How to Do a Great Elementary Science Fair Project and Board Layout

Helping Your Child With Science Fair

Help! My kids have to do a science project! Parents panic and wonder what to do and sometimes schools don't provide very clear guidelines on what is expected. If you've never done a science fair project before, you might want to start with How to Teach Science Experiments to Children which includes directions for "Can this Boat Float' which is a great first science project for elementary school kids (and has lots of variations in case you have more than one child doing a project!).

Board Tips

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Science Project: Skittles Color Science Fungus Among Us!  Cute titles catch the judges eye.  Notice that the pictures are a little crooked.  Mollie pasted everything herself.  Judges like it when it seems the kid had really done the project.  What Microbes Grow in Soil? Have a camera handy to snap pictures as kids do the project.What will my Dog Eat?Don't forget to take pictures of the materials and set up of the project.Taking handwritten notes about what you do is important.  You can use these later to make your board. Procedures: Take pictures of the experiment in progress.Although parents can type the information, be sure your child dictates it in their own words.Junior High State Fair: Genetic Drift and Population in Fruit Flies
Science Project: Skittles Color Science
Science Project: Skittles Color Science | Source
 Fungus Among Us!  Cute titles catch the judges eye.  Notice that the pictures are a little crooked.  Mollie pasted everything herself.  Judges like it when it seems the kid had really done the project.
Fungus Among Us! Cute titles catch the judges eye. Notice that the pictures are a little crooked. Mollie pasted everything herself. Judges like it when it seems the kid had really done the project. | Source
What Microbes Grow in Soil? Have a camera handy to snap pictures as kids do the project.
What Microbes Grow in Soil? Have a camera handy to snap pictures as kids do the project. | Source
What will my Dog Eat?Don't forget to take pictures of the materials and set up of the project.
What will my Dog Eat?Don't forget to take pictures of the materials and set up of the project. | Source
Taking handwritten notes about what you do is important.  You can use these later to make your board.
Taking handwritten notes about what you do is important. You can use these later to make your board. | Source
 Procedures: Take pictures of the experiment in progress.
Procedures: Take pictures of the experiment in progress. | Source
Although parents can type the information, be sure your child dictates it in their own words.
Although parents can type the information, be sure your child dictates it in their own words. | Source
Junior High State Fair: Genetic Drift and Population in Fruit Flies
Junior High State Fair: Genetic Drift and Population in Fruit Flies | Source

Instructions for Parents and Kids

As an educator and a parent, I've written these instructions to help. My five kids started doing science projects in elementary school, where I was a Science Fair Coordinator for several years. My four older children have won 1st or 2nd place at Regional Science Fair. My son won 2nd at State as a 7th grader. Along the way, I've learned a lot about what goes into a good science project and also learned how to make this an enjoyable process for both parents and kids.

Sample Projects

First Time to Do a Science Fair Project? Need an Original Idea?

I give a full explanation, step-by-step photos, full directions, and educational videos for a variety of original science experiments that my children have done. My husband, a biology professor, and I, an educator, developed each one in order to teach good science and yet also be fun and interesting to kids. Moreover, I always include some variations of our project to spur you on to some creative ideas fo projects you can do too. Here are the links:

Science Fair Interest Quiz

Which Science Project most interests you?

  • tasting project
  • microbes
  • engineering
  • weather
  • animal or people behavior
  • probability or mathematics
  • chemistry
  • other--tell us below in comments!
See results without voting

Simple Ideas for Elementary School

What is a Science Project?

A science fair project is done to investigate something about the natural world, whether it is chemistry, biology, physics, psychology or other area of science. Usually a student starts with an interest in some topic. Next they need to decide on a question that they could devise a test to answer. To do a science fair project, a student will:

  • Choose a Topic.
  • Ask a question.
  • Guess at an answer (Hypothesis).
  • Design a test for that question (Procedures).
  • Gather materials.
  • Test their answer by doing the experiment (Results).
  • Look at their guess and results and draw a conclusion of whether their guess was right or wrong and perhaps suggest what they would do for further exploration of their question.

Any question which can be tested by a student will make a good project. So you might want to ask your kids if they have a question they are interested in exploring. Or you might want to have them look at the list of questions below to come up with some ideas.

