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The project display board is how you present your project at the science fair. What goes into a well-organized and effective project display board?

Anatomy of a Project Display Board

For additional information related to doing a science fair project display board (and keeping notes along the way that make the whole process even easier), see the following:

Elmer's Products, Inc. is a proud sponsor of Science Buddies resources for K-12 STEM education.



Kids Read Science News

A new website feature at Science Buddies, sponsored by the Cisco Foundation, brings science news to students. With the news feed, students can easily locate science news stories related to a project or an area of science interest.

News feed on project
Students will find links to related science news articles on the "Background" and "Learn More" tabs of Project Ideas at Science Buddies.

Read All About It! Read Science News at Science Buddies

Science Buddies continues to expand its resources and offerings and introduce exciting new features to make the website easier to use for the millions of students, teachers, and parents who turn to www.sciencebuddies.org each year for science project guidance and inspiration. The recent addition of a science news feed that pulls in science news articles from trusted science sources like Science News, Science News for Students, Scientific American, EurekAlert!, and NASA makes Science Buddies a single-stop destination for locating a great student science project or for reading science news on a topic of interest or related to a chosen project.

Students visiting the Science Buddies website will see science news articles in a variety of spots on the website. While viewing a project, students will see related news stories on the "Background" and "Learn More" tabs. (See the screenshot above to see how the news feed is integrated on the "Background" tab of a Project Idea.) While there may be times when the articles shown are not a perfect match for the science content of the project, in general, the articles will be relevant to the area of science or project. These related real-world science stories and science news articles can help students discover additional reading that may supplement their background research or may open up new angles of inquiry and interest related to what is happening in current science news.

When searching the Science Buddies site, students will see news stories mixed in with general search results. Science news-specific search results can also be viewed using the "News" tab. (When students need to hone in on a specific kind of search result, they can easily filter the search results by using the tabs to limit the results. For example, students can use the "Project Ideas" or "Project Resources" tabs to view only those types of results.)

How prevalent the ratio of news reports to science projects ideas (and other resources) is in a set of search results depends on the search terms entered. In the example shown below, searching on a relatively specific phrase, "diabetes pump," brings up a Science Buddies Project idea first, followed by a number of science news articles.

News feed listing in search results
Above: science news articles now appear in search results when students search at Science Buddies. Students can access a "news-only" list of results by clicking the "News" tab.

Searching, instead, on a broad term like "robotics" brings up a large number of Science Buddies projects first. In the sample search shown below on the left, no science news articles appeared on the first screen of general results. Clicking the "News" tab shows science news articles that match the search terms.

Search results for news feed Search results for news feed

When students click on a news story, they are given a bit of additional information about the story, including the approximate reading level. When searching for news articles, students can filter their search results to limit or include results based on how recently an article was published. (See the "News published in the past..." filter box in the screenshot shown above on the right.)

Get Your Students Reading Science News!

If you require related reading for a project or encourage students to do additional reading in an area of interest, give the news feed a try. Try a fun "science news" assignment or in-class exercise and see what your students discover. Give your students an area of science and ten minutes at the computer, and have them each find a related article that they can share (at least by headline) with the class.

To read more about the vector space model used to set up the news feed, visit the Learn More About the News Feed page.

Support for the development and implementation of the news feed was provided by the Cisco Foundation.



You don't have to wait until the last minute to start the project display board for a science fair project. A great board takes planning, and you can do a good deal of preliminary legwork getting your board ready even before the project is complete!

Science Fair Project Display Boards - Examples and tips for getting a head start on the process
Above: Students share their science projects with project display boards. See these students' stories: Galactic Curiosity and A Crash Course Science Project.

The Project Display Guide resource at Science Buddies, sponsored by Elmer's Products, Inc., contains a wealth of information to help students who are putting together a display board to share their science fair project. The standard tri-fold project display board unfolds to a pretty substantial three by four feet. This leaves students who are used to working with much smaller pieces of paper and cardboard with a lot of space to fill, but there is a good bit of information to include on the science project display board!

From the abstract to the hypothesis to the procedure, data, conclusion, and acknowledgments (or bibliography), there are a number of sections (more than those just listed!) that make an appearance on most project display boards for K-12 science fair presentation. In addition to required elements, your board might include photographs, data charts, or other visual elements to help draw viewers to your board for a closer look and to more clearly show and help viewers visualize what your project was about and what you discovered.

Every board will be different, and the choices you make about how you present your project can make a big difference in how the project is received by viewers. Will you mat your sections? Will you hand letter your headline, or will you use cutout letters? Will you add photographs or drawings? Will you cover your board with a colored paper? What typeface will you use to print your section titles?

The display board is your chance to really show off your project, and while you can unleash your creativity designing and decorating the board, you can also create a very nice and effective board without adding lots of extras, as long as you pay careful attention to guidelines regarding the size of the type for headlines, subheads, and information that viewers will be reading in each section. Attention to details like these can make a big difference in the success of a board. Finding and sticking with some kind of color scheme can also be a good strategy and can help visually organize elements of your board into a cohesive display.

So when should you start?

The display board is often presented as an end stage in the process of doing a science fair project. It reality, it cannot be completed until after you have fully finished your experimentation. That doesn't mean you have to wait until the end to get started though!

Planning Ahead for the Display Board

While parts of the science fair project display board cannot be completed until the project is over and the data has been analyzed, conclusions drawn, and thoughts on future research (or how the project went and what the student might do differently if she did it again) formulated, there are many steps a student can take to begin preparing the board even while the project is still underway. This can be especially helpful if the project is long (being conducted over a number of weeks), if there is a delay in getting materials, if a problem is encountered that puts the project temporarily on hold, or if the project was started late.

Using teacher-provided guidelines for the project display board sections or the general diagram in the Science Buddies guide, students can prepare the headline and subheads for the board at any point in the process. Similarly, some of the overview, summary, and pre-testing sections can be typed up, printed out, and mounted on the board early in the process.

Plan Your Board, and Follow the Plan!

A great tip for working on the board is to sketch out your plan first on a piece of paper, just drawing in boxes for the headline, subheads, and sections that you plan to incorporate on the board so that you can see how you want to organize your information (and how you can fit in all the necessary information required by your teacher). On your sketch, make note of spots where you plan to use photos or other visual elements like charts. This blueprint of your board will help keep you on track and will also give you a sense of how much information you have so that you can be sure everything fits.

Using information in the Project Display Board Guide, you can make decisions about the size of your elements, printed sections, headlines, and subheads, as well as think through what size photos you will need and whether or not you plan to add other creative elements to the board.

With a clear plan in hand, you can start typing in parts of your board information early on, formatting it to meet your sizing needs, mounting it (if you plan to mat your sections), and getting it ready for the board even while you are still testing and gathering data. Use your preliminary display board sketch as a checklist, and mark off each section as you complete it to help you see, at a glance, what sections you still need to complete.

This head start on the Project Display Board can make finishing up the project for the fair or class assignment deadline a breeze!

In the Project Display Board resource, students will also find information on materials and construction (what to use and how to make it all stick), a gallery of samples, and a checklist that can help guide the process of putting together the board.

See also: Perfecting the Project Display Board

Elmer's Products, Inc. is the official classroom sponsor of Science Buddies.



Teachers may or may not be tweeting their science lesson plans or sharing every hands-on engineering classroom activity at Facebook, but they are finding inspiration and community at Pinterest, where discovering new ideas and approaches to teaching is fun, visual, and easy. See it. Like it? Pin it for later. As a virtual bookmarking and filing cabinet system, Pinterest gets an A+ from many teachers—and is helping this teacher with classroom science and math planning.

Christi Woods / a teacher using Pinterest for science education and classroom planning

Pinning Classroom Ideas

Teacher Christi Woods (above) says that Pinterest is one of the few sites always open in a browser when she is working at home. At the visual bookmarking site, she finds all kinds of inspiration for science, technology, engineering, and math education—including Science Buddies!

Classroom scientific method poster

Bringing the Scientific Method into Classrooms

Thanks to support from Elmer's Products, Inc., many teachers in the Science Buddies community received a copy of the classroom Scientific Method Poster (shown above). Christi says her poster has already been helpful in the classroom. "I referred to ours each day as the steps were used and reviewed with each science experiment we covered."

In the photo below, two students consult the scientific method poster while working on an in-class project.

Students consulting classroom scientific method poster
No matter what your profession, you probably frequent at least one social media site or online hangout where you indulge your need for news, social happenings, and, maybe, a steady stream of professional ideas, inspiration, resources, and support. For Christi Woods, a 5th grade teacher at Normandy Elementary School in Ohio, Pinterest is her social media spot of choice, one of the few browser tabs guaranteed to be open when she is working on her computer at home.

Christi is not alone. While many pinners are busy pinning hairstyles, home decorating ideas, wedding themes, and food, food, and more food, there are thousands of education-oriented pins and boards. With boards ranging from grade-specific collections like First Grade Fun, Second Grade Smiles, and Third Grade Troop to boards devoted to specific core curriculum subjects and themes (e.g., science, math, robotics) or grade ranges (e.g., middle school science), teachers have raced onto the Pinterest scene, virtual thumbtacks and staplers at the ready, and are actively pinning away.

The Teacher's Bulletin Board Gets a High-tech Update

Recognizing that teachers have gravitated to Pinterest for bookmarking handouts, printables, assignments, resources, bulletin board and class organization ideas, and more, Pinterest launched a specific set of curated boards for teachers last fall. The teachers hub may have been an experiment, but, today, the "Teachers on Pinterest" board collection has attracted more than 77 thousand followers. While there are other teacher-specific social media networks trying to draw teachers in, teachers appear to be comfortable at Pinterest and inspired by the easy exchange and sharing of information that happens through pinning and pin surfing.

With more than 70 million users worldwide, the soon-to-be-four-years-old visual bookmarking site has rapidly climbed the ranks of social media hotspots. Able to create and organize boards on any topic they want, pinners routinely scan pins, and repin ones of interest, adding them to their own specialized boards. As pinners repin pins that catch their attention, pins circulate, over and over. With each repin, other pinners may see the content in their streams, repin, and, in doing so, pass pins on to a new group of viewers. The site makes is very easy for users to "repin" content to a personal board. Pinners can add a comment, if they want. But it isn't required. Just click "repin," choose the board where you want to stick the pin, and the pin immediately floats to the top of the stream for your followers.

From the outside, pinners can pin fresh content they discover on Internet pages, stashing information for later reference or helping curate a certain category or topic for their own followers. With multiple ways to pin, share, and reshare content, Pinterest creates an elegant, and very visual, circular flow of information, one with an unlimited number of intake points for introducing new content.

While the visual grid of Pinterest has a bulletin board system at its core, the sheer size of the collections of pins amassed by many pinners quickly transforms any "board" idea into a giant filing cabinet system. Nice search features, easy visibility to "similar" pins, and the ability to discover new pinners based on others who have pinned the same kind of information make Pinterest easy to use—and, for many pinners, hard to put down.

