To participate in the Colorado Science and Engineering Fair, a student must first participate in a Regional Science Fair and earn the privilege of presenting their research at the state-level competition. The CSEF then unites these bright young minds from around the state, showcasing their talent on a state-wide stage and providing the opportunity to compete for over $250,000 in prizes and scholarships.
Participation in a science fair can be a very rewarding experience. It is the culmination of conducting an independent research project and provides valuable feedback to the student as they continue on in their scientific pursuits. However, careful planning and consideration of the rules to ensure the safety of the student researcher and any research subjects is critical to this success. Please see the Forms, Rules & Guidelines section for more information on requirements for competition.
"Through my participation in science fairs, I have gained some very important skills, lessons, and friends. I have developed my presentation skills farther than what I ever thought possible. I have also learned how to network and work with people. It is amazing to see the sportsmanship that we all share. Such as one time, another finalist was in need of some help setting up his display board and I continually ran back to my board for supplies to help him along. I myself then received help on straightening my display from a different finalist. We all work together and help each other do our best. I have also made many friends whom I will never forget."
Kaitlin Hornig, CSEF Alumni & CSSF, Inc, Board of Director Member
The following are resources that might be helpful to a student conducting a science fair research project. Classroom teacher resources can be found here.
Types of Experiments:
Scientists ask questions and then try to answer them using the scientific method. Different kinds of questions need different kinds of scientific investigations. Some investigations involve observing and describing objects, organisms, or events; some involve collecting specimens; some involve researching more information; some involve doing a fair test or experimenting; some involve discovery of new objects and phenomena; and some involve making models. We can divide investigations into four general categories of methodology:
Discovery science involves looking for relationships in nature or simply measuring and describing things in nature.
Example: How much variation is there in the beak size and shape of Carolina Chickadees compared to that of the Mountain Chickadees?
Model testing involves creating a representation of a phenomenon in nature and then testing it to see how well it represents the real thing. These types of projects are not always appropriate and must include a testing component.
Example: A goldfish in a beaker with some plastic plants and Daphnia is a scaled down idealized model of a freshwater aquatic ecosystem. If we find that the fish survives and eats a few of the Daphnia, we may conclude that it is a good model.
Engineering science involves identifying a problem, formulating goals and seeking solutions to the problem.
Example: A hockey player would like to practice receiving passes, but doesn't have a partner to work with, so he designs and then tests a device that is similar to a pitching machine, but for hockey pucks on the ice.
Hypothesis driven methodologies involve creating a tentative explanation for an observed phenomenon in nature.
Example: Aspirin inhibits key oncogenic factors and/or activates pivotal tumor suppressor genes.
Scientific/Inquiry Experimentation: An explanation of the process of doing scientific research that is widely accepted in the K-12 arena.
Scientific Experimentation Vocabulary: A variety of vocabulary that is commonly used in scientific research.
Tips for Posing a Scientific Question to Answer:
- When selecting a topic, pick an area of science in which you have a particular interest, experience, or resources.
- The answer to the question should not be common knowledge. "Do plants need light to grow?" is not a good question because most people know the answer to this.
- Do not get too ambitious. Try something simple but elegant. It is better to do a great job on a simpler project than a mediocre job on a complex experiment.
- The question should be a relevant question and have a real-world application if wanting to "compete" at a science fair. Current science news is a great way to develop a competitive and relevant science question.
- Once you have found a topic of interest that interests you, consider your time constraints, the rules and guidelines, the contacts you will need to make, the resources and mentors you will need, and finally, the expense.
- The question should be written in a way that allows you to numerically measure the results. All data should be measured using the metric system.
- Eliminate questions that cannot be answered by gathering evidence. Word questions in a way that allows them to be answered by an investigation or experiment.
Engineering Design: An explanation of the differences between doing a scientific experimental project and an engineering design project that is widely accepted in the K-12 arena.
Engineering Vocabulary: A variety of vocabulary that is commonly used in engineering design projects.
Tips for Defining an Engineering Problem to Solve:
Internet Science Fair Resources:
Society for Science & the Public - SSP is the organization that manages the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair as well as the Intel Science Talent Search. On their web site, you can find additional information on completing a science fair project, the rules and guidelines, the rules wizard that will help identify the forms needed for different types of projects, and the awards available to those who attend the Intel ISEF.