As students do their experiment, they will take notes so that they can prepare a poster which describes their project so that someone else can understand what they learned. By the way, professional scientists share their work in exactly the same way at scientific conferences!

More Ideas

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Engineering: Can you make an Arch from Sugar Cubes? (balancing them, no glue)Engineering and Physics: How Many books can eggshells hold?Chemistry: Which Substances in my kitchen Fizz? (adding baking soda to different liquids) What Fizzes?  Notice that this is a very simple board for a kindergarten kid's experiment.  You don't have to be too fancy!
Engineering: Can you make an Arch from Sugar Cubes? (balancing them, no glue)
Engineering: Can you make an Arch from Sugar Cubes? (balancing them, no glue) | Source
Engineering and Physics: How Many books can eggshells hold?
Engineering and Physics: How Many books can eggshells hold? | Source
Chemistry: Which Substances in my kitchen Fizz? (adding baking soda to different liquids)
Chemistry: Which Substances in my kitchen Fizz? (adding baking soda to different liquids) | Source
 What Fizzes?  Notice that this is a very simple board for a kindergarten kid's experiment.  You don't have to be too fancy!
What Fizzes? Notice that this is a very simple board for a kindergarten kid's experiment. You don't have to be too fancy! | Source

Science Questions for Elementary

  1. What color of candle burns the fastest?
  2. What kind of paper can float the longest?
  3. What shape of clay boat holds the most pennies before sinking?
  4. What happens to cookies when you leave out one ingredient?
  5. Which kind of cola do people really like the best? (blind taste test)
  6. Which kind of detergent washes the most stains out?
  7. What liquids in my house fizz when I add baking soda?
  8. What cleans a penny?
  9. How do different amounts of baking soda affect cookies?
  10. What food does my pet like best?
  11. How many seeds do different types of fruit produce?
  12. How do different style pencils or grips affect writing fatigue?
  13. What factors affect seed germination?
  14. What medium is best for seeds to sprout?
  15. What time of day does a hamster go through a maze faster?
  16. What type of food or type of birdfeeder attracts the most birds?
  17. How does smell affect the taste?
  18. Is the heart rate of different animals and people the same after exercise?
  19. Which gun lasts the longest?
  20. What product works best to stop stinky feet?
  21. What temperature makes bread mold grow faster?
  22. How does egg substitute (or sugar substitute) change recipes?
  23. Which detergent is best for removing stains?
  24. What type of paper makes the best paper airplane?
  25. What is the best type of cup to keep drinks hot? or cold?
  26. Which type of chocolate melts fastest under a hot light?

Science Fair Projects should be Fun!
Science Fair Projects should be Fun! | Source

How to Prepare Poster?

This is the question I get the most often as a science fair coordinator. I encourage parents to use the same basic format that real scientists use on their posters (for our school fair, I try to bring one of my husband's Biology posters to show).

At conferences, scientists show their work through giving talks with slides or by standing by a poster which describes their work, just as kids do with theirs. So this experience is one which teaches them how the process really works.

How to Make a Display Board

Generally, displays for school science fairs are tri-fold, which means that they are folded on either side so that they can stand up for easier viewing. In most fairs, your board can be up to 36 inches wide and 14 inches deep. You can find the tri-fold boards available at some Walmarts, grocery stores, drug stores, craft stores or office supply stores, or make your own board using poster board or cardboard. If you make your own board, you should probably make three separate pieces and use Duct Tape to hold them together so they will bend.

Format

There are several ways to organize a science poster. A good guide for what the judges will be looking for is the following:

  1. Title (This could be your question—or something to make your audience interested in your topic).
  2. Question (State your question clearly and explain how you got interested in this question).
  3. Hypothesis (This is your guess of the answer to your question. Tell why you think this will be the result.)
  4. Procedures (the plan for testing your question and why you chose this plan).
  5. Materials and Equipment (a list of what you will need for your experiment).
  6. Results and Data (Your description of what happened when you did your experiment. You should include any graphs or charts which help show your results).
  7. Conclusion (This is where you explain what happened, and tell whether your guess was correct or not. This is also where you can explain why you got the results you did. If you did your experiment again, would you change anything?)
  8. Resources (Who helped you? What books or websites gave you ideas?)
  9. Personal Information: Your name, grade, and teacher.

