Science Projects Background Information for Teachers and Parents
This page contains information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students about choosing science projects, including projects for the science fair. The information is designed to complement the BrainPOP Jr. movie Science Projects. It explains the type of content covered in the movie, provides ideas for how teachers and parents can develop related understandings, and suggests how other BrainPOP Jr. resources can be used to scaffold and extend student learning.
Doing science projects is a fun way for children to explore the world around them, while developing critical thinking and research skills. Remind children that when they do a science project, they follow the scientific method. They ask a question, make a hypothesis, plan and carry out an experiment, observe and record data, draw conclusions, and share their results with others. We recommend screening BrainPOP Jr.’s movie on the Scientific Method for review.
Children can get ideas for science projects just by looking at the world around them and ideas can strike at any time. Encourage children to carry notebooks with them and jot down any questions and ideas. Some children may wonder how a toy works, what causes a natural phenomenon, or wonder how people affect the environment. Some children may want to investigate a claim made by a commercial or advertisement or build a model to illustrate a scientific principle. Children can also get science project ideas from the myriad of resources available at the library and on the Internet. Remind children that they should choose a topic they are interested in and want to explore further. Science projects can take weeks or months, so it’s important that they are interested and excited about their topics, and that they choose topics which are suitable for their time frame. Children should learn to plan ahead and assess whether or not they have enough time and resources to complete their proposed project. They may need to revise or rethink their project in order to complete it on time. Encourage children to research different topics and pick the right one for them, their resources, and their schedule.
The first step of the scientific method is to ask a question and set a purpose. Remind children that a good question is clear, simple, and specific. Children should be able to come up with a test that can answer the question. This may require further research and fine-tuning a question to fit the purpose of the project. Some children may ask a question that cannot be answered through a science project or is too challenging. Provide guidance to teach them to simplify their question into one that can be answered through an experiment completed by themselves or with very little help from adults. Review with children that good science project questions can be yes-or-no or making comparisons. Children should understand their questions before taking any step further in the scientific process.
After children have picked questions, the next step is to make a hypothesis, or prediction. Review that when they predict, they use what they know to explain what might happen. “If. . .then” statements can help them come up with a good hypothesis. Children should write their hypotheses down before proceeding with an experiment. It is a good idea for children to reserve a special notebook for their hypothesis and future notes, to make projects easier and more organized.
The next step is to plan and complete an experiment. As children plan their experiments, remind them to keep their science project questions in mind. Does their experiment answer their question? They may need to revise their experiment plan in order to answer their question. Make sure children have enough time and resources to finish their experiments. Experiments that involve building models or growing plants can take several weeks. Explain to children that many scientists repeat their experiments in order to confirm their findings. This requires careful organization and planning in order to finish the entire project before the deadline. Encourage children to think ahead and set checkpoints and goals throughout their projects. Have children write specific steps for the experiment and include all the materials they will need.
As they do their experiments, remind them to observe and keep detailed notes. Some may want to take photos, draw pictures, or even take videos of their experiments. They can use charts and graphs to record their data as they complete their experiments. Noting any changes as they develop will not only keep children interested, but also provide data for them to create charts to share as the project develops.
After completing their experiments, children should draw conclusions about what they saw and learned. What happened in their experiments? Which developments were expected, and which were unexpected? Children should assess whether or not their hypotheses were correct. Teach children that an incorrect hypothesis does not mean the experiment is not successful. Experiments provide an opportunity to learn and the results can be used to gain and expand knowledge.
The final step of the scientific method is to share results with others. Children can create a poster, presentation, report, or even a video on their projects. Encourage them to be creative. As children share their work, have them ask questions and think about each project. Good science projects inspire and excite people and lead them to ask more questions they can investigate or research further.