Science Buddies - This site has a topic selection wizard to help students narrow down an area of interest; an ideas directory; a science fair project guide; an Ask an Expert bull it in board; and tips and techniques to preparing for advanced competitions like the CSEF.
Discovery Channel News - Read interesting articles on various science topics ranging from Earth & Space Sciences to Dinosaurs to Human Medicine.
Science Fair Central - On this site there are example project ideas and virtual labs where students can practice science investigations before developing their own.
The Why Files - Explore the science behind the news stories.
Science News - This is the magazine published by Society for Science & the Public.
Science Daily - Read about today's top science news.
Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards - This book explores the dimensions of teaching and learning science as inquiry for K-12 students across a range of science topics. Detailed examples help clarify when teachers should use the inquiry-based approach and how much structure, guidance and coaching they should provide. ISBN: 0309064767
Students and Research: Practical Strategies for Science Classrooms and Competitions - This book is presented in four parts: Basic Principles of Experimental Design and Data Analysis; Advanced Principles of Experimental Design and Data Analysis; Management Strategies for Classroom and Independent Research; and Strategies for Successful Science Competitions. ISBN: 0787264776
Science Experiments by the Hundreds - This publication will enable students to turn their interests into their own original experiment. ISBN: 0787215740
The Scientific American Book of Great Science Fair Projects - A special collection of science fair projects from the science authority - Scientific American magazine. ISBN: 0471356255
Super Science Fair Sourcebook- This book can help students, teachers and parents prepare for a science fair. It gives lots of project ideas along with tips from concept to presentation. This book also has a section on the use of computers for information. ISBN: 0070328498
The Complete Handbook of Science Fair Projects - This book discusses various aspects of science fair project research including advice on choosing a topic, doing research, developing experiments, organizing data results and presenting a project to the judges. ISBN: 0471123773
Science Experiments and Projects for Students - With this book, your students can create and conduct original experiments and can assess their work using a variety of check sheets. Various levels of sophistication are included so that students begin with structured activities, do practice problems and reach the world class level when they design their own experiments. ISBN: 0787264784
How to Do a Science Fair Project - The author provides advice on how to select a project, conduct the research, and present the results. A list of do's and don'ts includes a discussion of what works as a project title and what doesn't. ISBN: 0531113469
STEM: Student Research Handbook - This handbook is designed to help guide teachers interested in incorporating research into their school curriculum. ISBN: 1936137244
Ready, Set, SCIENCE! - This book will aid K-8 teachers in putting research to work in their classrooms. ISBN: 0309106146
Providing guidance to multiple classes of science students on developing and conducting science fair research projects is a daunting task. The following documents were developed by Candus Muir, a science teacher at The Classical Academy in Colorado Springs, CO. Ms. Muir is an accomplished science teacher and a huge advocate for doing science fair in the classroom. She hopes that her experiences can help other science teachers implement science fair in their classroom. Please feel free to modify and adapt these documents to fit your individual needs.
The teaching and learning objectives for students participating in science fair research are:
- To use an inquiry oriented investigation to apply science content to an original question.
- To engage students in problem solving, planning and decision making in an original project.
- To challenge students to develop a question, design an investigation, gather evidence, formulate and answer to the original question, and communicate the investigative process and results to peers, teachers, and other adults.
- To provide a means of reward and recognition.
- To encourage students, through experiment and competition, to consider scientific careers.
Scientific Method: An explanation of the process of doing scientific research that is widely accepted in the K-12 arena.
Engineering vs. Experimental: An explanation on how the process of doing an engineering project differs from other scientific experimentations.
Vocabulary: A variety of vocabulary that is commonly used in scientific research.
Science Fair Assignment Sheet: A guideline for assignment dates, point values and due dates.
Science Fair Participation Levels: A guideline on requirements for different levels of projects (simple to complex).
Posing A Question
Purpose of the Investigation
Tables and Graphs
Complete Science Fair Classroom Teacher Packet - I am currently working on updating this packet - check back in Fall 2014 for a new and improved version!
The Science Fair Idea Slide Show is a Powerpoint document that may be used with students or adult sponsors to generate ideas about what makes a good science fair research project. Created by Doug Steward of Monte Vista High School.