Science Buddies @Pinterest

As a trusted resource in science education and hands-on science fair project ideas and materials for more than a decade, Science Buddies boasts more than 15 million student, teacher, and parent visitors each year—and more than 1,200 hands-on project ideas for students.

In an effort to keep members of the Science Buddies community up to date with Science Buddies content and inspired about science education, in ways that are most convenient to them, Science Buddies maintains an active presence at Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest. Through any of these popular social media sites, followers can easily stay in touch with Science Buddies and catch highlights of popular projects, see stories about student successes, and catch posts that tie science news and popular culture into science education.

Excited about the potential of Pinterest as a way to help share, highlight, and curate science, technology, engineering, and math education content, Science Buddies has been pinning project ideas, blog posts, and updated student, teacher, and parent resources at Pinterest for more than a year. Science Buddies maintains a giant K-12 science project ideas board for teachers and parents who want to see everything, regardless of grade. At the same time, because many teachers are looking specifically for activities and ideas for students in certain grades, Science Buddies has grade-specific and thematic boards, too.

When Christi contacted Science Buddies with a question about classroom scientific method posters, she mentioned that she follows Science Buddies at Pinterest. We were excited to hear from a teacher who had noticed Science Buddies in her streams at Pinterest. When we talked further with Christi, it was interesting to discover that she knows Science Buddies from Pinterest. She wasn't first a member of the Science Buddies community who then started following Science Buddies at Pinterest. Instead, she learned about Science Buddies first from Pinterest, and Pinterest remains the way she keeps up to date with Science Buddies.

Teachers Pinning Science

Christi, who celebrates her twenty-fifth year of teaching this year, says she doesn't use Facebook or Twitter, but Pinterest is a staple stop for her, both for personal inspiration and idea bookmarking and for science and math lesson planning. "We, my team and I, try to incorporate hands on activities, especially in science, as often as we can," says Christi. "The kids love that best," she continues, noting that at her school, hands-on science education and active learning is widely practiced in the elementary grades.

Pinterest helps Christi mine for fresh ideas and new approaches. "I try to find ways to supplement our science texts and make things more interesting and engaging by using experiments, helpful anchor charts, and interesting lessons I find [on Pinterest]," explains Christi. "Along with pinning experiments that come from the Science Buddies site, I will often pin ideas that come up on my home page if they meet my curriculum needs, are ideas that are different than what I already use, and are ideas I think are unique."

Like many schools, Christi says that her school limits access to certain kinds of sites, including Pinterest. She was able to get special permission to access Pinterest from school, but she says most of her Pinterest browsing and pinning happens at home. "I pretty much am on Pinterest on a daily basis during the school year and on my days off! I am the first to admit to being addicted," she says, adding a smiley face. "However, I use it much more for classroom use than for personal use. Whenever I am working on my laptop at home, Pinterest (along with my school email, personal email, and ProTeacher) is one of the tabs I usually have open at all times."

Science Buddies in the Classroom

For Christi, Pinterest is where her teaching intersects with the wide range of materials at Science Buddies. But all fifth grade teachers at Christi's school also now have classroom Scientific Method Posters in their rooms, thanks to support from Elmer's® Products, Inc., which made a limited number of posters available to teachers last year. While Science Buddies was new to Christi, she says that when she told her students about the posters, she saw a few "head nods" in recognition of the online destination point for student science, technology, engineering, and math project ideas and resources. "I believe they, or their older siblings, have used the site for science project ideas before."

As her school approaches its science fair season later this year, Christi says she will be suggesting Science Buddies to both her students and her colleagues.

Some of the many Science Buddies boards at Pinterest
The screenshot above shows some of the many Science Buddies boards at Pinterest. To follow Science Buddies at Pinterest, visit www.pinterest.com/ScienceBuddies and click "Follow All" (or click "Follow Board" for individual boards)!

Note: Free Scientific Method Posters are not currently available. There is a downloadable version of the Scientific Method Poster in the Teacher Area that teachers can download and print.

Elmer's Products, Inc. is the official classroom sponsor of Science Buddies. For a full range of display boards and adhesives that can help as students get ready to showcase their science projects, visit Elmer's!



As administrators and school boards around the country consider the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), Science Buddies is helping teachers begin ramping up, now, for some of the ways in which traditional classroom science projects and assignments may change.

Scientific method and engineering design charts

Side-by-side Comparison

Science Buddies teacher resources and blog posts help teachers prepare to incorporate the engineering design process more widely in their classes.

Rhode Island, Kansas, Maryland, Vermont, and California are among the small handful of states that have already adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), a set of standards for teaching science that were finalized last April. As states continue to evaluate the standards, and as adopting states begin to put together roadmaps for implementation, teachers around the U.S. will find themselves hearing more about the engineering design process.

The following Science Buddies posts are designed to help teachers think about the new cohabitation of scientific method and engineering design processes both conceptually and through concrete, side-by-side, comparison of the methods and what it means to have a student complete a project following one approach versus the other:

How will you approach the incorporation of engineering design in your classroom? Do you already teach the engineering method? Email us at blog@sciencebuddies.org and let us know.



Teachers tasked with adapting science lesson plans to meet new standards that place increased emphasis on engineering design as a critical scientific practice need real-world resources to help them integrate engineering design in the classroom. Teaching and celebrating the engineering method is a positive change in K-12 science education, and Science Buddies can help teachers sort out the differences between scientific and engineering methods—and how the methods may play out in student projects and at the science fair.

Last week, we offered an overview of the importance of the engineering design process in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). As NGSS are rolled out and integrated in classrooms, teachers will need to rapidly embrace the engineering design process and its role in science education—whether they teach "engineering" or not.

The following question is representative of the kinds of questions and concerns a science teacher might have when grappling with what it means to add the engineering design process into the mix of hands-on science education.

I am a little confused with the engineering design project. Are the students who do that actually typing a report also? I know what a finished science project looks like. What should a finished engineering project look like? What do they turn in?

Have you asked this question? Have you overheard a conversation like this one in the teacher's lounge? Have you limited the range of acceptable projects for your classroom assignments or for the school science fair to ones that fit the scientific method because you were not sure how to fit the other ones in?

For teachers who have always taught the scientific method, there may be some uncertainty about suddenly opening things up to accommodate engineering, and the emphasis on creativity, problem solving, prototyping, and design testing that comes with it. The good news is that a teacher's familiarity with the scientific method process makes it easy to conceptualize the engineering design method as a similar-but-different series of steps. This is not something only for physics, electronics, and robotics teachers! With a bit of change in perspective and an understanding of the ways in which the "labels" of certain steps change to reflect the difference in process, approach, and goal, teachers may find engineering design projects easier to incorporate than they anticipate.

But adopting the engineering design process does require a willingness to accept that not every project will fit the same mold, and not every project will have a conclusive answer.

A Side by Side Comparison

Both the scientific method and the engineering method (or engineering design process) are typically represented as a set of steps that help guide a project, investigation, innovation, or experiment. The terminology and phrasing of these steps may vary on different sites and resources, but the general progression of steps can be identified. Students and professionals will also engage in these steps at different levels. Our goal at Science Buddies is to help explain the umbrella of each method as it may play out in a typical student science or engineering project.

Presenting and comparing the basic idealized steps of each method, side by side, is one way to help students, teachers, and parents visualize the similarities and differences

Scientific and Engineering method chart steps
Above: Basic idealized steps of the scientific method (left) and engineering design process (right). View full-sized diagrams in the Steps of the Scientific Method and The Engineering Design Process resources.

As you can see, there are some immediate differences between the methods. One involves a question. One involves a problem. It may sound like semantics, but projects following each method start at a different point and with different assumptions. Starting with a question suggests that a project will be constructed as a way to find an answer by performing a test or experiment. Starting with a problem, on the other hand, sets an engineering design project up to find a solution—the development of something that can address the needs of the problem.

The differences, beginning with the project's point of origin, trickle down through the steps of each method. Even so, when you look more closely, a student turning in results, a paper, or a presentation of an engineering design project would turn in something very similar to what a student conducting an experiment following the scientific method might submit. Part of the shift is in the labeling of the information to be included. The table below shows what a student might turn in for both a standard science project and an engineering design project.

Scientific MethodEngineering Method
Title page.Title page.
Table of contents.Table of contents.
Question, variables, and hypothesis. Statement (instead of a question) about the need to design something that fulfills xyz need.
Summary of what will be built to address the need and the specific design specifications the solution will fulfill (instead of a hypothesis).
Specifications against which the solution will be judged successful or not (instead of variables).
Background research. (Research paper written before experiment.)Background research. (Research paper written before starting to identify the problem. This research documents what solutions exist, what has been tried, and what science might be applied to a new approach.)
Materials list.Materials list.
Experimental procedure.Documentation of how the student built and tested the prototype(s) or finished solution.
Data analysis and discussion.Results of field testing of prototype(s) or finished solution. What was observed and/or measured? How did the prototype(s) or finished product measure up against the original design specifications? Did it achieve the goal? Show the data either way.
Conclusions. How successful was the prototype(s) or finished solution? Did it perform as intended? Why or why not? What were the design and implementation challenges?
Ideas for future research. What could have gone better in the design process? How could the design be improved with further prototyping/testing?
Project display board.Project display board.

For another helpful resource and tool for visualizing the difference between engineering design and scientific method projects, see "Comparing the Engineering Design Process and the Scientific Method."

See also: New Science Standards Emphasize the Engineering Design Process



The Next Generation Science Standards encourage a multi-dimensional view of science education, one that highlights the importance of students learning to use the engineering design process—as well as the scientific method.

Egg Drop Project / Teacher Dropping Egg from Height

Science and Engineering Methods Side by Side in Next Generation Science Standards

A classic physics activity challenges students to discover how to keep an egg from breaking when dropped from a certain height. Using the scientific method, a student may initially hypothesize that the egg will break! Subsequent variations of the hypothesis might posit that x material will provide better shock absorption than y material. An experimental procedure is then established to test.

Using the engineering design process, students accept that the egg will break unless a solution is devised to protect it. Students then move on to brainstorming, prototyping, testing, and refining a solution created specifically to meet the need—and protect the egg. (Image: Wikipedia.)

The much-discussed Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), finalized last spring, signal broad-spectrum change in K-12 science curriculum. Among the foundational tenets of the NGSS is an integrated, circular model of learning that involves a continuous flow between three "dimensions": practices (scientific and engineering methods), cross-cutting concepts (e.g., cause and effect; energy and matter; stability and change), and disciplinary core ideas. According to the NGSS framework, every standard will sit within the three dimensions, offering a new, integrated, and experiential approach to science education, an approach in which learning and application of science builds upon and extends previous learning and experience as students progress through grade levels.

Central to the NGSS is new attention to the importance of familiarizing students with the engineering design process—and giving them opportunities in which to use the engineering design process (or engineering "method") as a way to apply science, technology, engineering, and math to challenges or problems. The NSTA summarizes the NGSS this way: "The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) establish learning expectations for students that integrate three important dimensions—science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts—effectively builds science concepts from kindergarten through 12th grade, and integrates important concepts of engineering."

