that you use as a reference for your project: Authors (last name first), Title of Article, Title of Publication, Volume Number, Place of Publication, Publishing Company, Date of Publication, Page Numbers used.
bullet*Written neatly in ink on one side of the paper or typed using manuscript form.
bullet*Data Notebook contains the original observations taken while doing the experiment.
bullet*Data found on the backboard are neat graphs and charts summarizing the Data Notebook information. Results are paragraphs summarizing this same information.

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The Data Notebook is where you write step by step everything you do in your experiment and everything that you observe during your experiment. This notebook is NOT to be recopied. It should be displayed in your original handwriting. The pages are all numbered and you record the date you did the work. The Data Notebook should be placed on the table in front of your display.

bullet Title Page
bullet Date on every page and time of day if applicable
bullet Pages numbered
bullet All measurements in Metric
bullet Write in DETAIL everything you do!!!
15 November, 1996 
I purchased 6 orange trees from a local garden shop. 
 The trees were of the following heights and tagged
 with numbers 1-6. 
Tree #1---106 cm		Tree #4---107 cm 
Tree #2---111 cm		Tree #5---109 cm 
Tree #3---112 cm		Tree #6---118 cm 
Three trees were planted outside with no protection from the frost. The other three trees were covered at the base with ten (10) cm of foam rubber.

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The following items are required to be on the display. This will be checked during the qualifying of your project before any judging takes place. board display

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bullet Title
bullet Purpose
bullet Problem
bullet Hypothesis
bullet Procedures and Steps (pictures are optional)
bullet Background
bullet Data
bullet Conclusion
bullet Abstract/Bibliography (MUST use the required format, and must be in the lower left corner of the display)
bulletMATERIAL: Make the backboard from any sturdy material. It must stand by itself. Plywood, pressed board, heavy weight cardboard, Styrofoam sheets would be a good choice. Assemble any sections with hinges or strong wide tape.
bulletDIMENSIONS: DO NOT make your display any larger than necessary. Contest rules give the following maximum dimensions: 4 feet wide (122 cm); 9 feet from the floor (274 cm); and 30 inches deep (76 cm). Table height is 76 cm from the floor. Your display may be smaller than this, but will be disqualified if any larger.
bulletCOLOR: Before you go any further, decide what colors you will use. If your backboard needs painting, an enamel paint works best. Choose contrasting colors for lettering. Also choose contrasting colors for mounting your pictures, written material and graphs.
bulletLETTERING: The title to your project and the titles to the parts of your experiment should be easily readable from a distance. Lettering may be cut out of construction paper or poster board and attached to the blackboard. Vinyl lettering comes in various sizes and colors and may be used on the display.
bulletNOTE: Before attaching anything to your backboard, place your board flat on the floor and lay out all the lettering and written material, graphs, pictures, etc. DO NOT attach anything until you are sure that you have room for everything and that all of your material looks neat and centered.

  1. TITLE: This should be to the point using scientific terminology.
  2. BACKGROUND: This is a one page summary about the topic being investigated.
  3. PURPOSE: This is a statement indicating what your project will investigate.
  4. HYPOTHESIS: A statement made BEFORE doing the experiment telling what you think will happen. This is based on what you learned while gathering information on your background. This should be in an "If............., then........." form and should answer the problem. (i.e. IF I place radish seeds in the dark, THEN they will not germinate.)
  5. PROCEDURE AND STEPS: These are detailed steps on how you actually did the experiment. Labeled and mounted pictures are a valuable asset.
  6. DATA: Graphs and charts summarizing data collected throughout the experiment.
  7. CONCLUSION: This is a summarizing paragraph explaining why you think you got the result you did and what further investigations you could do related to this project and any practical applications.
  8. ABSTRACT/BIBLIOGRAPHY: There is a required format to use (see bibliography page). This is an overall summary of 250-300 words about your project. It should explain what the researcher was trying to do, what actually happened, and of what significance are the actual findings. Use the words the researcher, the investigator, or the exhibitor and write the abstract in the past tense. Do not use "I" or "you." You will need several copies of your abstract/bibliography one of which MUST be on the display, in the lower left corner.