Tips

  1. Journal as You Go: As you are working through each stage of your information, be sure you keep a notebook or journal of your process. You can jot down anything you do, including notes you take in finding your topic as well as charts you keep while doing your experiment. Be sure you include all of the parts listed below (like hypothesis, materials etc.). Many science fairs want you to show your journal as part of your project. Real scientists need to keep a bound and dated journal written in pen so that they can prove they really did the work and explain the steps they completed.
  2. Type or Hand Write your Results for Your Board: It is a lot easier for you to type or write your information and titles for each part of your report on a separate piece of paper and then paste or tape this paper onto your poster board rather than writing on the board itself. Often, it is easier to do this on a computer. You can use color, bold fonts, and clip art, but remember to keep your poster very readable with the letters sized so that they can be read by a person standing a couple of feet away. Print it out and hold it up about a yard away. Can you read it? You don't want the judge to miss something because they can't see what you wrote. Don't make the font hard to read either. Fonts like Euro-style, Ariel or Times Roman are good to use. Make sure each of your topics has a bold headline (Hypothesis, Results etc.)
  3. Keep Your Camera on Hand: Your poster will be more interesting if you include some pictures you take while doing your experiment or use clip art pictures or pictures you draw. I always have my camera out when the kids are doing the experiment. I take a picture of all the materials they use as well as pictures of them doing the experiment. Keep a camera on hand to show the process. Take a picture of all the materials, for instance. Take pictures at each stage of the process and take pictures at the end. Print the pictures off to use on your board.
  4. Use Color!: You can choose a colorful board if it is allowed at your school. You can also include color by putting your printed work on construction paper, colored cardstock or scrapbook paper. Your title can be cut out letters, or printed out large-font writing. Some students use stickers, colored paper or cut out letters to make their poster more attractive. If the rules from your school allow it, you can also bring some of the examples from your experiment to put in front of your poster if that is appropriate. Sometimes, students also use bulletin board edging around the borders of their posters.
  5. How to Put it All Together: For best results, lay out everything on your board first. Generally, you will put the title at the top; the hypothesis, materials and procedures on the right side; the results and data in the middle; and the conclusion, resources and personal information on the right side. Of course, you will need to adjust this depending on the size of each section. Attach the printed information onto the colored paper with glue sticks or glue dots (glue dots can be found in hobby stores in the scrapbooking aisle). Glue dots stick the best. White glue can be used but it may make the paper wrinkle and it may not be possible to change anything. Glue dots and glue sticks can often be taken off and changed around more easily.
  6. How about Parent Help? Students should do as much of the work as possible at their age level. Check the requirements for your school, but generally, the information on the poster can be hand written or typed. For most schools (and even our regional and state science fair in Texas), it is all right for parents to type up their children’s notes or oral explanations of their projects; however, they should be sure that the child tells them what to write. Moreover, it is important to make sure that your child can explain everything they did to the judges. Usually, I have my kids practice telling what they did to me and to their brother and sisters.

Judging Tips

How Does Judging Work?

Elementary

A lot of work goes into science fair projects and students deserve to have that work rewarded. Our elementary school science fair does not award 1st, 2nd or 3rd. Instead, each child is judge according to what is best about their project (thoughtful process, good scientific thinking, etc) and awarded a blue ribbon reflecting their achievement as well as a sheet of comments from the judge. The goal at this level is to teach students the process of science fair and encourage them to continue competing at the more advanced levels.

Middle and High School

At the middle and high school level in our district, students are judged at school and can also go on to regional and state fair. Following the procedures I've described above, both of my older children won at their school and regional every year they have competed. One year, my son also won 2nd at state. If you follow my steps, your project should be among the best at your school too.

How to Prepare for the Science Fair Judge

Everyone involved in a science fair can tell you that judging is a lot of work. The judges do that work because they believe science fair is a way of encouraging kids to go into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers. While judges want to evaluate the students, they also generally want to encourage them and give them a chance to explain what they have done and what they have learned. The best way to prepare for the judge is to practice telling people about your project. A parent or friend could help you practice by asking these sorts of questions:

  1. How did you get interested in this topic?
  2. What question did you ask?
  3. What experiment did you do to try to answer your question?
  4. What did you think was going to happen in your experiment?
  5. What happened? Were you surprised by the results?
  6. If you were going to do the experiment again, would you change anything?
  7. What was most interesting to you about your project?
  8. What part did you do? What did you get help with?
  9. What did you learn?