The engineering design process is, of course, not new. Within certain fields, principles of the engineering design process are critical to everyday exploration, research, and invention, and countless examples of innovation and discovery throughout history have roots in the engineering design process. What is new, however, is a national educational approach that calls for making room for a design process that helps blueprint innovation alongside the traditional scientific method that seeks an answer to a science question based on testing. Cohabitation of these methods will have broad impact for many classrooms and science fairs that have not, to date, integrated, encouraged, or allowed student engineering design projects. (See the gray box at the bottom of this post for links to helpful Science Buddies Teacher Resources!)

Similar but Different

While both involve a series of somewhat systematic steps, the scientific method and the engineering design process use different sets of steps. The methods resemble one another in that they offer steps which help guide and order exploration or inquiry, but as many students and teachers have discovered, a student's engineering design project cannot always be easily squished into the steps of the scientific method either during the procedure or for the purposes of judging. It is and has been done, yes. Not all science fairs, for example, make specific allowances for engineering design projects, which has left students creatively adapting their engineering project steps and data to fit the scientific method model. With the advent of the NGSS and new validation of the importance of teaching engineering design as a critical "practice" for all students, regardless of whether or not they will pursue fields in science and engineering, ramping up for broader integration of engineering design will be important.

In explaining the "practices" dimension, authors of the NGSS specifically highlight the importance of both methods—and their differences. "Although engineering design is similar to scientific inquiry, there are significant differences. For example, scientific inquiry involves the formulation of a question that can be answered through investigation, while engineering design involves the formulation of a problem that can be solved through design."

By learning to use the separate scientific and engineering "practices," students will be better able to approach a broad range of real-world challenges. In many cases, brainstorming solutions to an engineering challenge requires creative thinking and both the ability and the confidence to think outside a prescribed set of parameters—the proverbial "box." A solution often lies in the pursuit of a new approach that answers a need in a completely new way, or maybe answers in a way that is only slightly different but enough different to have an important or measurable effect. Solving some science problems requires the ability to think independently, to synthesize core principles, and then to find a way to apply (or account for) those principles. Solving many of today's—and tomorrow's—problems will require an engineering mindset, and it is this reality that underlies the weight given to engineering methods in the NGSS.

Unfortunately, in some science education classrooms and settings, creative and innovative thinking has been kept to the periphery, often by necessity. The relationship between curriculum requirements and testing has not always left room for hands-on learning or for learning where different answers and different solutions can be encouraged. Instead, in order to prepare students to fill in the correct circles on standardized tests, there are often rote exercises and labs that students work through, exercises that may pass as active learning. By fulfilling a series of prescribed steps, students see an outcome, but deviating from the steps is not always encouraged, and troubleshooting when something goes wrong is not always required. Approached in this way, hands-on science runs the risk of becoming narrow, linear, and prescribed.

What about all the accidents that led to scientific discovery and breakthrough? What about the fact that changing a single variable might dramatically alter the results of an experiment? What about the questions that arise from the basic test, the "what if" that comes rushing to the surface for an engaged student who wants to take an experiment to the next level?

With the NGSS and the emphasis on multiple dimensions of learning, students may find more latitude for thinking creatively and learning how to apply creativity to science and engineering problems. But there will be many new questions for administrators and teachers. How will science fair requirements change for engineering design projects? How should engineering design projects be graded? What do students conducting an engineering design project turn in?

Scientific method and engineering design charts

Science Buddies Resources for Science Education
The "Comparing the Engineering Design Process and the Scientific Method" resource is one of many tools at Science Buddies designed to support teachers as they include both science and engineering projects in their curriculum and planning.

Employing the Engineering Method

While engineering design shifts focus to innovation, improvement, and problem solving, the method helps guide students in a series of successive steps that include research, brainstorming, prototyping, testing, data analysis, and documentation. The difference is that there is often iterative looping at points in the method as students prototype, test, and then go back and make changes to the design, prototype again, and retest.

In the engineering design process, troubleshooting is not an action that happens when a procedure is not performing as expected; troubleshooting, instead, is a process of determining in what ways a design is not meeting the specified requirements and brainstorming and evaluating ways to modify the design to better address the need and as a result of testing and evaluation of a previous design. Students working on engineering design projects may begin not with a question but with a problem and are asked to simultaneously think creatively and analytically as they search for and test possible solutions.

The Egg Drop: A Classic Exercise

A classic physics assignment requires students to design a solution that will allow an egg to be dropped from a certain height without breaking. The parameters, including the acceptable materials and the height of the drop, waffle from teacher to teacher, but the general concept of the challenge is the same—you have to protect your egg. Your goal is to protect the egg from breaking when dropped from a given height. The problem involves the fact that an egg will break upon impact when dropped from a given height to a hard surface. Understanding and addressing the problem involves synthesizing knowledge about the physics of gravity, free fall, velocity, and acceleration. Add in materials science factors of elasticity, stress, and shock absorption, and you have the makings of a great interdisciplinary and hands-on exploration.

What happens when you drop an egg from a second floor landing?

Can you do anything about it?

What principles of physics come into play?

Is there a way to change the egg's outcome?

What real-world scenarios present similar challenges?

It takes engineering know-how and an understanding of the laws of physics to prototype a solution. But devising an innovative approach to protecting an egg from the combined effects of gravity and impact with a hard landing surface also requires the ability to think creatively. There is no single workable solution to protecting the egg. Instead, many approaches may work. What approach will work best? And why? These are the kinds of questions students ask and think through when selecting a design to prototype.

In asking these questions and designing a solution, students employ the engineering design process. The standard steps of the scientific method provide an ill-fitting rubric for this kind of investigation. The engineering method, on the other hand, offers a map students can follow as they work through the process. What materials will work? What are the benefits of different materials? Does the solution need to fall within a certain price point? How much protection is "too much"? Even when conducted as a short (10-15 minute) in-class challenge with limited materials by individuals or collaborative teams, the engineering method helps students focus the design process as they move from problem to solution. Although in some competitions, testing the prototype is not allowed until the end where it is, truly, a make or break demonstration!

And what happens if the egg breaks? The information and data from the testing can be funneled back into the process for subsequent revisions to the design, prototyping, and re-testing.

From Protecting Eggs to Solving Problems Today and Tomorrow

The challenge as teachers and schools begin adopting and implementing NGSS will be to encourage students to think conceptually about a wide range of problems encountered in the real world, from the need to package fruits in a way that reduces bruising during transport to new designs for more full-featured and comfortable prosthetic limbs; new designs for artificial organs, and other life-saving medical devices; innovations in battery technology to efficiently store green but cyclic energy like solar and wind power; and designing inexpensive and effective carbon sequestration techniques. With the right framework at hand, and familiarity with following steps for both science and engineering projects, what today's students will discover, solve, prove, and create tomorrow is unlimited.

Resources and Tools for Science Fair Coordinators, Judges, and Teachers

In support of the inclusion of engineering design projects in science fair competitions, Science Buddies Teacher and Science Fair Resources include tools and materials to help students incorporate both the scientific and engineering methods in their classrooms.

See the following resources:



For this middle school science teacher, Science Buddies has a front-row seat in the classroom, providing support for hands-on student science fair projects and for curricular and extra-curricular planning.

Student Science Project

Students and Teachers Find Hands-on Science Success with Science Buddies

Angela McDaniel uses the Topic Selection Wizard and Project Library of more than 1,300 hands-on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) project ideas with her students in Moatsville, WV.

In recent years, Angela has had many students succeed with their Science Buddies projects, both in the classroom and at local and regional science fairs. (Pictured above: a former student with her project display board from the The Nose Knows Smell but How About Taste? human biology and health project.)

For Angela McDaniel, a recipient of the 2011 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, and a teacher at Kasson Middle School in Moatsville, WV, Science Buddies is an indispensable resource in helping plan and prepare the school's annual Family Science Night and in supporting students in tackling robust projects for local and regional science fairs. Angela says she has been using Science Buddies for six years, both at her current school and at a previous school, and the site and its wealth of tools for both students and teachers have become an important part of her classroom.

Helping Students Find Perfect (for Them) Projects!

Angela teaches students in grades 5-8, and as her classes begin their journey to the yearly science fair, she spends several days of in-class time with the students on the Science Buddies website. Students are also given the opportunity to use the school's computer lab to browse Project Ideas and resources at Science Buddies.

Like many educators, Angela encourages her students to use the Topic Selection Wizard for assistance in finding a project that is of interest and that is also appropriate in terms of its level of complexity. "I love the grade and difficulty level rating," says Angela. "That way I can assign a student a level, but they still have plenty of choices!"

To help students (and teachers) locate appropriate science Project Ideas, Science Buddies labels each project in terms of its "difficulty." The label does not correlate directly to "grade level" because there are many variables that come into play when determining which projects are suitable for individual students. Not all sixth graders, for example, have the same academic background, skills, or experience, so a project that works for some sixth graders may be too complex (or not challenging enough) for others. The difficulty ranking system takes this into account and helps teachers, students, and parents match projects to a sliding scale of grade levels for which a project may be appropriate.

Angela says the difficulty ratings are particularly helpful because she can assign students different levels of Project Ideas to consider, and she often assigns a "minimum" difficulty ranking. "This works very well for the wide variety of students that I have (mentally impaired, learning disabled, gifted)," she explains. "It also is wonderful for the elementary teachers that I work with when they are looking for something to do with their classes or when I am assisting with our 3rd and 4th grade science fair!"

Inspiring Interest in Science

Dedicated to engaging as many students as possible during their hands-on science projects, Science Buddies believes having a wide range of projects is key to supporting hands-on science and to helping students enjoy their science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) assignments—particularly important for students who do not naturally identify themselves as interested in science. With a growing library of more than 1,300 Project Ideas in more than 30 areas of science, Science Buddies has something for everyone, and the Topic Selection Wizard does a remarkable job in helping match students to projects of interest.

"There are so many topics covering so many disciplines that students are bound to find one they like," says Angela, noting that 85% of her students used a Science Buddies Project Idea for last year's school science fair. Many of her students go on to succeed in science fairs with their projects. At Kasson Middle School, all middle schoolers (grades 5-8) compete in the school science fair. Of the nine top projects at last year's school fair, six were based on Science Buddies projects. Seventh and eighth grade winners at the school science fair go on to the Eastern Regional Science Fair at Davis and Elkins College. Of the projects that progressed to the regional fair, six from Angela's school placed (won an award), four of which were based on Science Buddies Project Ideas.

"We have had great success with students and Science Buddies projects placing at both school and regional level," says Angela. "Students tell me that they like Science Buddies because they can get a whole idea for a project and find variations, as well, to help them make it their own!"

Family Science Night

Getting the Whole Family Involved

Angela uses Science Buddies to help plan a yearly Family Science Night for parents and students. Many teachers organize such science nights to help parents better understand the role of hands-on science and to help set expectations for the year. (Pictured above: students and parents at one of Angela's family science night events.)

