How to start your project?
• Pick your topic: This is perhaps the most difficult part. Get an idea of what you want to study or learn about. Ideas should come from things in your area of interest. A hobby might lead you to a good topic. What is going on in the world that you would like to know more about? Most importantly, pick a question or problem that is not too broad and that can be answered through scientific investigation.
• Research your topic: Go to the library or internet to learn more about your topic. Always ask "why?" or "what if...?" Look for unexplained or unexpected results. Also, talk to professionals in the field.
• Organize: Organize everything you have learned about your topic. At this point, you should narrow your thinking by focusing on a particular idea.
• Make a time table: Choose a topic that not only interests you, but can be done in the amount of time you have. Identify your "testable question". Develop a time line to manage your time efficiently. You will need time to fill out the necessary forms and to review the Research Plan. Certain projects will require more time. Allow plenty of time to experiment and collect data. You will also need time to write a paper and put together a display board.
• Plan your experiment: Give careful thought to experimental design. Once you have a feasible project idea, write a research plan. This plan should explain how you will do your experiments and exactly what will be involved. Remember you must design your experiment so that it is a 'controlled' experiment. This is one in which only one variable is changed at a time. The results are then compared to the 'standard' data you take originally before you change that one variable. Thus, you have designed an investigation with adequate control and limited variables to investigate a question. The experimental design should also include a list of materials. Once finished with the experimental design (called 'procedure') all students are required to fill out the appropriate forms.
• Consult with your adult and get approvals: You are required to discuss your research plan with an adult and obtain a signature of approval.
• Conduct your experiment: During experimentation, keep detailed notes of each and every experiment, measurement and observation in a "data hand book". Do not rely on memory. Besides, judges love data books! Use data tables or charts to record your quantitative data.
• Analyze your results: When you complete your experiments, examine and organize your findings. Use appropriate graphs to make 'pictures' of your data. Identify patterns from the graphs. This will help you answer your testable question. Did your experiments give you the expected results? Why or why not? Was your experiment preformed with the exact same steps each time? Are there other explanations that you had not considered or observed? Were there experimental errors in your data taking, experimental design or observations? Remember, that understanding errors is a key skill scientists must develop. In addition, reporting that a suspected variable did not change the results can be valuable information. That is just as much a 'discovery' as if there was some change due to the variable. In addition, statistically analyze your data using the statistics that you can understand and explain their meaning.
• Draw conclusions: Did the variable(s) tested cause a change when compared to the standard you are using? What patterns do you see from your graph analysis that exists between your variables? Which variables are important? Did you collect enough data? Do you need to conduct more experimentation? Keep an open mind; never alter results to fit a theory. If your results do not support your hypothesis, that is ok and in some cases good! Try to explain why you obtained different results than your literature research predicted for you. Were there sources of error that may have caused these differences? If so, identify them. Even if the results differ, you still have accomplished successful scientific research because you have taken a question and attempted to discover the answer through quantitative testing. This is the way knowledge is obtained in the world of science. Think of practical applications that can be made from this research. How could this project be used in the real world? Finally, explain how you would improve the experiment and what would you do differently.