By Angela Paul
When many of us hear the phrase “science project” recollections of staying up half the night throwing together a half done report with half dead plants come to mind. If done properly, however, a science project can be a fully enjoyable educational experience for the entire homeschooling family.
What often makes science projects so overwhelming is that traditionally they are tacked on top of all of the other schoolwork. This should not be so. Three approaches (or any combination of the three) can help prevent this.
First of all the science project can be done as a unit study. This is a natural unit study because every science project is interdisciplinary. Obviously science is involved. Also writing, spelling, grammar and either penmanship or typing are integral parts. The graphs and charts involved encompass math skills, as the display involves artwork. History can be included in the research stage as you study other work done in this area. If the science project is done as a unit study a very thorough project can be completed in about two months, depending, of course, on the study.
For those who don’t like the unit study approach it is best to let the science project be the science work for six months or so. With this approach a broad area of science, for instance, plant life would be studied in detail with the particular project being the focus. Much depth and understanding would be gained in this method. Thus, it is particularly useful with older children.
Doing the project as a family science project is stress reducing regardless of the method used. Often the parents help with science projects anyway and making the project an official family project is enjoyable as each person can contribute and not feel overburdened. Also, inner-family competition is reduced.
With this all in mind, how do you proceed? First of all, a science project is a focused study in an area of science that utilizes the scientific method. The scientific method involves initial research in an area to select a topic and determine a hypothesis. The research stage is critical in developing a workable project and a verifiable hypothesis.
The hypothesis is simply what you expect to discover in you project. For example, if a child has been interested in “why leaves change color in the fall,” a possible hypothesis could be “colder temperatures make leaves change color.” A project concerning battery life might be entitled “Which battery outlasts the ‘Supervolter’?” The hypothesis might be that “Supervolter is the longest lasting battery” or “There is no significant difference in battery life among different brands.”
After determining the topic and hypothesis, experimentation should be done to determine if the hypothesis is correct. In an experiment it is vital to have a control group. The control group is the baseline in the study that is used to compare the other test groups.
It is also a good idea to have as many samples as practical in each group. In other words testing one battery in each brand is not a good idea due to the inherent variations from one battery to the next. Nevertheless, testing ten batteries of each of ten brands would be time consuming and expensive. A balanced approach is important to make the project valid but not overwhelming.
In this example five different brands could be studied with an initial sample size of three batteries in each brand. If the variation in battery life was not great within each brand this would be sufficient. For older students this would be an excellent study in statistics with standard deviation and sampling.When planning the experiments, it is necessary to isolate the specific variables you wish to study. In the plant example, if you want to study the effect of temperature on plants it would be important to be sure that the only difference between the samples was temperature and not, for instance, lighting (natural versus indoor). It would also be important to choose carefully the type of plants you will use. Small Azalea bushes would be a good choice, but Holly bushes would not. (Do you see why not?)
All experiments, even false starts, should be carefully documented. The logbook should be complete enough for someone else to repeat your work using it. The steps of the initial research should be included in the logbook.
After the experimentation is complete the results should be analyzed and a conclusion reached. The results can be graphed or charted for reporting ease. The conclusion will confirm or reject your hypothesis. If the hypothesis is rejected a new hypothesis can be formed and additional experimentation can be done to confirm the new hypothesis. This does not need to be done with the current project, but suggestions for further studies can be included in the conclusions.
An interesting addition to the science project is coming up with an analogy. In God’s Word analogies are often drawn from nature with a spiritual application. In Proverbs, the Lord tells us to consider the ant. From studying ants we can learn lessons on diligence and teamwork and apply this in our own life. In our science fair the judges were particularly impressed with the analogies that were drawn by the students. This adds Bible study and character to the unit study.
The last step in the project involves presentation. This includes the written report, display and oral report. The presentation illustrates to the student that a scientist needs to be a good communicator. It is important for others to be able to understand what you have done. Without clean communication, progress is impeded.
Hopefully, these suggestions will take away some of the mystery and stress related to science projects. Whether your project will be entered into a science fair or not the methodology involved in a project will give your children valuable insight into the process of the scientific method.The topic of study in a science project can make or break the project. There are several aspects to consider in making the right choice. First, consider interests that your child already has. Obviously, it is more interesting to work on
something you already like. Has your child been asking questions about what makes dough rise or why the sky is blue? In finding the answers to the question, the scientific method can be used which leads to a science project.
Another area for consideration is consumer product testing. These kinds of science projects are great in illustrating the steps in experimentation. “Which brand of paper towels are most absorbent?” or “which light bulb lasts the longest?” are examples of science projects that are both interesting and practical.
Probably the most obvious projects to work on are those related to the current area of science being studied. Often the textbook being used will have suggested science projects. Don’t overlook these for starters.
Once a project has been done it can often be expanded into another project. If the conclusion rejects the hypothesis a new idea can be formed. What would have happened if we had used 100-watt light bulbs instead of 75-watt bulbs? Will dough rise high if we use both yeast and baking soda? What happens when we add more or less? What happens when we leave out certain ingredients? Why are they needed?After our last science fair both the participating students and those who observed were eager to start on new ideas. Watch out! You may find that your family loves doing science projects all year round.
OUTLINE OF PROJECT FEATURESI. REPORTA. INTRODUCTION1. WHY YOU SELECTED PROJECT/PURPOSE2. WHAT YOU HOPED TO DISCOVER/HYPOTHESIS3. RESEARCH4. BRIEF SUMMARYB. MAIN BODY1. DESCRIPTION2. PROCEDURES3. MATERIALS4. RESULTSC. APPLICATION1. CONCLUSION2. EXPLANATION3. SPIRITUAL ANALOGYII. DISPLAYA. BOARDS (TRIFOLD)1. TITLE2. HYPOTHESIS3. SUMMARY4. RESULTS5. CONCULSION6. ANALOGYB. MODEL1. STATIONARY OR WORKING2. CLEARLY LABELEDC. FIGURES, DRAWINGS, GRAPHS, PICTURESIII. DAILY LOG BOOKA. RESEARCHB. CHRONOLOGYC. IMPORTANT DECISIONSD. EXPERIMENTAL DESIGNIV. ORAL REPORT – BRIEF SUMMARYA. PURPOSEB. HYPOTHESISC. CONCLUSIOND. ANALOGYEXPLANATION OF ANALOGIESScience is the systematic observation of God’s creation. As we study the creation, we can learn more about God and how He wants us to live. Jesus told us to observe the lilies of the field, and how they are beautifully clothed by the Father without worrying. This is an example of science: observation and conclusion. The application here is: do not worry. Since we are worth more than lilies, the Father will also provide for us.In the science project an important aspect is the application or analogy. As your children are studying the physical realm, encourage them to think of the spiritual application they can learn from their projects.
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