The following Science Buddies resources help educators in planning these events:

Emphasizing the Family Connection

In addition to using Science Buddies with her classes for their own projects, Angela turns to Science Buddies when planning activities for the yearly Family Science Night. Science nights vary from school to school. Some schools exhibit student science projects on Family Science Night. Other schools conceptualize the night differently. At Angela's school, Family Science Night is a precursor to the science fair, a family "kick-off" of sorts for the science fair season. "Our family night was set up to get parents and students 'in the mood' for science fair," explains Angela.

With parents and students gathered, Angela walks through the scientific method, explaining how students use the set of steps to approach testing and answering a science question. This year, she used Science Buddies' Bubble-ology Project Idea on Family Science Night. After introducing the project, and on the heels of refreshing attendees about the scientific method, they formulated a hypothesis for the experiment and then broke into groups to do the hands-on testing. Once everyone had completed the "lab" portion of the activity, they regrouped, says Angela, and talked about their findings and the importance of collecting accurate data and drawing conclusions.

Angela also uses Science Buddies with an eCYBERMISSION club she leads, a group that prepares science projects for submission in the U. S. Army's eCYBERMISSION online science fair (open to students in grades 6-9). This year, Angela had eight groups complete projects for eCYBERMISSION. Four of those based their projects on Science Buddies Project Ideas, and one of those teams placed first in the state.

The Changing Face of Science Education

Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) is a critical concern in today's school systems, a concern being underscored even more by the new Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which emphasize the importance of hands-on science and the inclusion of the engineering method in addition to the scientific method. Teachers like Angela are in the trenches trying to sort out and balance changing curriculum with available classroom time and resources, and Science Buddies is dedicated to helping provide quality tools and resources to assist teachers in meeting STEM needs in their K-12 classrooms.

For Angela, the importance of hands-on science and activity learning cannot be understated. "I think that it is essential to 'do science' as often as possible. Students learn that science is applicable to many aspects of life and that many things they do and take for granted every day are 'science experiments.' They also learn the valuable skill of working in a team on a project from inception to conclusion. This is not always a skill they get in other classes."

Students with energetic, excited, and supportive teachers like Angela are fortunate to be putting science and engineering concepts into practice and learning to see and make real-world connections.

Science Buddies is proud to be a key resource for Angela and her students!

Filter Project Ideas by Difficulty
Using Filters to Find Projects at Science Buddies

Science Buddies recently introduced new filters that let students more easily narrow down the list of Project Ideas when browsing the Science Buddies library. With the new filters, students can specify the level of difficulty of Project Ideas they wish to view, as well as other criteria, like the area of science or the length of time required for the project. Learn more...



Take our Science Survey for K-5 Teachers for a chance to win a price pack from Elmer's!
Science night? Science fair? Science lab? Family science event? We want to learn more about science education at your school.

All K-5 teachers who complete our teacher survey will be automatically entered for a chance to win a great prize pack from Elmer's (pictured above).



Life Technologies' InnovatioNation helps introduce students to biotechnology and to the role of science in addressing global concerns. Teachers participating in InnovatioNation use Science Buddies to help support the science curriculum and their school science fair.

InnovatioNation Logo
Life Technologies Foundation's InnovatioNation Program helps teachers introduce biotechnology in their classrooms and connects Life Technologies' employees to the "future scientists" in their communities. Judith Carlstrom was one of seven teachers who participated in the InnovatioNation pilot program.

When North Broadway School received their state test scores from last spring, the impact of the increased science curriculum was dramatic. The school's science score showed tremendous improvement, increasing from 65% to 86%. "Our principal is ecstatic," says Judith. "We are the stars of the school. Life Technologies foundation made a big difference!"

To support teachers who are taking part in InnovatioNation, Science Buddies has created a dedicated resource with suggested projects that fit the InnovatioNation modules for 5th, 7th, and 9th grade classrooms.

For Judith Carlstrom, a teacher at North Broadway School in Escondido, CA, teaching science curriculum to prepare students for state-mandated testing has become a focus for her and her colleagues who also teach fourth and fifth grade. Responding to the national call for increased science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, Judith says she and the other teachers "have made a concerted effort" to meet STEM curriculum requirements, including hiring a lab teacher who meets with fourth and fifth grade classes each Friday. The materials and hands-on exposure the students get on Fridays in the lab is reinforced in their classrooms throughout the week, which supports an active-learning model that Judith feels is particularly important for elementary learners.

Despite their efforts to boost science literacy, Judith says she and the other teachers were "overwhelmed" when they realized that one of the requirements for taking part in Life Technology's InnovatioNation program is to hold either a family science night or a school science fair. The program, designed for fifth, seventh, and ninth grade teachers and classrooms, supports teachers looking to enhance their STEM curriculum by introducing students to the world of biotechnology and exposing students to areas of life sciences, including genetics, agricultural engineering, and regenerative medicine. In addition, InnovatioNation helps students better understand what it is like to "be" a scientist, highlights the importance of philanthropy through service, and shows students how science can be used to address both global and community challenges. Through InnovatioNation, Life Technologies encourages employees to volunteer in their communities and to make connections with the students who will become the scientists of tomorrow.

Invited to participate in the InnovatioNation pilot program, Judith and the teachers at North Broadway School were excited by the prospect of InnovatioNation. The science fair requirement was a concern, but Life Technologies assured them that schools like North Broadway can successfully organize a science fair and guide students in preparing science fair projects. Up to the challenge, Judith spearheaded the school's participation in the program.

On Board with InnovatioNation

The InnovatioNation program is designed to intersect with a teacher's regular curriculum during a twelve-week period. In the semester before the InnovatioNation pilot began, Judith met with Life Technologies to fine tune North Broadway's fifth-grade science curriculum in preparation for the science that would be covered as part of InnovatioNation. To help support Judith in the integration of the fifth-grade InnovatioNation science module, the program provided a full set of classroom materials. "I received a full binder complete with timelines, pre- and post-tests, lessons, and information about Science Buddies," says Judith.

Judith's class studied cells and cellular function during the Fall semester as part of their regular science curriculum. They were then ready to tackle introductory genetics in the Spring, when Judith taught two InnovatioNation-provided genetics lessons involving Punnett squares, a diagram that helps visually represent principles of Mendelian inheritance. This was entirely new material for Judith's students, and material that would not ordinarily have made its way into her classroom. But her students responded eagerly.

"My students were fascinated by the idea of constructing an individual but became predictably riotous when I asked if anyone wanted to volunteer as 'Mom' and 'Dad' to determine the eye and hair color of their offspring." Familiar with this typical elementary-school response to "boy/girl" issues, Judith wasn't fazed. Drawing from a jar of "name sticks" she uses as part of her classroom environment, she randomly paired up the students so they could track through the genetics. The activity was a success. "They loved it," says Judith.

Judith's class then took a sponsored field trip to Life Technologies. Due to budget limitations, this was her class's only field trip of the year, so there was plenty of excitement as the students boarded busses for their on-site tour of Life Technologies in Carlsbad, CA. During the three-hour tour, Judith's students wore lab coats given to them as part of the field trip and rotated between three different stations created to highlight science careers, community service, and what a science company and lab really looks like. "The fact that not one in ninety students ever asked to use the bathroom or said they were hungry during that time speaks highly of their level of engagement," says Judith. "I can't tell you enough how unusual that is."

One of the stations Judith's students visited at Life Technologies engaged them in a community service project where they helped package high-protein meals. "They worked in an assembly line, and teams of ten raced each other," says Judith. "They managed to package over 7,000 meals." Beyond the satisfaction and reward of helping with a large-scale community service project, Judith says she and her colleagues thought the assembly-line experience "would convince them of the value of higher education." Instead, the food packaging project "was their favorite activity," she notes, "which reminded us of how ten-year olds still prefer 'doing' to 'listening.'"

2012-SS_InnovatioNation_fieldtrip_1.png 2012-SS_InnovatioNation_fieldtrip_4.png
Students visited Life Technologies where they helped with a community service project
and got a chance to experience a real lab environment.

Despite the fun they had racing each other to package foods, Judith says the students were enthusiastic about the other stations, one of which involved a tour of the Life Technologies labs and one which gave them a chance to interview scientists to find out more about their day-to-day work and what it really "means" to be a scientist. After the field trip, Judith and the other teachers had their students write about the experience, about the stations they visited, and about what they learned. From their comments, Judith says it was clear that the field trip was eye opening and meaningful. "Their writing revealed many ways in which their understanding of a scientist's daily life was altered," by what they saw and learned at Life Technologies, and what struck them was wide-ranging, says Judith. Things that stood out for her students included "the fact that employees walked on treadmills during meetings, the fact that every item in a lab station was outlined in blue tape, the fact that everything had to be kept clean to the point of having sticky mats at the doorways, and the way in which bacteria is 'grown.'"

After the field trip, Life Technologies volunteers came to the school and presented a one-hour lesson to each class focused on the problem of producing enough food in certain parts of the world to feed the local population. After a presentation on the problem, the students were divided up for a hands-on activity that both encouraged global thinking and social consciousness and also highlighted the role of biotechnology in helping address problems like world hunger. Each small group was "given the life story of a child with a description of his/her particular town or village somewhere in the world where the people are struggling to find a way to grow crops in their particular climate and habitat," explains Judith.

Using materials brought in by Life Technologies, "the students [studied] the growing requirements of various food crops to determine which traits would be a good match for the given habitat." After identifying the kinds of crops and traits that might succeed in the environment, they used "cloning scissors" to make a paper-based "clone" of a genetically engineered crop suited to the environment. The final component of the lesson involved having the students count bacteria on live trays so they could observe the results of cloning, a hands-on experience that offered a concrete look at the kind of biotechnology they had been talking about and hypothesizing using their paper-based crop models.

The Value of a Science Fair

The final activity related to InnovatioNation was the school science fair, the first for Judith's school, and the source of Judith's initial concern about taking part in InnovatioNation. "Our students did not yet understand how to formulate a testable question or how to conduct a controlled experiment," explains Judith. "But we knew that these skills were critical to understanding what it is to be a scientist, so we carved out the time to guide them through the process."


"We very much appreciated the support that the Science Buddies website gave to us, both in presenting a plethora of experiments to choose from and [providing] thorough explanations of the components of an experiment." ~ Judith Carlstrom, North Broadway School

Part of the solution for teachers at North Broadway, involved their students spending time in another lab—the computer lab—and using resources available at Science Buddies. "My students used the Topic Selection Wizard and truly enjoyed looking for an experiment and printing it out," says Judith. As her students learned more about the scientific process, Judith handed out copies of key resource pages from the Science Buddies Project Guide, like how to construct a hypothesis statement, to help as they moved through the steps of the scientific method.

