Science Fair Projects: For Teachers, Students, and Parents

Post by Open Colleges on February 19th, 2013

A science fair project is best described as a basic demonstration of how the world of science works through research, observation, and experimentation.  The main objective of the projects is to analyze a scientific occurrence with an investigation or to solve a problem with an invention.  Science fair projects generally are assigned to children of all ages by their school teachers, giving them a great opportunity to learn about science outside of books and homework.  Provided below is a guide to easily make a winning science fair project for any level science class.

Table of Contents

Getting Started

Choose a Project Idea

Whether you have assigned this project to  your students or you have been assigned this project, science fairs will tend to cover these science topics: Life Science, Earth Science, or Physical Science.  These branches of science are easy for students to research and experiment on, and later create a presentation.  No matter what type of science you or your student will be presenting, make sure that it is interesting to learn about and that it’s a fun experience!

Life Science covers everything from plants and animals to human health.  This topic would be good for early level biology class.  Some science fair questions for this subject could be, “How much sunlight does a certain plant need to grow?” or, “Are there ways to improve someone’s short term memory?”

Earth Science is geared to how our planet evolves and interacts with the universe.  For a project, a student could research how the weather works and what it affects, or they could expand their horizons and explore the final frontier that is space.  A common science fair project topic for this would be, “How weather affects rock formations.”

Physical Science is a more advanced topic and is about how elements and matter in our world react with each other.  For example, on a science fair project a student might want to find out what temperature a substance boils or freezes at.  This branch of science can be very general and might be best when assigning a project to a class.

Choose a Project Type

Science fair projects can be separated into two main groups, investigation and invention.   As a teacher, allow your students to pick between the two as it will allow for variety and leave room for creativity.  The most important thing for a student to do is remember what type of project they are creating.  Keeping focus on their project type will help researching and organizing data run smoothly.

An investigation project is where the student researches a topic or question they are interested in and solves for why and how something happens.  Investigation projects are best suited for students who like to find things out for themselves and who will become interested in learning about something specific.  A good investigation will analyze these questions: “What happened?” “What changed?” and, “What stayed the same?”  An example experiment for an investigation would be “What laundry detergent removes stains the best?”  Any question that can easily be tested and solved fits for an investigation project.

Inventions are designed to solve a specific problem, preferably in that student’s life.  Students who are good at thinking “out of the box” and are good a problem solving will be a great match for an invention project.  This type of project should cover these questions: “What is the problem?” “Why is this a problem?” and, “How can I fix it?”  After these questions are answered, the student should build an invention to solve the problem and later collect data to see how helpful their invention is.


Both students and teachers will need time to plan out the project and allow enough time for the project to be completed before the science fair.  Students should get to work as soon as possible and teachers should make sure they are giving enough time for the students to complete their projects. 

6-8 weeks before science fair

Teachers, announcing the project 6-8 weeks before the fair is more than enough time for the student to select a topic and create a presentation.  Students should be searching for problems to solve within the first week the project is assigned and should start developing ideas for their presentation.  Taking notes during brainstorming sessions is a great way to get started on a science project.  After choosing a topic, the student should start researching it and think of a hypothesis to test.

5 weeks to go

The student should start to outline what they want their presentation to look like.  Make a list of materials needed while testing your hypothesis and experimenting.  Before going out and buying supplies, the student should have most of their research and data collected and they should have an outline of what they want their presentation to look like.

Suggested Materials

  • Tri-fold display board
  • Permanent Markers
  • Colored construction paper
  • White computer paper
  • Glue-stick (liquid glue causes ripples)

4-2 weeks left

Materials for the presentation should be purchased and student should start putting it together.  The student may or may not be required to give an oral presentation, but should be prepared to give one.  The student should start going over their project’s information and get used to talking about it instead of memorizing a speech.

Last week

The science fair presentation should be near finished, if not already finished.  Make sure there are no spelling mistakes, grammar errors, or anything of the sort.  One of the most important things to do is reread and double check your work over and over.  The project needs to be presentable at this point and the student should know everything there is to know about their project’s topic.  Parents should make time to help bring their child’s project in to school a couple days prior to the science fair.

Science Fair Presentation

Presentation day has arrived and all of the hard work put into the project has come to this.  The 6 weeks put into the project may be over but some may argue that the presentation is more important than the project.  This is where the teacher judges the displays and grades the student on how well they know their experiment.  A perfect science fair combination is a vibrant project display and a student who can answer any question asked concerning their poster board.

A Winning Display

There are a few easy steps to follow to create a project that will catch everyone’s eyes at the science fair.

