mssef student guide

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Student guide to science fair


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A “How-To” Guide for Students by Students

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The Definition: Independent research of a science topic using the scientific method. You ask the question. You figure out the answer. Think of it like designing your own class where you give yourself the homework. Ok, so what exactly is a science fair project?

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- A science fair project allows you to pose your own question and answer it, learning things you may never cover in your high school classes - Learning how to think independently to develop your ideas. - Laboratory research, statistical analysis, and public speaking skills are acquired - Projects build self-confidence and often enable you to present ideas to others in various situations, such as college and job interviews. Why should I do a Science Fair project?

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Remember both choices are equal so you choose what you want to do! A model, design, or program laboratory results and conclusions Example Projects Final Product What kind of projects can I do?

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Get a notebook to record all your observations, experiments, diagrams, pictures and questions. 2. Select a topic and a research question: the more specific the better Hint: Remember, it is always better to ask a simple question about something specific and get more complex, than starting complicated and not knowing where to start! Read the literature on the topic and problem: books, magazines (i.e. scientific-think Science or Nature), etc—you can do better than (just) Wikipedia! 5. Form a hypothesis or state the purpose of the research. Special Notes: For Engineering & Computer Science Projects … Hypothesis = Project Goal What is a project goal? A project goal is to build a device, write a program, design a system to solve a problem. So what do I need to do? Here are the basics:

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6. Develop a research plan /experimental design.. 7. Conduct the experiment. Record the quantitative and qualitative data. Analyze data, applying appropriate statistics. 9. Repeat your experiment . 10. Form conclusion(s) based on your results. 11. Write the laboratory report. 12. Create the visual display. These steps should be in every project, even though the order might be different, and the time spent on each will not be the same. Each participant must decide which steps to give more weight and when to do which step. The Basics (continued):

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Remember that restrictions exist against: Potentially Hazardous Biological Agents (microorganisms, DNA, human and vertebrate animal tissue, blood, body fluids, etc.), Vertebrate Animals, Human Subjects, Hazardous Chemicals, Activities or Devices Controlled Substances. Check the MSSEF website for rules and further description. 1. Choose a topic that interests you. A hobby such as music, a sport, an article in a magazine, newspaper, or a website is a good place to start. 2. Determine if the project is feasible. - Do you have enough time to do the trials needed? - Do you have the right equipment? What will the cost be? Is it within MSSEF safety regulations, when in doubt, check How do I choose a topic?

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Some example of magazines for doing research: Air and Space Magazine American Biology Teacher American Journal of Physics Astronomy Chemical and Engineering News Discover Environmental Science Technology Journal of Chemical Education Natural History Science Science News Scientific American Remember to cite every source you use! Libraries - be nice to your librarian, they can help you find unbelievable amounts of information more (relevant data that is), even than yes, the internet, without the pop ups!) Verifiable Internet Sources (think something that ends in .edu or .org is a good indication that you can use it) Previous projects you or others have done if this is a continuation project Where do I get information for the project?

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Every experiment should be reproducible and the entries in your notes should be sufficient for someone else to reproduce your experiment. So describe everything that you have done in detail. A neat log book will not only show the judges how much time you put into it, but it will help you in writing your report, setting up your display, and in your oral presentation as a reference. If you can, take pictures, draw diagrams, record both your success and failures. Make sure that each page is dated and describe your progress from day to day. Write each day after work, not a week or so later! What is the notebook for? … How to keep a scientific notebook.

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All science fairs (and all of science-hence the name!) follow these simple steps. Don’t get overwhelmed, it is a way to organize your thinking. It’s logic, not an exam. 4.Test the Experiment – Use your design and see what happens. Make sure to take good notes of what you do and what happened 5.Accept or reject results – These are your conclusions based on your experiment combined with your research Then… 6. Go back and make a new hypothesis based on these conclusions 1.Observations - this is what you learn from your research and experience about what you are interested in 2. Hypothesis – a question that you form based on your observations that you want to test to prove or disprove 3. Design an Experiment – think of how you want to test the hypothesis, gather the materials you need, and think of the steps you need to take. The Scientific Method

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Hypothesis: A trial solution to a research problem. The data you acquire through experimentation can be used to support or refute the hypothesis. It does not matter if you prove it is right or wrong, so long as you stick to the topic. Tips! Be specific in stating your hypothesis or purpose, but don’t be overly wordy Think 2 sentences maximum. If you need more space to describe the problem, you’re making it too complicated, simplify! Sample Hypotheses - The ingestion of caffeine increases the heart rate of Daphnia sp. - Hard materials are more effective at reducing sound levels than soft materials. Forming a hypothesis or stating the purpose

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Organize all material and equipment to be ready for use as you need them. In science you should look for trends in your data. Think about what those trends mean and plot them if possible Outline the procedure and make a timeline for yourself (when do you start each part, keep in mind when it is due) Keep your scientific notebook/log and graph paper handy. Make entries in your scientific notebook as you go. Record data, both quantitative (numbers, measurable quantities) and qualitative (what it looks like) , in your logbook. Determine the precision of your data points using statistical analysis if applicable Complete all certification forms and compliance forms. Observe Safety Rules Before you start your experiment Before you start your experiment

