“Mom, I have to do a science fair project. I don’t know what to do!” said Henry.
“Don’t worry, baby. We’ll do it together,” said his Mom.
“Oh boy, another one? I don’t know what to do, either,” THOUGHT his Mom.
Have you had similar thoughts as Henry’s mother, when there are already a million activities going on, and Henry needs to make a poster board that needs a ton of work?
Most of the time, a science fair project is a family project. It implies needing your help to come up with a topic, doing research, conducting experiments or building a device, AND making that board which will take you the whole weekend. It is a big project, but it can be manageable (even enjoyable) IF YOU KNOW HOW TO HELP!
First, don’t panic!
Science fair is basically an event where students present something about science (or engineering) as a group. What is science? A question asked and the question answered.
It doesn’t have to be fancy! It’s just an opportunity for YOUR CHILD to do some deep learning in a topic. It is YOUR CHILD’s project, not yours!
Brainstorming Topic Ideas
Usually the students are given a few days before finalizing on a topic. As soon as you see that science fair notice, it’s not time to finalize a topic on the spot. It’s not time to Google “Science Fair” topics.
It is time to take out a blank piece of paper titled:
“Questions or Complaints that Henry had until the Day Before the Topic is Due”
Similar to the ideas shared in Finding STEM at Your Pencil Tips, “questions or complaints” mean:
- Questions that can be answered scientifically
- Complaints that can be resolved scientifically
If you think about it, it’s basically MOST questions and complaints that Henry will have:
“It’s freezing today.” — Ding! WHY? A potential topic for weather, climate or natural phenomena?
“My best friend laughed at me today.” — Ding! WHY? A potential topic for psychology, human brains, and maybe animal behaviors?
“Ugh, my pencil keeps breaking!!” — Ding! WHY? A potential hands-on topic for improving pencil design, manufacturing processes or recycling?
If Henry is keen about writing down all his questions and complaints for 3-5 days, he will have at least ten topics he can relate to before the topic due day. That means it’s a list of topics that HE understands, cares for and would be motivated to dig deeper into.
If there is only a general deadline for the poster board, work with your child to set a deadline for the topic.
Finalizing the Topic Ideas
Now Henry will just have to pick his favorite topic from his list of questions and complaints from the past few days. All he needs to do next is to formulate the topic into:
- What is the problem being explored?
- What am I going to TRY to solve this problem?
“It’s freezing today” can be turned into: “Exploring the Record Low Temperature in California.”
“My best friend laughed at me today” can be turned into: “Understanding Human Behavior on Social Status from Kids’ Perspective.”
“Ugh, my pencil keeps breaking” can be turned into: “Re-engineering the Yellow Pencil.”
Focus ONLY on deciding the topic. Don’t stress yourself out by thinking if it’s even possible or not to re-engineer a pencil. We’ll learn how to think about that when it’s hands-on time.
What if No Topic is Interesting?
In case Henry really just isn’t into any of the topics listed, he’s gotta have something that he loves.
What if Henry loves Pokemon? Sure! Make it the topic:
“How can Pikachu possibly emit 100,000 volts from a tiny body?”
“Is it Scientifically Possible to Fit Pokemons in a Palm-Sized Ball?”
There is a large variety of topics for science fair when it comes to non-existing things. Again, it’s not time to think about HOW to do it. We’re only finalizing a topic.
When your child is really stuck, guide your child to use the imagination to come up with a topic. That way, any topic is going to be a rewarding science exploration journey!
Please comment below for any questions you have about helping your child decide a science fair topic! The next blog post will be on how you can help after a topic has been decided.
I was a fan of science projects as a child, and I now love doing them with my kids too!