The science fair was held in conjunction with the school's end-of-year Open House. Volunteers from Life Technologies were on hand to judge the entries from the three fifth grade classes, using Science Buddies' Project Judging Scorecard for Elementary School. (See other  project scoring and grading rubrics.) Judith says the students were very excited about presenting their projects at the fair and "wore their lab coats from the Life Technologies field trip all day long." Following review and judging of all projects, three awards and a "special award" were presented in each class. "The students who emerged as winners, with the clearest explanation of the science behind their experiment, were not those you might have predicted," says Judith. "Their awards were possibly the highlight of their entire school year."

Looking Forward

For both the students and the teachers, the science fair was a success, and teachers at North Broadway plan to hold a science fair again next year, making it part of a school-wide Family Science Night. "I believe that hands-on science is the only way to teach in fifth grade, and I believe that it needs to be elevated to a position of importance in the eyes of both students and parents," says Judith. "A science fair does just that."

Judith's experience with InnovatioNation and her school's first science fair has given her concrete ideas for ways they will modify their approach next year. For example, she says they may focus next year's fair on Life Sciences projects to better complement their work with InnovatioNation. They also hope to modify their Friday science lab time so that it follows the process students will use in their own projects. "We are going to ask our lab instructor to begin all of her labs with a form of testable question or hypothesis and close the lab with a conclusion. This way they will be better prepared for their own experiments," explains Judith.

Judith and North Broadway School will again be participating in InnovatioNation this coming year. "I am truly excited that our school has been chosen to work for a second year with Life Technologies and Science Buddies!"

Science Buddies Project Ideas in Genetics and Genomics are sponsored by support from Life Technologies Foundation.

Life Technologies Foundation



Science and engineering projects often involve many steps, many trials, many materials, and may take many weeks. Help your students learn critical organization and recordkeeping skills by requiring a science project lab notebook!

Good recordkeeping is a skill that is valuable in many academic areas. The time your students spend making a lab notebook a routine part of their science and engineering project experience may be useful in other classes as well!

The first step of the scientific method may be "Ask a Question," but the first step you might require before your students even think about questions or take the Topic Selection Wizard survey is to get a lab notebook. Keeping a lab notebook is an important part of the science, engineering, or research project process. With a lab notebook as a requirement for even science projects in the middle grades, students who keep a lab notebook gain valuable experience as they learn to organize their research, manage their time, and document all steps of a project.

With many science and engineering project assignments spanning a number of weeks, or even most of a semester, there are lots and lots of details that a student needs to remember about her project. From the project's initial conceptualization or invention sketches, to the exact materials purchased and the experimental design, to the day when a shoot first emerged in a plant biology project or a field of bacteria showed signs of antibiotic resistance, you want to encourage your students to write it all down.

Helping Keep Science Projects on Track

If left to sticky notes and student memory, a lot of important detail about a project may be lost or forgotten, including reasons behind certain changes, specific observations, solutions to problems encountered, and data collected. Students who use a lab notebook may find it much easier to write a final research report, prepare a classroom presentation, or put together a science fair project display board.

Science Buddies "Keep a Great Science or Engineering Project Notebook" resource offers great information to help your students get started using a lab notebook for a science project. By following the recommended tips and techniques, students can quickly get into the habit of documenting their science and engineering projects. They will stay more organized and be able to better negotiate the many phases of the project or of the scientific or engineering method. Plus, if your students are using lab notebooks, you can require check-ins at key points or dates in the process to ensure that everyone is on track, that projects are proceeding as planned, and to intervene or redirect if problems are detected.

Choosing a Lab Notebook

Part of the perennial school supplies market, there are many kinds of lab notebooks available. The standard composition book is a classic and inexpensive option. Its lined pages and durable cover make it an easy option for students, and this style of lab notebook can work well for tracking and organizing K-5 and middle school student projects. But there are other styles of lab notebooks available, some of which are specifically for science and engineering projects. (See our summary of lab notebook styles and recommended users.)

A line of specialty notebooks from Hayden-McNeil, for example, is designed to meet the needs of students working on science and engineering projects—and to make it even easier for teachers to oversee the lab notebook component. These notebooks feature carbonless duplicate pages so that each entry a student makes is also recorded on a duplicate page that can be removed and turned in. While having thirty or more students all turn in a lab notebook once a week can add up to an unwieldy pile of notebooks for a teacher, having students tear out and hand in "copies" of their notebook entries makes it easy and convenient to evaluate lab notebooks throughout the science project process. Even if the teacher evaluation is only a check that students are routinely and completely documenting their projects, the requirement can help ensure successful and on-time science and engineering project assignments.

Hayden-McNeil's duplicate lab notebooks come in a number of variations and formats. Lab notebooks are available for specific areas of science, including life science, environmental science, chemistry, and physics. In notebooks specific to an area of science, handy reference material for that area is conveniently located on the back cover and on the plastic divider (used when making a new entry). The notebooks come in both spiral-bound and hardbound versions, and are available in 50-page and 100-page formats. Other well-thought features include: numbered pages, quad-ruled paper, fields at the top and bottom for labeling and dating, and a blank table of contents for easy organization. Duplicate pages are clearly marked "copy" and are perforated for easy removal.

These specialty notebooks are available online at Amazon.com. Here are a few of the variations:



Teachers and schools interested in purchasing carbonless duplicate lab notebooks can find additional information and request samples on the Hayden-McNeil website. (Hayden-McNeil does not sell directly to students or general users.)

How to Get Started?

If you haven't required a lab notebook as part of your science or engineering project assignments before, consider adding it as a requirement this year. Encourage your students to review the following Science Buddies resources. These resources offer easy-to-follow strategies that can help your students make the most of keeping a lab notebook:

The best way to help your students get into the habit of good recordkeeping and documentation is to clearly articulate your expectations. Do you want the pages numbered? Do they need to date each entry? Is ink required? With the mechanics clearly stated, encourage them to use their lab notebooks! Recording an entry each day for a period of days is one of the best ways to help them make utilizing the lab notebook part of their daily routine. Consider assigning initial brainstorming sessions as a lab notebook assignment to get them used to recording their notes in their lab notebooks. Pre-project assignments like this can also help familiarize students with your expectations and requirements for entries.

Teacher Giveaway: Share Your Lab Notebook Tips!

What tips do you recommend to students? What strategies do you find help them stay organized? What suggestions do you have for teachers who plan to require lab notebooks this year for the first time?

Email a comment to blog@sciencebuddies.org to share your best tip, strategy, or class assignment for using lab notebooks with K-12 students, and we will enter you in a drawing for specialty duplicate notebooks for your class (up to 30 notebooks), courtesy of Hayden-McNeil. Please include your school name, and the grade you teach in your email entry. Drawing open to teachers in the U.S. only. Entries will be accepted through October 18. Only one entry per teacher will be counted. One winner will be randomly selected from all complete entries.

In addition to sponsoring the teacher giveaway, Hayden-McNeil sponsored recent updates to the Science Buddies Science and Engineering Project Laboratory Notebook resource.



A science teacher at Brawerman Elementary School in Los Angeles views Science Buddies as an indispensable classroom partner, especially when it comes to helping students locate quality science Project Ideas—in all areas of interest.


Above: Teacher Lisa Niver Rajna with a student at last year's school science fair. Science Buddies is an important part of Lisa's approach to science education in the classroom. Lisa's students used the Topic Selection Wizard to help them locate exciting projects, many of which have real-world connections and applications that she encouraged them to explore.

Some of the Project Ideas Lisa's students selected last year include:

Students in grades three through six at Wilshire Boulevard Temple's Brawerman Elementary School in Los Angeles all participate in the school's annual science fair. While doing a Science Buddies Project Idea is not a requirement in Lisa Niver Rajna's science classes, all of her fourth, fifth, and sixth grade students begin their search for a science fair project by using the Topic Selection Wizard, a Science Buddies tool that suggests science projects to students based on their interests, assignment, timeline, and grade level.

Finding the Right Project

From Lisa's perspective, the project selection phase of the science fair assignment is a "crucial" step in the process. "I want each student to care and be passionate about her topic," says Lisa, who has been using Science Buddies and the Topic Selection Wizard with students at Brawerman for several years. When she talks with her fourth, fifth, and sixth grade classes about the science fair project assignment, Lisa says she "highly recommends" that they choose a Science Buddies project, and she allots valuable classroom time for her students to use the Wizard. Despite the crunch many teachers feel in fitting all the pieces of core curriculum into the hours of a school year, using class time to have students use the Wizard is a process that helps both Lisa and her students.

Students who work on a project in which they are interested typically enjoy the science project experience more than students who are assigned a project topic or are guided to an area of science based on someone else's suggestions or interests. The Wizard's sophisticated algorithm uses student answers to a variety of simple questions like "Do you enjoy discovering new ways to recycle, restore, or reclaim used material and objects?" to recommend a unique group of projects for each student. Because the Wizard's questions touch on a wide range of areas of science, each student's combination of answers reveal individual patterns of possible interest.

With the Wizard's help, Lisa's students discover exciting projects they may enjoy (and might not have found on their own), and Lisa sees students choose and conduct robust science explorations that are scientifically sound and challenging. "I love the Topic Selection Wizard," says Lisa. "It seems to work as a multiple intelligences fit. I am always impressed by the variety of topics and experiments and how well the choices offered fit each individual student."

After answering the Topic Selection Wizard questions, Lisa has her students look over the Wizard's recommendations and pick the three in which they are most interested. "I tell them, 'you are going to be working on this project for a long time.' We start in February, and the fair is in May. We go through each step [of the scientific process]; we do research. I tell them, 'Pick something you want to know more about. Something you like.'" After her students narrow down their lists of possible projects, she talks with them about their choices. "We discuss what would be the best fit for them based on interest, difficulty, and what they did in the past."

According to Lisa, last year, almost all of the eighty fourth and fifth grade science fair projects were based on Science Buddies Project Ideas, as were a large number of the forty sixth grade entries. A number of Lisa's students explored video game-based projects, including a team of students that worked on developing a game for the blind. Other students made their own paint, lip gloss, and markers, explored desalination, built circuits, crystal radios, bridges, and solar-powered robotic creatures, and experimented with the perfect carbonated soda recipe.

Making Real-world Connections

For Lisa, tying science exploration to real-world events, issues, and problems is all part of the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education process. In her classroom, science is not a standalone subject. Instead, Lisa teaches science as a subject that is connected to everything. "I work hard to make sure they see the connections between what we are studying in class and life outside the classroom," says Lisa. Her classroom lessons and discussions include social issues, global concerns, and examples from other countries, steps she takes to broaden her students' understanding and awareness of the world around them. "Making connections between science and real life as well as science and other subjects is a major focus of my teaching," explains Lisa. "I integrate with art, library, and as many teachers as possible. Students need to see how science is connected to everything."

When it came to last year's end-of-year science projects, Lisa's classroom emphasis on real-life connections gave added context to her students' projects. Many of them took additional steps during the research and background stage of the scientific process to learn more about how their research might matter and to get a better understanding of the problem or challenge at hand. For example, a group of students working on developing video games that can be successfully played by blind people visited a local center for the blind. Lisa helped connect a team working on a solar cooking project with a group that has a solar cooker project in Africa.

