Science Fair

Seton Science Fair

Seton School participates in a Science Fair every year. Both junior and senior high students participate. All 7th grade students and High School students that are taking Biology participate in the Science Fair. Those students that transfer into Seton and have already taken Biology still are required to participate in the Science Fair in order to graduate. Both the Earth Science and Biology classes focus a lot of time preparing for the Science Fair.

Seton School has traditionally chosen to run its science fair in keeping with both the Prince William County Regional Science Fair and the INTEL International Science and Engineering Fair.  Therefore, all projects and paperwork, as well as deadlines are completed with this in mind.  The Seton Science Fair is usually held in early February to assure plenty of time for students and teachers to complete the needed paperwork for those students who would continue on in these science competitions.

Students should aim to finish their projects by Thanksgiving and before the Christmas holiday.

Download our Science Fair Packet below for more info!

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Steps to follow for Science Fair Success:

Getting Started
Getting Started
  1. Select a topic: Get an idea of what you want to study or learn about.
    1. Ideas should come from things in your areas of interest. A hobby might lead you to a good topic. What factors influence some aspect of this topic? Can any of these factors be altered? If so, will something change?  Is this of interest / importance to you?
    2. Listen to current news reports. Is there an issue that is of concern to the general public or to a specific group that interests you? Is there anything changeable that could potentially influence this issue?
    3. Is there a method of doing something that interests you? Is there a technique that could be improved upon? Will an improvement in technique affect you or the public at large?
    4. Is there a process or piece of equipment that could be modified to show an improvement?
    5. Pick a question or problem that is not too broad and that can be answered through scientific investigation. Remember- your experimentation must be completed by the beginning of December!
  2. Consider different types of projects:
    1. Scientific Method Investigation – experiments with independent variables and control set up.
    2. Engineering Design Project- design something for which there is a need, evaluate and modify it.
    3. Computer Systems Design Project
    4. Mathematics Project- use proofs, solve equations
  3. Research your topic:
    1. Use books, internet sources, etc to learn more about your topic. Learn everything you can about the topic in general
    2. Ask “What is the basic scientific principle that is involved with this idea?”
    3. Find out if there are unanswered questions or concerns that you might be able to investigate with your project? Investigate the factors (environmental or manmade) that can possibly influence this topic.
    4. Talk to experts: Ask professionals who work in the field of your topic what questions or problems could be investigated experimentally.  Ask what issues would, if addressed experimentally, could be solved and be of help to them in their work.
  4. Examine your personal resources:
    1. Look at your personal resources at home or at school to see what equipment is available for your use for investigating this issue experimentally.
    2. Sign up an adult sponsor to work with you throughout your experiment. Get them to commit their help and advice for your project. You will need them to discuss details of your project with you, and help you to solve practical problems along the way. Consider them your cheerleader – do not ask them to do your project for you!
    3. Consider enlisting the help of interested adults with expertise with the topic you are considering. These additional adults do not have to be your adult sponsor.
    4. Be practical: consider materials and equipment available to you, evaluate the time allowed for the completion of the project Look at your family and school commitments (Project should be completed by the 1st week of December).
    5. Ask your adult sponsor to help you decide what question can realistically be answered in your science fair project. If the question posed is important but is too broad, consider addressing a small piece of the puzzle for your science fair project. Leave the bigger question for another scientist.
  5. Prepare a Bibliography
    1. List at least 5 good sources, (2 of which are not internet sources).
    2. Follow MLA format for Bibliography
  6. Use a Project Data Book
    1. Organize your ideas and what you have learned through your research. Narrow your focus to a particular area of this project.
    2. Decide finally what question you would like to ask. Write this question in your Project Data Book (log book).
    3. List key factors that might affect the outcome of an experiment designed to answer the question chosen.

Download Getting Started Document

Planning a Science Fair Project

Planning a Science Fair Project:

  1. Form a Hypothesis (Scientific Method) or  Define a Need (Engineering Design)
    1. Be sure to include a clear (but brief) statement of what you intend to do and what you plan to measure.
    2. Be specific about what you believe will be the outcome of your experiment (Scientific Method) or what you hope to build (Engineering Design)
    3. Make sure your question is testable and can be done in the available amount of time.
    4. Your hypothesis should include what is being tested and what result you expect.