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If you are working with hazardous substances, you must fill out all required paperwork (consent forms, etc.) BEFORE you begin any experimentation. Did you complete all required paperwork? (See MSSEF Manual - Research and Safety Regulations) The Logistics

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You will need to include a control set-up as well as an experimental set-up in your experimental design. The control and experimental set-ups are exactly the same except that the control set-up does not contain the independent variable (the thing that you have changed for your experiment). Example: Hypothesis: Plants grow better in green light than in regular light. Experimental set-up: Plants grown in green light and watered and fertilized in the same way as plants grown in regular light (the control). All other variables, such as type of soil, the amount of humidity, the air temperature, and the light exposure are kept the same for both the experimental set-up and the control set-up Don’t forget to Rinse and Repeat! The more times you repeat an experiment and obtain the same results, the more statistically valid your results are. The Control Experiment

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Ask yourself these questions: - What were the limitations of your experiment? - How were extraneous variables minimized? - What went wrong? What went right? - How might you improve your experimental design in future studies? Write up answers to these questions in your report along with the rest of your data. Analyzing Errors

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- Did you collect enough data? - Which variables are important? How do your results compare with other studies? - Do your results seem reasonable? Are there any trends in your quantitative/qualitative data? Do your results support your hypothesis? If not, why not? Has your experiment tested your hypothesis? Remember to keep an open mind about your findings. Never change or alter your results to coincide with what you think is accurate or with a suggested theory. Sometimes the greatest knowledge is discovered through so-called mistakes. Looking for trends and forming a conclusion

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A good research paper Should be written in the past tense and have the following components: -Title and/or Title Page -Abstract, Summary Page/Index -Introduction, including Literature Review -Hypothesis or Statement of Purpose -Materials and Experimental Methods -Data and/or Results -Discussion and Analysis of Data or Results -Conclusions -Acknowledgements -Bibliography Your report will provide interested readers with a comprehensive look at your topic and research. Your paper should include information collected during the research as well as a complete description of your experiment, data, and conclusion. Also, it is helpful to make a summary of your report with bullet points so your judges can quickly and easily see your main points. Writing the research paper

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In text example: Internet source: Author, date, and state “Internet” (Martin and Stephen, 2000, Internet) OR (Compost and Worms, 1952, Internet) When using the work of other scientists, you must document their contributions by citing your sources of information. Scientists use the American Psychological Association (A.P.A.) For more details you may want to consult “A Writer’s Reference” by Diana Hacker, or Purdue University’s APA Style Guide Citing Sources: Avoiding Plagiarism in Scientific Work

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An abstract should include: - A statement of purpose or a hypothesis. The experimental design, descriptive outline of the procedures or methods. - A summary of results. - Your conclusion. Application of the research project, if you have space, and your ideas for future studies. In total, the abstract should be a paragraph, not a page Once you’re done with the experimentation, it is time to summarize! The abstract is the last part of the project report to be prepared, and it is written after the project is completed. An abstract is a short summary of your project that informs the reader what the project covered, and what has been accomplished. Writing the Abstract

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The following items are part of the project board: - Title - Introduction or Background - Problem or Purpose - Hypothesis - Procedure or Experimental Design - Materials Used - Results (Data, charts, diagrams, etc.) - Analysis - Conclusions - Applications - Future Applications or Future Research Rules of thumb: Your project title and section headings on your board should be large enough to be easily read from 6 feet away. The regular text displayed on your board should be readable from a distance of 3 feet. Make it easy for the judges and others to assess what you have done: if they don’t understand it, they cannot tell if your work was great or not. Preparing your project board & visual display

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Example of Board Layout

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Keep eye contact with your listeners during your presentation. Use your board/poster as a prop and tool to help you present you work. Present your work enthusiastically. Judge’s Pet Peeve: Judges will ask you questions. If they ask you something you don’t know, tell them you don’t know. Don’t try to make something up on the spot. It’s ok if you don’t know. It’s not ok if you make up things you never read! Below are some key points to a good presentation Be positive and confident of your work. You have worked hard and know your project better than anyone else. - Practicing ahead of time in front of a mirror, family members and friends, - Try not to read from a script. - Dress appropriately and neatly. Oral Presentation

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Websites: Massachusetts State Science and Engineering Fair The MSSEF Student Guide: "How To Do A Science Fair Project” is posted here. Additional resources for science fair information are listed on the MSSEF website. Science Buddies Dr. Shawn’s Science Fair Projects Reference Books: Bochinski, Julia. 1996. The Complete Handbook of Science Fair Projects. John Wiley and Sons. New York.Brisk, Marion. 1994. 1001 Ideas for Science Projects. Simon and Schuster. New York. For more science fair information

Hope to see you at MSSEF! : 

Hope to see you at MSSEF!

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Massachusetts State Science & Engineering Fair, Inc. wishes to express it appreciation for creating this Guide for Middle School Students To Lanay Tierney MSSEF Alumna & Award Winner 2000 Graduate, Springfield Voc-Tech High School 2008 Graduate-to-be Boston College MSSEF Intern

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