Science Project Website Reviews

There are many websites available to help students and parents do science projects. You can also get one of the books I've suggested. Here is a short review of some of the best Science Fair websites:some

Science Buddies: Science Buddies is an excellent site to go to for help with your project. Their “topic selection wizard” allows you to answer a series of questions to help you narrow down projects your child would enjoy. This site also rates projects by grade level and provides background scientific information as well as complete instructions for how to do the experiment.

All Science Fair Projects: All-Science Fair Projects offers a collection of ideas taken from other websites. You can browse by interest and ability level. Because many of the contributions come from 3rd party websites, the quality of the information can vary, but if you have an area you are interested in, you might want to check out the projects on this site for ideas.

Home Training Tools: Science Fair:This page on the Home Training Tools site offers some excellent and easy science fair projects with clear instructions and illustrations. Note: this is a company which does sell items for projects but most of the instructions on this page can be done with materials found at home or at the supermarket.

The Discovery Education Center Science Fair Central: The Discovery Education center gives many ideas for easy science fair questions for elementary students. It also guides students through the process of creating their project. Unlike some of the other sites, this does not give full instructions for projects, but questions like, “Which type of paper makes the best paper airplane?” are fairly easy for students to do on their own.

Worth the Effort?

Participating in Science Fair is a great experience for kids, but it can be a lot of work for everyone. Is it worth it? Watching our children go through the process from kindergarten to high school, my husband and I are sure it is. Remember that the very best jobs are in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) areas and that doing a science project can encourage your kids to go on to a career in those areas. Moreover, there are a lot of scholarships available for kids who go in that direction

So take a deep breath and enjoy the adventure of learning about science with your kids. Taking time to encourage them in this project can be well worth the effort. Have fun!

Do you have an idea for a science fair project or an experience in a science fair? I'd love for you to share in the comments!

More by this Author


Comments 23 comments

aaaa 11 months ago

good


VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 19 months ago from United States Author

The best place to start is my article about Parent Resources for Science Fair. It includes a simple science project called "Can this Boat Float?" Another easy one is my Dice science project or the chewing gum experiment. See my articles for instructions. Find them by using the search bar or looking at my profile page.


T R Upshur profile image

T R Upshur 2 years ago from United States

I so could have used this last year! Thank you. I will be using it for this year.


ragingtepig 2 years ago

Thank you! This is just what I needed!


Adityapullagurla profile image

Adityapullagurla 2 years ago from Sydney

Amazing write up random creative. Your hub is useful and i hope all teachers really find this hub very informative.


VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 3 years ago from United States Author

You might want to look at my other articles on specific science projects. Some of them can be easily done in a day, like "arches and domes," "how long does chewing gum last," and "which chocolate melts the fastest."


VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 3 years ago from United States Author

Kelsie--Thank you so very much for coming back to tell me that my work helped you. That means a lot to me. I so want students to enjoy doing a science fair project and to make it less of a burden on parents. Thanks again!


Kelsie 3 years ago

Thank you so much!! I never did science fairs growing up by my oldest daughter wanted to enter this year and i didn't even know where to start! i found your articles, and my daughter was very intrigued by one the ideas you gave so we went with it. She had a blast and we then followed your guidelines for how to set up a poster and she just won first place at her science fair today!!! I'm a proud mama! But we couldn't have done it without the help we found here. :)


VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 3 years ago from United States Author

So glad I helped you Brandon! Your project sounds very interesting. We like using CFL bulbs ourselves to save energy but have had trouble with them burning out. Recently, I heard that they don't like being placed with the blast above the light. All our light fixtures face down, so that is probably our problem. I'd love to hear about a science experiment on that!


Brandon 3 years ago

My project is finding which light bulb is more efficient using a watt and amp reader. The 3 bulbs are a traditional incandescent, halogen incandescent, and a CFL. I have a bar graph for both watts and amps, but your 3 paragraph answer helped enough! Thankyou Virginia, and I'll use this website again!


VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 3 years ago from United States Author

Hi Brandon--Good question. You describe the results by just telling what happened. It helps a lot if you make a chart of what you do. If you look at some of the projects I have links for, you can see some of the charts my kids have done. If you tell me what your project is, I can probably give you a more specific answer. For example, if you are trying to figure out which chewing gum lasts th longest, you should make a chart which has the different kinds of chewing gum on one side in a row, then the different people who are chewing at the top. You would give each person the first kind of gum and then set a stopwatch and tell everyone to "go." Have them chew until the taste is gone. Then look at your stopwatch when they say the taste is out, mark down the time. Do that for each person. That chart is part of your results. The other part of the results is that you look at your hypothesis (what you thought was going to happen) and then at the results and you think about them, and write down whether your guess was right or wrong. Did something surprise you? The last part to write is to tell what you would do if you were going to continue the experiment or try something to test in a different way. For example, if in the gum experiment you used different brands of gum, you might say you would try next taking one brand and trying all the different flavors.


Brandon 3 years ago

This helps so much, but one of my problems is that I don't know how to describe the results. Can you explain it a bit more for me. I'm a fifth grader doing my first science fair project.


VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 4 years ago from United States Author

Thank you so much miao for coming to tell me this! You've made my day. I actually have several more projects that I need to type up and post. You've given me the inspiration to do so!


miaocseansagailele 4 years ago

I cant seem to find anything for my child to do for her science fair i've been looking, searching, asking and nothing but then i found this and BAM my kid WON the science fair for 3 years strait because of this website thanks sooooooooooooo much


VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 4 years ago from United States Author

Science Siblings: I checked the video out and it does go over the information I give in a fun way, although it drags a bit at times and is a little long at 15 minutes. However, it could be a good video to use to show to a class to get the main points across on how to do a project the right way. Thanks!


heartexpressions profile image

heartexpressions 4 years ago

Thanks for this hub. I'm book marking it as we are in the midst of a science fair project.


VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 4 years ago from United States Author

Baku--thanks for the comment-- I always appreciate people who tell me something that needs to be added to a Hub. What we do in putting our board together is to put the pictures and the printed information onto colored cardstock (construction paper, scrapbooking paper or any other colored paper would work fine too). We usually use glue sticks or scrapbooking glue dots for this. White glue will generally make your paper wrinkle up, so glue sticks are better. However, glue sticks are not all the same and some of them will not stick well enough and you may find pieces falling off. That is were glue dots (which you find in the scrapbooking section of the hobby store) are the best. You can also staple these together. Next, you need to attach these papers to your board. I sometimes staple them, or use glue dots or glue sticks again. Line them up on the board first before you stick them down so that you know you have enough room. Use some of the poster pictures I've shown to see how to lay them out. The title is usually at the top and bigger so that it catches the eye. Good luck!


Baku 4 years ago

This did not really help really help on my question I wanted do was put the construction paper on my science fair board.


VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 4 years ago from United States Author

MS Mom--great question. I probably need to do a hub to answer that. Generally, I start my kids off by giving them some ideas of topics and telling them they have to make it a question. Scientists ask questions and then think of answers and try their answers out. You could even formulate the board that way: My question, my guess, what I did to find out, What stuff I used. What Happened?, Was I right? What I would do next. For my littlest kids, I usually did the writing for them and prompted them with the questions they needed. I'd have them do most or all of the actual work on the project, but I would help them by explaining why we needed to do each step. I think of these early science experiments as really a way for parents to help teach their kids and to get them excited. For the crystals, I think you could try the sugar and salt crystal experiments. Look them up online. There may be other ways to make crystals too. I think you can do it with Borax.


MS mom 4 years ago

My 6yr old has decided to do her first project...I'm not real sure where to begin? She wants to grow crystals, but to my thinking hypothesis, procedure etc...is too much for her to understand. I don't want to do the project for her, so how can I simplify it to a 1st grade level?


VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 5 years ago from United States Author

Thanks so much lolalong! I finally think my traffic has moved over to this location and I'm so glad that I can help make this confusing process better. I'm off to get started on my son's science project for this year!


VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 5 years ago from United States Author

Thanks for stopping by randomcreative! It was the information on this Hub which got me started in internet writing. A version of this was posted on my blog and received thousands of hits. There aren't very many good sources of information for how to put these science projects together.


randomcreative profile image

randomcreative 5 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Great resource for parents and teachers. Thanks!

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