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Elevate Your Science Classroom: Taking Independent Student Science Projects to the Next Level

In part three of the "Why Do Science Projects" series, we review strategies to support advanced science and engineering projects.

Why Do Science Projects - Teach Perspective - Two students working with test tubes

Science fair projects have been a staple of the American science classroom for decades, but these competitions have come a long way from the volcanoes and potato batteries of the past. National Geographic's new docuseries, Science Fair: The Series, highlights some of the impressive projects being completed by high school students all over the world and presented at the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). If you are a science or engineering teacher and have wondered how to guide your students toward such impressive projects, this post is for you!

Below are a few considerations when supporting advanced science and engineering projects. For more guidance on how to support advanced projects, be sure to check out Science Buddies' Advanced Project Guide.

  • Authentic Student-Driven Research: One of the keys to a successful advanced science or engineering project is that students should aim to make an original contribution to an area of science that they are passionate about. A great project starts with a thorough literature review and identification of a gap in knowledge, application, or methodologies that the student hopes to address with their project. Students can utilize the Science Buddies Topic Selection Wizard to inspire project ideas (projects marked with an asterisk indicate those that require independent development of procedures) or develop their own projects with the support of a mentor based on a problem they have a personal connection to and are passionate about solving.
  • Utilize Mentors: Mentors are an invaluable part of the advanced science project experience. Mentors can provide students with support in developing a testable hypothesis and reliable procedure, providing access to a lab or other tools required for their research, and coach them through discipline-specific standards for their research papers, project boards, and the judging process. Check out this article on How to Find a Mentor for more ideas on how to support students in identifying potential mentors or encourage students to check out the Ask an Expert forums to get support from scientists on the Science Buddies team!
  • Go Above and Beyond: Think about ways that you can help your students' projects stand out from the crowd. Project components like well-written research papers, advanced data analysis and data presentation, a thorough lab notebook, and a well thought out judging strategy can be the difference between a project that does okay and a project that qualifies for the next level of competition.
  • Embrace Experience: Think about ways you can support students to develop their scientific and engineering inquiry skills over time. Consider collaborating with teachers at different grade levels to develop a series of science project experiences that can help students build skills and motivation over time. Many students may complete their first science fair project begrudgingly but then find life-changing intrinsic motivation after feeling some small success at the fair and seeing other student projects, telling themselves "I can do that too!" The longer students are exposed to scientific inquiry and the science fair community, the more likely they are to develop next-level projects.
  • Timeline Tips & Tricks: The earlier students can start, the better! The spring semester is a great time for students, especially those with previous science fair experience, to get started on their project for the following year. Some good goals to complete before the end of the school year are completing a project proposal, a background research plan and bibliography (sometimes called an 'annotated bibliography'), finding a mentor, and creating a student-driven project calendar. Make sure both you and your students thoroughly review your local fair's rules, including any guidelines around when experimentation can be completed, and be sure they get SRC approval prior to starting experimentation.

These strategies will help you to empower students to excel in advanced science and engineering projects, making a lasting impact on both the world of science and, more importantly, your students!

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Are you and your students new to science projects? See the other posts in this series:

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Free science fair projects.