Rather than simply completing a project to fulfill an assignment, these students emerged with a broader view of the importance of their research—and of the value of science and engineering in the world beyond the classroom. One of Lisa's fourth-grade students, Andrew, researched the dangers of using a cell phone while driving. Andrew conducted his testing using a Wii-based driving video game, but at the end of his project, Andrew felt that he had "gathered data that could save lives."

"When I suggested connections with their science fair projects, most of them were really excited and wanted to add the community connection," says Lisa. "I loved to see the 'a-ha' in their eyes when they saw how their project fit in with something outside of our classroom."

Supporting STEM Teachers in the Classroom

Lisa relies on Science Buddies for her students, but she also appreciates Science Buddies teacher-focused resources and the fact that Science Buddies continues to expand offerings to enable students and teachers to explore cutting-edge areas of science. After seeing a survey from Science Buddies that asked "do you allow engineering projects," Lisa says she learned more about the engineering design process and made a point to incorporate it into her teaching. Similarly, she notes making both environmental science and video and computer game projects a "priority" based on Science Buddies materials.

When asked what is the most important element in exciting students about science and engineering, Lisa boils it down to finding the science (and the science project) in areas of personal interest. "The most important thing to me is that everyone cares about their project. I want them to learn about their passions, to find their passions and to see that science is everywhere. One mom called me and said, 'Really, watching movies is their science fair homework? You have to be kidding me.' She thought they kids had gotten away with a sneak attack. But those two girls worked so hard. They watched movies and made charts and created a PowerPoint. They talked to the music teacher, and I was able to connect them with a friend who is an award-winning film editor. They loved the project, they worked hard, and they had a great time. I wish that every child could enjoy learning as much as they did. If you find a way to reach your students, they will be excited about science or any other topic."

Science Buddies is proud to have been a part of Lisa's classroom solution, and a cornerstone for helping Lisa ignite enthusiasm for science—and for real-world connections—among her students. Lisa is spending the coming school year out of the classroom and traveling in Asia. She will be documenting her journey, and her commitment to global education, on the Wandering Educators site and on her own site, WeSaidGoTravel: A Passport to a Global Community.



Perfecting the Project Display Board

The project display board for a science project may be the last step before the fair, but don't underestimate its importance. Your display board may be one of hundreds on display. You want to make sure it summarizes your project and invites a viewer to stop and take a minute to learn more about your project, research, and conclusions.


Creating a successful project display board takes time, but it's an important step! Our tips, tricks, and techniques help guide you through the process.
Wander the halls during a school science fair, or tour a local fair during public viewing hours, and you will see a range of project display boards. Most of them share a few basic parameters. For example, most use a tri-fold display board. Most will be the same, standard size. There are similarities, but what appears on the individual boards, and how students have chosen to showcase and summarize their science projects, visually, may run the gamut. Some will stand out for their crisp, clean, well-planned execution; some would benefit from a bit of design savvy; some will clearly suffer from a common "end of project" syndrome: too little time invested in the process.

The End is in Sight

Some students really enjoy the visual aspect of creating a display board. But for others, the project display board is not the most fun part of the science project process. It's certainly not the same as experimenting in the lab or testing electronics or physics projects in the garage. But the biggest factor working against the project display board for some students is that its construction mostly takes place at the end of the process. There's been hard work and testing involved, maybe spanning many days or weeks. Students may want to be "done" with the process, and yet there is one more step. It's a final step, but it's an extremely important step. When a student creates a project display board, she is putting together a visual representation of her entire project to share with an audience.

Highlighting Hard Work

One thing students should keep in mind is that a stunning and scientifically sound project, even a breakthrough one, needs to be supported by a compelling project display board. The "full package" mentality counts.

It makes sense, right? The display board is the first impression of your project that attendees will see. It is the chance they get to, in a nutshell, understand what question you asked, what hypothesis you proposed, and how things turned out. If they're captured by the combination of the board and the science it conveys, they might stop to ask questions, learn more, and further evaluate what you've done. They might notice you and your project. If the board lacks the design savvy necessary to garner that attention, you may find that you've lost out, in the end, simply because you didn't do the project and its results visual justice.

Sandra Slutz, Lead Staff Scientist at Science Buddies, has frequently served as a judge at local and national science fairs, including ISEF. She agrees that a poor board can spell disaster. "The whole point of a display board is to showcase your project," says Slutz. "The goal is to communicate clearly, efficiently, and precisely what you wanted to investigate, how you investigated it, what your results were, and your interpretation of those results. You can have the cleverest, interesting, and important research, but if you fail to communicate that because your board is incomplete, poorly organized, or hard to read, then you won't walk away with the first place prize."

With the importance of the project display board so clear, why do so many boards fall short of the mark? Many factors come into play. For some students, there's a lack of understanding about what makes a display board effective. For others, there's a lack of time. Whether they wait too late in the process to begin the board, or whether they simply fail to put in enough time to do a good job, rushing the process and cutting corners rarely results in a winning board.

Better Display Boards

Science Buddies has a full section of Project Display Board resources, suggestions, tips, tricks, and examples. Before you create your display board, you should review all of these pages so that you have a good idea of what you want to accomplish with your board—and how best to approach the process. Every student can create a solid display board if they keep certain guidelines in mind:

  • Plan your board. Take time to mock up or "storyboard" your Project Display board on a sheet of paper before you start printing or gluing anything in place. This will help you best determine how to use your available space and how to size the elements you plan to include. Tip: Take time to review the sample layout shown below. Print a copy and make notes to indicate what information you'll include in each section. Make a list of elements you need to type up, or photos you need to print out.

  • Know the size limitations. Most project display boards, like these from Elmer's, are 36" x 48". Oversized boards can be made by taking a modular approach and connecting more than one board, but keep in mind that you don't want your board too tall, too crowded, or with information too low to the ground to read. See Advanced Display Board Design and Tips for more information. Tip: Make sure you check your science fair guidelines for any specific limitations on size.

  • Choose the right title. Your title should be accurate for your project but should be catchy enough, or interesting enough, to make a viewer curious. Your title should also be big enough to be seen from a good distance—and in a color type and font face that is easy to read and stands out on your board. Tip: spend time brainstorming for the best title for your project. Come up with a list of possibilities before you decide.

  • Tell the whole story. Your board should contain all of the information required for a viewer to understand your project from start to finish. Our handy Project Display Checklist can help you keep track of what information should be on your board. Tip: print out a copy and check off each element as you put it in place.


  • Make effective use of headlines and subheads. After a minute of looking at the board, the viewer should know what question you were researching, what you expected to happen, and how things turned out. In a short amount of time, the viewer will gather most of that information from headlines, photos, charts, and captions. The rest of the story is there, but pay attention to what someone can read by first reading all the headlines or subheads on the board. Test it yourself: JUST read the headlines and subheads on the draft of your board you've plotted on a sheet of paper or in your lab notebook. Include a summary of any photos. If necessary, take a blank sheet and job down the narrative you get by only reading those elements. Does the "summary" hold together?

  • Know your font sizes. A project display board headline needs to be read almost across the room. Other elements of the board should be clearly readable at arm's length or even by someone walking by. If your text is too small, a viewer won't be able to easily take in the information—and might not even try. Be sure and understand the difference in font size for headlines and subheads versus the rest of the text. Use your sizes consistently to help guide viewers through the material. A board that is easy to read—both in terms of color balance and font selection—can immediately earn attention points. "A catchy title with lettering I can read easily from 20 feet away really piques my interest and can make me hurry over to learn more," says Slutz. Tip: review the Everything You Need to Know About Fonts for Display Boards resource.

  • Remember the power of pictures. Photos and diagrams can quickly and efficiently convey information to a viewer—plus, they'll liven up your board! Just be sure to use relevant captions or subheads to further explain a photo's contents. And, don't put text on top of photos. It's hard to read! Tip: You want your board to be balanced. Use enough visual elements to help support and convey your information, but be careful not to make the board too cluttered.

  • Use quality materials. From self-standing display boards to heavier papers and quality adhesives, gathering your materials before you start can make the project display board process a smoother experience. Tip: Our shopping list will help you determine what you need. We recommend keeping plenty of glue sticks on hand!

  • Print your materials. Unless there is no alternative, don't hand-write elements for your display board. Use a word processing program to type up your information and headlines, and then print them out.

  • Don't wait until the last minute. Creating a good project display board takes time. Not only do you need to map out how you want your information to appear, but you'll need to create your diagrams, charts, images, and text blocks and print them out (in the right sizes) to assemble on your board. Planning ahead is really important. Remember: There is more to creating a successful project display board than just gluing some hand-written pieces of paper in place!

Take Pride In Your Science Project By Taking Time with Your Display Board

Take care in creating your project display board! You worked hard on the project, and you want to share your results with others. To do so effectively, you'll have to draw them in. Reviewing our resources, planning ahead, and remembering that the final step in the process can be the make-or-break step, can help make the time you spend working on your project display board both efficient and effective.

In the end, there's a bit of a trick to the process... your board has to be good enough and well-designed enough that the board itself is not what stands out—the science does. Says Slutz, "People always want to know 'what is the best board you've seen?' The truth is, I have no idea. I can give you a long list of awful ones! Ones where I couldn't read the text because the font was too difficult to read, or the display was covered in so many extra decorations that I couldn't find the information I was looking for, or the board was so tall that half of the sections were above my head, and I couldn't see them. The truth is, the best display boards I forget about, and instead I remember something far more exciting to me—the scienceonthe board. And really, that's the whole point."

Elmer's Logo
Elmer's Products Inc. is the official classroom sponsor of Science Buddies. For a full range of display boards and adhesives that can help as students get ready to showcase their science projects, visit Elmer's!



If you did a chemistry project this year (that includes food sciences and biotech), you can enter your project in the Rosalind Franklin Chemistry Contest for a chance to win a cash award. You've already done the work, now it's time to show it off!

Rosalind Franklin Chemistry Contest - Enter Today!

Teachers! Please use this handout to distribute to students (or at local fairs) to encourage students to enter.



Were you unable to attend our September 2011 webinar for educators? No problem! You can watch a video recording of the entire webinar (about an hour) when it's convenient for you.

Our Science Buddies channel at YouTube contains other great videos you and your students may enjoy. Did you miss the project demonstration videos created by our Summer Science Fellows? Be sure and check those out, too!



Science Buddies Webinar

Professional Development Webinar for Teachers
Join us for a free webinar on September 14
Space is limited!
Reserve your webinar seat now!

Science Buddies is offering a free online webinar on September 14, 2011, from 3:30-4:30 p.m. PDT (6:30-7:30 p.m. EDT). We will provide a comprehensive, guided tour of the Science Buddies website and will highlight ways in which you can use Science Buddies resources and Project Ideas with your students. We will also introduce a new set of video and computer game design resources, developed with support from the AMD Foundation, for classroom instruction and student exploration at home.

All attendees who answer a brief survey at the end of the webinar will be entered into a drawing to win one of three external hard-drives (Mac or PC) donated by Western Digital.