Note: Since one experiment cannot of itself prove a hypothesis, it is sometimes better to write your hypothesis to disprove a negative idea. (e.g. “Plants will grow without light”)

 

  1. Design your Experiment (Scientific Method)  or  Describe your Design Criteria (Engineering Design)
    1. Write up your Experimental Design Diagram (Scientific Method / Engineering Design) – to make sure you have identified all parts of a good
    2. For Scientific Method Projects: State Hypothesis. Identify the Independent Variable, levels of Independent Variable, constants, Control, and Dependent Variable (with units). Make sure to plan enough trials (participants, etc) in each group to allow your results to be statistically significant.
    3. For Engineering Design Projects: Define a Need, Outline Design Criteria, Identify form of prototype testing to be conducted: goals for prototype (productivity, action, etc) , standard design to which the prototype is to be compared, outcome to be measured (units), adequate number of trials, criteria  for modifications after testing, safety precautions
    4. NOTE: Engineering Design Projects will still need to use the Scientific Method when testing the success of the prototype.
    5. Use this as a guide to prepare a Research Plan for your project.

 

  1. Prepare a Research Plan (Follow the guidelines for the Research Plan) List all materials, and make sure all details of your procedure are explained clearly. Discuss your research Plan with your adult supervisor before submitting it to science teacher for approval.

 

  1. Complete the necessary Forms:
    1. Seton Science Fair Entry Form
    2. Checklist for the Adult Sponsor (Form 1)
    3. Student Checklist (Form 1A).
    4. Prepare the Approval Form (Form 1B) for Seton’s Science Department to complete after review of your Research Plan and other Forms.

 

  1. If your project needs special permission (involves Human Participants, Vertebrate Animals, Hazardous Chemicals, Activities, Devices, or Microorganisms), be sure to fill out the appropriate Forms
    • Form 2 – Qualified Scientist
    • Form 3 – Risk Assessment
    • Form 4 and  Sample Informed Consent – Human Participants
    • Form 5A – Vertebrate Animals
    • Form 6A – Potentially Hazardous Biologic Agents (Microorganisms)

 

  1. Turn in all these papers to your science teacher. They will be reviewed and you will be notified of either project approval or the need to do further preparation before your project can be approved. NOTE: you can only begin formal experimentation after project is approved. You are encouraged to informally test steps of your procedure to make sure it is the best method even before writing up your research plan*.  No results from this informal experimentation can be used in your project.

 

* Any informal testing of procedure before Seton School’s review must be done under the guidance and supervision of your adult supervisor and with permission of your parents.  Follow all safety precautions as directed by your adult supervisor/parents.

 

Download the Planning a Project Document

Steps of Experimentation

Observation & Question (ask “what would happen if …..”) Informal testing is part of this step.

Research – Find out what is known about the problem

Hypothesis– a possible explanation for an event or set of observations. Must be specific enough to be tested in your experiment. (“If…… then……”) Predict what will happen in your experiment.

Design & Conduct Experiment

  1. Variable” = any changeable factor that can influence the outcome of an experiment.
  2. Independent Variable” = the single variable that is selected to be changed for the experiment.
  3. Levels of Independent Variable” = variations in degree of the Independent Variable (e.g. if “Light” is the Ind Var, then “sunlight”, “red light”, “blue light”, “green light” would be levels of this Independent Variable)
  4. Constants” = any factor that if allowed to change would influence the outcome of an experiment. These factors are held unchanged for the duration of the experiment.
  5. Control” = the conditions in which none of the potential variables are allowed to change (The “Independent Variable” is absent or held at a normal or standard level)
  6. Dependent Variable” = the measured outcome (recorded Data) of the experiment. Must specify the units used for measurements. Identify  data as “qualitative” (non-standard scale) or “quantitative” (standard scale)
  7. # Trials” = How many tests will be run for each level of IV
  8. Safety Measures” = identify any potential risks associated with the experiment, and tell how dangers will be avoided.

Results – Gather Data-Prepare data tables before experiment begins. Carefully record observations and measurements using data tables and charts in a project data book (log book).            

Analyze Data-Examine results using modes for qualitative data or mathematical analysis (e.g. average, mode, range, maximum, minimum, total, etc.) for quantitative data.  Display your analysis using graphs. Describe any trends seen in graphs.

Discussion– Explain scientific principles supported or contradicted by your experiment. Explore any significance of your findings.

Conclusion– While referencing your hypothesis (restate), explain what information has been definitively discovered. Do not speculate here. Your hypothesis can be supported or disproven.