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  1. NO pictures of dead or dissected animals are allowed on the display or in notebooks near the display. A student can have a separate photo notebook for judging, but must carry it with him/her at all times. Do NOT leave it with the display.
  2. The following items are NOT ALLOWED to be with your display. This is where you should take pictures during your experimentation.*
    bulletNO live animals or plants
    bullet NO bacteria
    bullet NO molds or fungi
    bullet NO flammable apparatus
    bullet NO toxic chemicals
    bullet NO soil
    bullet NO liquids or dry ice
    bullet NO edible substances
    bullet NO syringes or pipettes
    bullet NO preserved animals or parts
    bullet NO human parts

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The Abstract:

bulletYour Last Name, First Name, and Middle Initial
bulletYour Home Address
bulletSponsoring Teacher, School, and City
bulletResearch Advisor, Institution, and Location (If you have one)
  1. The entire abstract must fit on one page with the bibliography, and must be approximately 250 words.
  2. Type single spaced in black.
  3. Use 1.5-inch margins, and no smaller than size 10 font.
  4. The abstract is a summary of your project which should include, in paragraph form:
    bulletA statement of the hypothesis
    bulletMethods and Procedures (what you did)
    bulletObservations, results, conclusions, and other important information about measurements, predictions, variables, etc.
bulletMake copies of the Abstract/Bibliography as follows:
bulletFour copies with the science fair entry form
bulletOne copy on the display board on the lower left side
bulletKeep the original in your report
bulletReference List:
bulletList major sources of information here, in bibliography form.
bulletInclude interviews.
bulletList 3 or 4 of your main sources and include the complete list in your report

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  1. CREATIVE ABILITY: Is this an original idea or an original approach to a new idea? Both are good. Did you show ingenuity in the materials, apparatus and techniques or did you just buy a kit? Did you demonstrate the ability to improvise and adapt? Is the project a collection, is it a purposeful one?
  2. SCIENTIFIC THOUGHT: Does your exhibit show: organized procedures, accurate observations, controlled experiments, cause and effect reasoning, theories, analysis and synthesis? Weight is given to the likely amount of real study and effort represented in the exhibit. The project cannot be just a demonstration or an attractive display.
  3. THOROUGHNESS: How completely have you explored or studied the problem? You should record evidence you have gathered as data in notebooks, journals, or log books. Include bibliographies, charts, tables, and graphs. Be sure to identify experimental organisms and/or apparatus.
  4. SKILL: Is your workmanship good? Do you show evidence of mastery of techniques? Did you construct your own apparatus? Overall construction and "look" of the project should be neat, organized, easy to read, sturdy, and self supporting.
  5. CLARITY: Does the display clearly explain what you did? A neatly written, well organized backboard that is easy to follow provides clarity. Things which insure clarity are: labels, guide marks, well written descriptions, emphasis on important items, labeled graphs, labeled tables, legends underneath graphs and tables. Which of these does your display have?

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Awards and Opportunities

Each year thousands of students participate in science fairs across their state and around the world. A student who is interested in science as a subject and possibly as a career should be aware of the benefits available.
bulletThe chance to travel to new areas for competitions.
bulletMeeting new people, including student scientists, professional scientists, and representatives from science-related businesses.
bulletWinning place awards or special prizes.
bulletReceiving scholarships of all amounts to study science at a wide variety of colleges and universities.
bulletOffers of summer jobs or internships with business.

Award Samples Collier County Science Fair Awards:
bulletTrips to State Science Fair
bulletUS Navy Prizes
bulletShowboard Gifts
bulletBay Days Savings Bonds
Florida State Science Fair Awards:
bulletTrips to International Science Fair
bulletSummer jobs with NASA, Lucent Technologies
bulletScholarships totaling over $335,000
bulletTrips to Wilderness Leadership School
bulletMilitary recognition
bulletSavings bonds, equipment and other prizes
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Copyright 2006 Drs.Cavanaugh  Last modified: March 06, 2008