The video and computer games guided portion of the webinar is sponsored by AMD Changing the Game, an initiative of the AMD Foundation, which is designed to spark students' interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) learning by creating video games. We would also like to acknowledge Citrix Sytems, Inc. for providing the GoToWebinar software.

Title:   Professional Development Webinar for Teachers
Date:   Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Time:   3:30 - 4:30 p.m. PDT

System Requirements:

  •    PC-based attendees:   Windows® 7, Vista, XP or 2003 Server

  •    Macintosh®-based attendees:   Mac OS® X 10.5 or newer


After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar.



Teacher Webinar Video Now Online!

The video from the September 22, 2010 Science Buddies Teacher Development Webinar is now available for online viewing. If you were unable to attend the webinar—or had to leave before the webinar ended, you can now watch the entire virtual tour of the Science Buddies website. The webinar, conducted by Science Buddies Vice President, Courtney Corda, will walk you through our resources, helping teachers (and parents) better understand what Science Buddies offers and how to best get started using our full range of free K-12 science education resources.

(Note: The video is approximately 55 minutes long.)

To browse our Teacher Resources, visit: http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/teacher_resources.shtml



Middle school teachers, grades 6-8, interested in investigating ocean sciences or climate change are invited to apply for the 2011 Earthwatch Educator Program sponsored by Earthwatch and Northrop Grumman. The program provides a fellowship for an innovative hands-on expedition, an inspiring experience that teachers can then share with classrooms.

Last year, Erin Moore, a teacher in Illinois, was selected to participate in Northrop Grumman Foundation's Weightless Flights of Discovery Program. As Erin reported on the Science Buddies' blog, the experience of the Zero-G flight was exhilarating and life-changing, from start to finish.

The following Earthwatch expeditions are planned for 2011:

  • Coastal Ecology of the Bahamas

    6/27 - 7/8, 2011

    Be a part of a team supervised by Dr Kathleen Sullivan-Sealey as you explore the Bahamian archipelago, a unique ecosystem in the northeast Caribbean Sea.

  • Climate Change at the Arctic's Edge
    6/19 - 6/29, 2011
    Exploring the carbon-rich peatlands in the Arctic tundra will bring issues related to global warming rushing to the surface. Teams working with Dr. Peter Kershaw will monitor ecosystem changes in response to global warming and investigate changes in the permafrost—and the risks related to the release of greenhouse gases if the permafrost thaws.

Middle School teachers (grades 6-8) from Northrop Grumman communities are eligible to apply for the program (except for educators who participated in the 2009 or 2010 Weightless Flights of Discovery program or the 2009 or 2010 Space Academy for Educators). The deadline for application is February 4, 2011.

For more information, or to fill out an application, visit the Northrop Grumman Earthwatch information page.



Teacher Webinar is Today!

Just a reminder, our free Professional Development Webinar for teachers is today, Wednesday, September 22 at:

  • 4 p.m. Pacific

  • 5 p.m. Mountain

  • 6 p.m. Central

  • 7 p.m. Eastern

If you are already signed up, please follow the directions you received in email to log into the Webinar at the time listed above.

If you are not registered yet and would like to join us, it's not too late! Please register now: https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/389772962

To find out more about today's virtual tour of the Science Buddies website, see our previous blog entry.



Due to technical difficulties, the Webinar last week was interrupted and has been rescheduled.

The new date and time is: Wednesday, September 22 at 4 p.m. PDT.

Even if you had registered to attend the August 29 webinar, we need for you to re-register using the link below.

During the one-hour guided tour of Science Buddies, you'll find our how to use Science Buddies resources in your classroom. In this comprehensive online guided walk-through of the Science Buddies website, we'll show you how our:

  • Huge library of Project Ideas and our Topic Selection Wizard tool can help students find a project they are excited about, even if they don't think they are "into" science.
  • Our Teacher and Parent Resources can help you implement an inquiry-based curriculum or organize a science fair.
  • Our resources can guide students through the process of creating and presenting a science project, even if they lack parental support.

Please register to join us for this free event:

  • September 22


  • 4 p.m. Pacific
  • 5 p.m. Mountain
  • 6 p.m. Central
  • 7 p.m. Eastern


  • Online

System Requirements:

  • PC-based attendees
    Required: Windows 7, Vista, XP, 2003 Server or 2000

  • Macintosh-based attendees
    Required: Mac OS X 10.4.11 or newer


After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar. Space is limited, so please register ASAP to reserve your slot. The first 5 people to sign in, attend the whole webinar, and complete a post-webinar survey will receive a copy of Norton 360, courtesy of Symantec. At the end of the webinar, we will randomly select attendees to receive a variety of great door prizes. One lucky attendee will win a $100 Best Buy gift card! If you have any questions, please contact Meghan O'Hare at meghan@sciencebuddies.org.

Reserve your seat now at: https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/389772962



Find out how to use Science Buddies resources in your classroom by joining us on Sunday, August 29th for an hour-long, free guided tour of the Science Buddies website (start times below). In this comprehensive online guided tour of the Science Buddies website, we'll show you how our:

  • Huge library of Project Ideas and our Topic Selection Wizard tool can help students find a project they are excited about, even if they don't think they are "into" science.
  • Our Teacher and Parent Resources can help you implement an inquiry-based curriculum or organize a science fair.
  • Our resources can guide students through the process of creating and presenting a science project, even if they lack parental support.

  • August 29


  • 1 p.m. Pacific
  • 2 p.m. Mountain
  • 3 p.m. Central
  • 4 p.m. Eastern


  • Online

System Requirements:

  • PC-based attendees
    Required: Windows 7, Vista, XP, 2003 Server or 2000

  • Macintosh-based attendees
    Required: Mac OS X 10.4.11 or newer

If you would like to join us, click on the link below to register.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar. Space is limited, so please register ASAP to reserve your slot. The first 5 people to sign in, attend the whole webinar, and complete a post-webinar survey will receive a copy of Norton 360, courtesy of Symantec. At the end of the webinar, we will randomly select attendees to receive a variety of great door prizes. One lucky attendee will win a $100 Best Buy gift card! If you have any questions, please contact Meghan O'Hare at meghan@sciencebuddies.org.

Reserve your seat now at: https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/389772962



What to Do When a Project Goes Wrong

Science fair season may be winding down at most schools, but scientific exploration at home and in the classroom continues year-round. And where there is science, there are variables and materials and controls and reactions and things that change and bond and grow ... and things that don't.

Lots of things can go wrong with a project, even with a well-designed, well-scheduled, and conscientiously-run project.

Learning to handle a project that doesn't turn out exactly as expected and either regroup and get it back on track if there is time or deal with the unexpected results if the due date is too close for a repeat set of trials is important for students who are running scientific experiments of all sizes. It can be very frustrating when things go wrong. It can also be confusing, especially when you thought that you had done everything "right."

So what went wrong?

And what can you do about it?

What to Do Next

Our Staff Scientists have pooled their thoughts on troubleshooting a science project that doesn't work to help you step back, evaluate what happened, and figure out what you should do next.

  1. Are You Sure it Didn't Work?
    It is important to first stop and ask yourself "How do I know my project 'failed'?"

    "Maybe the problem is obvious," says Sandra, "like when you're putting together a circuit, and the light bulb at the other end fails to turn on. Or maybe you're re-creating a classic experiment like Gallileo's fabled Leaning Tower of Pisa Experiment, and you know what the proven hypothesis is," so you know it should have worked.

    It gets trickier when you are working on an experiment of your own design. The question you have to ask yourself, says Sandra, is "did my project 'fail,' or was my hypothesis just incorrect?"

    While student scientists can be disheartened if their initial educated guess turns out wrong, "proving a hypothesis wrong isn't bad science," reminds Sandra. For a student continuing research on the same topic, a failed hypothesis provides the groundwork for conducting further experiments to figure out why the initial guess was wrong.

  2. Before You Dive Back In...

    It can be tempting to jump right back in, change things, add something here, remove something there. But the best approach is to step back and take some time to think through what happened before you begin troubleshooting—and before you repeat your experiment.

    Our team all agrees it is important to take a deep breath and think about the project and the problem before you do anything hasty:

    Kristin: "Ask yourself what you expected to see happen (what was the output that you anticipated) and what you saw happen."

    Dave: "Be calm. Many procedures do not work flawlessly (or at all) the first time."

    Michelle: "If a project doesn't work right away, don't start changing things willy nilly. Leave the project alone for a few hours and let your mind work things out."

  3. Review the Science Behind the Project

    Doing some additional research, and re-reading any background materials that accompanied the project or procedures, can be an important step in troubleshooting. As Kristin explains, you want "to make sure that you understand the 'science' behind the experiment and what you expected to happen" so that you can effectively evaluate your results and analyze the procedures you used before trying again.

  4. Back to the Source

    Re-read the full set of directions or the steps of the Experimental Procedure. Why? You may have overlooked a step that made all the difference between success and failure.

    "As you read each step," says Sandra, "go back through your lab notebook and your memory and ask yourself: 'Did I do it exactly this way, or did I change this step in some way?'"

    Any changes you made, or steps you forgot, are good bets for where things went wrong!

    As you read through the project again, you'll want to pay special attention to the following:

    • The Materials

      One of the first things to doublecheck is the list of materials and supplies to ensure you used exactly what the project specified. Why? The wrong material could dramatically alter the outcome of an experiment. Similarly, if you knowingly made a substitution, even if you thought it would work, the changed material may have caused an unexpected result.

      Kristin suggests that you not only look again at the materials list yourself, but enlist a friend, parent, or teacher to carefully go through the materials list (and procedure) with you. "There may be times when you misinterpret how to do something or miss a detail about a brand, size, or setup," she says.

      Having an extra set of eyes look over the documentation with you can be really helpful.

    • Evaluate Your Variables
      Once you've reviewed the overall steps of your experiment, look carefully at your variables. Why? If you didn't treat your variables as outlined in the procedure, your results could certainly differ from the expected outcome. Maybe you misread something. Or, maybe you tried to take a shortcut?

      You want to ask yourself two important questions, says Kristin: "What are my inputs (what am I changing)?" and "Did I change them as directed?"

      Focus on Controls

      As you review your experimental procedure, you want to identify both the positive and the negative controls, if they exist.

      A positive control is a condition that should work regardless of your hypothesis. Positive controls are included to make sure that the experimental procedure is capable of giving you a positive result.

      A negative control is a condition where the experiment will not work regardless of your hypothesis. Negative controls are included to make sure that the experiment is capable of giving a negative result.

      How do they fit together?

      An example of the way positive and negative controls might operate or appear in a project can help you identify the controls in your own project.

      Sample project: If you were doing an experiment where you used glucose strips to measure the amount of glucose (sugar) in different solutions, your positive control (the one you know should give you a clear positive signal) would be a solution of sugar water that you made yourself. The negative control (the one you know should not give you a signal) would be plain tap water because water doesn't contain glucose.

