We’ve consulted with those in the know and collected advice on how your child can get the most out of her next science-fair project. Reni Barlow, executive director of Youth Science Foundation Canada, the nation’s principal organizer of science fairs, notes that it’s about more than just the prize. “Science-fair projects engage kids by looking at problems that they care about,” he says. Word has it that Canadian astronaut Roberta Bondar credits these projects with opening new horizons and motivating her to pursue a career in science. So when you encourage your kids as they pull things together and get started, keep in mind that the sky may not be the limit.
Advice for kids
- Choose a topic that’s of interest to you, and perhaps something that relates to your own day-to-day experiences.
- Do your homework: take a trip to the library and log some computer time to find out the background of your topic and what research has been done in this area.
- Narrow it down to what you can realistically investigate. For example, instead of researching the solar system, look instead at the subject of water on Mars.
- Don’t simply rely on trial and error — take a logical and methodical approach to solving the problem.
- Tell a story: while many think of science as cold, hard fact and nothing else, professional scientists often make use of narrative. In your presentation, share why you’re interested in the topic, the story of how you solved the problem, what you learned from the project, and the things that, as a result, you would like to investigate further.
Advice for parents
- Provide guidance, but never, ever complete the project for your child. Remember — winning isn’t everything.
- If she is having a hard time finding a topic, space and the universe, plants, volcanoes and dinosaurs (especially
for younger kids) are popular subjects. But above all, make sure to ask her what she would like to do — and don’t take “I don’t know” for an answer.
- There’s a great deal of information out there, and it’s possible for your child to assemble a bunch of stuff
without actually learning anything. Your role is to ask him questions and make sure that your child really understands the fundamentals of his research.
- Take a family field trip: visit a place that will bring your child’s topic to life. For example, if she is researching the forces that allow a plane to take flight, visit an aeronautical museum.