Use different fonts and colors: A project that stands out from the crowd will have many different types of fonts and colors that will be recognized as unique.  Be careful, though, because some fonts and colors can be obnoxious and hard to read.  For the best results, stick to dark colors that can be read from around 4 feet away and use big, bold fonts. 

Organize:  Your poster board’s contents should be evenly spaced out and readable from top to bottom, left to right.  The title should be large and centered so that anyone walking by immediately knows what your project is about.  There is no need for every space to be filled on the poster board, but using colorful construction paper as background is an easy way to add to your project without overdoing it.

Reflect your personality:  Anything you can do to make your project more unique is a big plus.  An easy step to make your project your own is to document your experiment along the way.  Keep a journal and take notes on your thought process throughout your entire project.  This will help to add content to your poster board, if you wish to add your thought process, while at the same time keeping your thoughts organized and focused on your experiment.  Teachers love to see a student’s procedure displayed on the poster and is highly recommended.  One of the best ways to document your experiment is to take pictures.  Pictures will both add to the uniqueness of your project and provide a visual timeline of your experiment.

Presentation Do’s and Don’ts


  • Plan ahead and start weeks before the due date.
  • Start with a pencil and sketch your project’s layout before beginning.
  • Keep track of your work with notes and pictures.
  • Use rulers to space all content evenly.
  • Use color schemes that go well together.
  • Draw attention to the most important parts of the project using big fonts.
  • Label all graphs and charts.
  • Provide descriptive captions for pictures.
  • Proofread over and over and over.
  • Smile and know your experiment on presentation day.


  • Wait until the last minute.
  • Use bright, unreadable colors for text.
  • Cover all of the display, it’s not a collage.
  • Use liquid glue, only glue sticks.
  • Dress sloppy on the day of the science fair
  • Chew gum or use your cell phone

Delivering a Good Oral Presentation

The teacher will be judging on how well the student can talk about their project.  The key to explaining your project to others is by practicing at home.  Parents can ask the student questions about their experiment to make sure they are ready for anything.  Avoiding words such as “Um” “Uh” and, “Like” are key to performing a well thought out presentation.  Most importantly, be yourself, have fun, and show enthusiasm for your project.  Nothing says, “Extra credit” like a student who had fun doing their experiment and making their project.

Final Checklist

  • Have a water or drink handy at presentation, just in case.
  • Keep a repair kit with glue, tape, etc.
  • Make sure your project follows your teacher’s project criteria.
  • Keep the content evenly spaced and not crowded.
  • Plan out how and when you are getting your project to school.
  • Have fun and smile!

Parent’s Roles

As a parent, your job is tricky because you need to be hands-off while being hands-on at all times.  The best way to describe your role is “overseer” because you need to let your child to mostly all of the work and make sure everything goes accordingly.  Be as helpful as you can be regarding getting supplies and materials for the students experiment.  Getting involved in the experiment is a great way to be helpful as well, let your child tell you what needs to be done and see that it gets done.

Project Ideas

The best way to help your child come up with project ideas is to educate yourself on the topic of their assignment and come up with some basic ideas on your own.  Brainstorm with the student and let them control the conversation.  It’s their job to come up with their own experiment ideas and it’s your job to keep their feet grounded and keep their ideas realistic.  An in-depth list of project ideas can be found here:

Helping with the Project

Keep your child on track by outlining their experiment by using the timeline given above and the scientific method.  The timeline will help to keep your process organized while being productive and the scientific method helps to focus the student on the final product of their experiment.  The steps of the scientific method are as follows:

  • Ask a Question
  • Do Background Research
  • Construct a Hypothesis
  • Test Your Hypothesis (Experimenting)
  • Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion
  • Display Results

As a parent, one of your biggest roles is getting supplies for the project.  A materials list is provided above and they can all be found at any office supplies store, Office Max, Staples, etc.  Make a list with your child before going to the store and be prepared to make multiple trips.  You will also be needed to drive the display to the school prior to presentation day.  Any day before the science fair will work, but the day before is recommended so that you can allow yourself enough time to make last minute changes. 

Other Helpful Ideas

Just being there for your child during the project is more than enough help but there are always a few little things to do to go the extra mile.  Documenting the experiment by taking pictures is helpful in that it will add content to the poster board and that is one less task that the student needs to worry about.  Being an audience to your child’s presentation is also very important.  You will be able to give advice as to what they should say and give them answers to questions that will be asked on presentation day.  Being with them on the day of the science fair will help ease the tension and will be fun for both you and your child.  Finally, make sure that your child learned something during this whole experience while having a blast doing it!

Education Tips & resources
Open Colleges
By Open Colleges

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