      A problem uncovered: If the glucose strips failed to show a clear reading for the sugar water, or showed a reading for the plain water, you would know that the glucose strips were not working properly and that none of your experimental results were trustworthy—because your controls had failed.

    • Evaluate Your Controls

      A project that has built-in "controls" or "checkpoints" gives you clear points throughout the project where you can stop and evaluate your work or progress to make sure everything is right "at that point." Going back and looking at your results and progress at each control or checkpoint is an important step in figuring out what went wrong.

      If the experimental procedure identifies the controls, you want to ask yourself: "Did a control fail?" It is possible you can you use the controls to pinpoint which step went wrong.

    • When There are No Controls

      Not all projects use controls. Sandra suggests that if you are working on a project that doesn't use controls, you may want to determine places where they can be added before you run your test again.

      "Remember that it could be either a procedural step which is wrong, or some piece of equipment or material which is malfunctioning," says Sandra. "So you'll want controls which test as many of those things as possible."

      Projects that involve building something may not yield traditional controls, so it's helpful to think about inserting "checkpoints" or steps where you could do or observe something that will indicate if everything is working "so far." For example, if you are working on building a complicated circuit, taking a reading with a multimeter at a certain point can indicate whether or not you are on the right track.

    • The Procedure

      Carefully re-reading the procedure, step by step and line by line, is a critical aspect in troubleshooting a project. These tips from our scientists can help as you review:

      • Kristin: Pay close attention to any "notes" or images in the procedure that give clues about what you might observe, how the setup should look, or how you should conduct your testing.

      • David: If there is a device that you have made, double-check any diagrams provided to make sure you assembled it correctly.

  5. Talk it Over

    Talking over a "failed" project with a teacher or other adult can often be a good idea either before or after you work through the troubleshooting steps above. Sometimes, when you put things into words out loud, you'll hear the problem differently than when you are thinking it through on your own or on paper.

    "Science doesn't happen in a vacuum," reminds Sandra. "Scientists talk to each other, and their collective experiences (or sometimes just the act of saying it all out loud) can spark the critical 'ah-ha' moment of understanding what went wrong or what needs to happen."

Moving Forward

In the end, not all experiments will "work." If you're following someone else's Experimental Procedure (like a Science Buddies Project Idea), then you can probably feel confident that the project should work. Hopefully, careful troubleshooting using the guidelines and suggestions above will help you find the weak spot in the experiment you performed so that you can correct any problems and try again. But if your experiment was of your own design, it's possible it simply won't work as you've envisioned it this time around.

Troubleshooting can help you find what may be flaws in your design, and a review of the science behind the project and your ultimate goal for the project can help you shape and refine the procedure for subsequent trials and testing.

Don't lose heart.

Our scientists are quick to point out that not all science experiments "work" the first time.

"If your experiment 'failed,' consider yourself in good company," says Sandra. "The idea for many Nobel Prize-worthy science explorations started with someone scratching his or her head over a 'failed' experiment."

"Remember that negative results are real and important science, too," adds Kristin.

It's a good perspective to keep in mind. In fact, a "failed" experiment can be a stepping stone, says Sandra. "Understanding why an experiment failed can often lead you to a much more interesting, and unexpected, discovery."

Michelle agrees. "It is okay to fail. Remember what Thomas Edison said: 'Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.' It took Edison many, many tries to find the right filament for the light bulb. Just keep working, and you will be able to figure things out."

Related Blog Posts:



Hi. This is Brian again... a science teacher in Chicago and guest blogger at Science Buddies this fall as I work to help organize our school's first science fair.

What I'm discovering is that when you decide to run a science fair, you have to have some clear goals and objectives.

According to Science Buddies' "Guide to Planning a Science Fair," the first two steps in planning a science fair are to set the date and set the goals.

The goals for my school's first science fair are pretty simple:

  1. Get all students to participate in some way.
  2. Help them have as much success and fun doing science projects as possible.
  3. Try to involve other subjects as much as possible in supporting the students.
  4. Build towards better and stronger projects so our students can have success at the national level.

Getting Teacher Buy-In

Now, I love the idea of a science fair, which you probably guessed because I'm writing this blog, and I have this belief that all science teachers should be super excited about the idea of a school science fair as well.

That is not always the case.

Tuesday was my first opportunity to talk with the other teachers at the school about our science fair. In preparation for meeting with them, on Monday I sent copies of two Science Buddies' resources, "Teachers guide to Science Projects" and the "Your Question Handout" for students.

In the meeting on Tuesday, I got some typical resistance:

  1. how much class time is this going to take up?
  2. how are we going to get the students, especially our low income students, the resources they need?
  3. when are they going to get into the lab?
  4. what if the projects are not high quality enough?

I was ready with some answers.

How much class time is this going to take up?

Help them choose the topic in class, but otherwise it is up to you how much time you use in class to work on science fair projects. If you have available class time or need to fill a few days, let them do research in class. Science fair projects are supposed to add to education in the classroom not displace it. It's a good idea to have check-in assignments for the students to complete. This shows they are working on their projects and allows you to ensure no one gets left behind. They can complete those worksheets or check-in logs on their own.

How are we going to get the students, especially our low income students, the resources they need?

Where there is a will, there is a way. And many projects don't cost that much. Here in Chicago, the district actually has micro grants that students can apply for to get their projects funded. Using DonorsChoose is another option, if you plan ahead. All communities have resources you can access for your students to enable top notch projects without breaking the bank, but you often have to start the projects to qualify for resources.

When are they going to get into the lab?

At my school, it is my job as a department chair to be in the lab after school. I think lab time is the best time to build relationships with students that will pay off in the classroom. Pick a day and stay until 4:30 to help your students in the lab each week. It will pay off more than grading papers or making Powerpoint presentations.

What if the projects are not high quality enough?

Who cares? Right now they are not doing any projects. This is a time for them to build the skills of life-long learners. Even if they do a super basic project, they stand to learn something. Eventually, I believe, the projects will get better.

So, I think right now everyone feels pretty good. We came to a few decisions, as well. We decided to allow group projects especially for our ELL and SPED population. We also decided to allow students to build Rube Goldberg Machines as science fair projects. Such projects are not completely science-based, but they involve applied Physics and Chemistry.

Next week, I'm going to try to get into each teacher's classroom for one period to help him or her use the Topic Selection Wizard to find projects with students. Teachers can then use the Topic Selection Wizard with the rest of their classes.

I'll be back in a few weeks to let you know how it goes!

~ Brian

[Science Buddies note: Brian is a guest teacher-blogger from a charter school in the Rodgers Park neighborhood of Chicago. To read the first installment of his adventures in organizing his school's first science fair, click here.]



Earth Science Week: Climate

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Earth Week 2009 Logo
This week, we'll be looking skyward as we await the impact of the LCROSS satellite and hope for sight of the plume on the morning of October 9. But next week, our attentions will spiral back to Earth for "Earth Science Week 2009," October 11-17. Organized by the American Geological Institute and sponsored by a range of geoscience organizations, including the U.S. Geological Survey, NASA, the National Park Service, and the AAPG Foundation, the annual "Earth Science Week" aims to promote geosciences and to educate students, teachers, and families about the importance of being stewards of the Earth.

The theme for "Earth Science Week 2009" is "Understanding Climate." From daily NASA videos to a webcast in which oceanographers talk about their careers, "Earth Science Week 2009" promises a diverse array of Earth-centered activities and information.

The following Science Buddies' short-term science fair project ideas may prove useful as cornerstones for climate-related discussions and in-class projects with your students that tie in with Earth Science Week:

There are three contests students can enter as part of Earth Science Week 2009: a photography contest, a visual arts contest for K-5, and an essay contest for grades 6-9. For more information and specific contest rules and deadlines, please visit the Earth Science Week website.



Countdown to LCROSS Impact

10 Days and Counting!

The countdown is on! LCROSS' projected lunar impact will occur on October 9, 2009 at 11:30 UT (7:30 a.m. EDT, 4:30 a.m. PDT), +/- 30 minutes.

If you've been tracking the LCROSS Mission, you know that the craft entered its third and final orbit of the Earth several weeks ago. Despite an unexpected fuel consumption problem in August that resulted in round-the-clock monitoring by the LCROSS Earth-based team, LCROSS has remained on track and stable. NASA recently formally announced that Cabeus A, the permanently shadowed polar crater, is the target site for impact in this search and discovery mission. The mission is now in its final days before the much-anticipated lunar impact on October 9.

According to NASA, "LCROSS will search for water ice by sending its spent upper-stage Centaur rocket to impact the permanently shadowed polar crater. The satellite will fly into the plume of dust left by the impact and measure the properties before also colliding with the lunar surface."

The plume generated by the impact is expected to be visible for only 2-5 minutes, but because it will be visible with mid-range telescopes, 10-to-12 inches and larger, NASA expects many backyard astronomers will be training scopes on the Moon on October 9. For those without the necessary equipment, there are LCROSS "Impact Parties" being organized around the country, and many observatories are holding special viewing sessions.

Viewing a scheduled and planned "crash" into the moon is (most likely) a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Today's K-12 students weren't around for the last appearance of Halley's Comet (visible only once every 75-76 years), but they're in range for LCROSS. To see if there is an event near you, check this list of LCROSS Public Events.

If you are planning to watch with your own equipment or have questions about what equipment is required, be sure and check out NASA's guide for "Amateur Observations," a compilation of information designed for the casual observer.

For those involved in organizing an Impact Party or for those planning to talk about LCROSS and the coming impact with students, NASA has put together an Impact Party Toolkit that contains background information as well as resources related to each stage of the mission.

Resources for educators, include the following:

If you are talking with K-1 students about LCROSS, craters, and the Moon, don't miss Science Buddies' "Craters and Meteorites" project idea which gives students an immediate and hands-on look at the concept of impact craters and the relationship between the size and mass of a meteor and the resulting crater.

For more information on LCROSS and suggested materials for fourth grade and beyond, check our initial entry on the LCROSS mission.

The LCROSS spacecraft was designed and built by Northrop Grumman, sponsor of Science Buddies' Aerodynamics Interest Area



Join Science Buddies on August 30 for "Using Science Buddies for Success," a free one-hour webinar designed to introduce teachers to Science Buddies' resources and tools.

As the 2009-2010 school year gets ready to kick into gear, now is the perfect time to learn more about how Science Buddies can be integrated in your classroom. Science Buddies is dedicated to creating engaging project ideas and resources that can help increase science enthusiasm, interest, and literacy in all grades. The webinar, sponsored by Northrop Grumman and Motorola, will walk you through our resources and offer suggestions for incorporating Science Buddies' materials in your classroom.

Webinar 'Door' Prizes!

At the end of the webinar, we will award door prizes. The first 25 attendees to sign in and attend the whole webinar will receive a free Scientific Method poster. Also, random names will be drawn from among ALL attendees: 10 attendees will receive a Maxtor Personal Storage Basics 300 gigabyte external hard drive and 1 attendee will receive a $100 grant of his or her choice of science supplies or equipment!


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