Communication of Conclusion-(lab report, research paper, science fair)

Download the Steps of the Experimentation Document

Engineering Design Project: Build and Test Your Prototype

Engineering Design Project: Build and Test Your Prototype

(Note: this project design can be classified in any of the Science Fair Categories.)

  1. Build your Prototype
    1. Follow your steps outlined in your approved research plan carefully for building the prototype.
    2. Take pictures at various stages of construction of prototype.
    3. Write down notes in your project data book (log book) re: issues that arise when building the prototype and observations made about possible improvements in method.
    4. Observe all the safety precautions described in your research plan
  2. Test your Prototype
    1. Use the Scientific Method in testing your Prototype.
    2. Prepare empty data tables in your project data book (log book) to be used when recording data.
    3. Use a logbook to write down observations and project details recorded during the prototype testing. Keep a detailed record of your trials and data. Date any log book entries. Write down any notes about your experiments (include what worked and what did not work). If you created a scale (e.g. color scale 0-3, intensity scale, opinion scale), record in project data book what each number on the scale represents. This is a qualitative form of data, and your scale is a non-standard scale.
  3. Collect your Data and Analyze your Data
    1. Carefully record your measurements in data tables.
    2. Understand the type of data recorded:
      1. Quantitative Data – results measured using a standard scale (e.g. time, temp, pH, mass,                                          length, or number)
      2. Qualitative Data – results that are described using a non standard scale (e.g. color                                                          that is assigned numbers 0-3, any scale that is subjective, etc)
    3. Analyze your quantitative measurements using appropriate mathematical steps.
    4. Summarize your qualitative data using “mode” or “maximum” or “minimum”. Remember that qualitative results are not measured using a standard scale, and thus cannot be added, subtracted, multiplied, divided, averaged, etc.
    5. Draw graphs to show trends in the results of your prototype testing.
    6. Determine the success (or otherwise) of your prototype design.
    7. Take note of any trends seen in analyzed data. Record key observations in project data book (log book).
  4. Make Modifications to your Prototype and retest (Engineering Design) (Note: some of these items will be put into the “Discussion” section of your research paper)
    1. Did the prototype succeed in achieving the original goals?
    2. What changes would be necessary for the design to succeed or improve?
    3. Were you able to make the suggested alterations? Do you have advice for future work with a similar model?
    4. Never alter your results to fit your theory. Try to explain why you obtained results that differed from the literature that you researched.
Scientific Method Project: Conduct Your Experiment:

Scientific Method Project: Conduct Your Experiment: 

(Note: this project design can be classified in any of the Science Fair Categories, including the category “Engineering”)

  1. Conduct your Experiment (Scientific Method)
    1. Follow your steps outlined in your approved research plan carefully.
    2. Prepare empty data tables in your project data book (log book) to be used when recording data.
    3. Use a logbook to write down observations and project details recorded during the experiment or prototype testing. Keep a detailed record of your trials and data. Date any log book entries. Write down any notes about your experiments (include what worked and what did not work). If you created a scale (e.g. color scale 0-3, intensity scale, opinion scale), record in project data book what each number on the scale represents. This is a qualitative form of data, and your scale is a non-standard scale.
    4. Observe all the safety precautions described in your research plan
  2. Collect your Data and Analyze your Data
    1. Carefully record your measurements in data tables.
    2. Understand the type of data recorded:
      1. Quantitative Data – results measured using a standard scale (e.g. time, temp, pH, mass, length, or number)
      2. Qualitative Data – results that are described using a non standard scale (e.g. color                                                          that is assigned numbers 0-3, any scale that is subjective, etc)
    3. Analyze your quantitative measurements using appropriate mathematical steps.
    4. Summarize your qualitative data using “mode” or “maximum” or “minimum”. Remember that qualitative results are not measured using a standard scale, and thus cannot be added, subtracted, multiplied, divided, averaged, etc.
    5. Draw graphs to show trends in your findings to help answer your testable question.
    6. Statistically analyze your results
    7. Take note of any trends seen in analyzed data. Record key observations in project data book (log book).
    8. Take note of any experimental errors that may have impacted the accuracy of your data.
  3. Make Conclusions (Note: some of these items will be put into the “Discussion” section of your research paper)
    1. Did the variable cause a measurable change when compared to the control group?
    2. What patterns do you see from your graphs comparing the variable with control?
    3. Did you collect enough data? Do you need to do more experimentation?
    4. Never alter your results to fit your theory. Try to explain why you obtained results that differed from the literature that you researched.
    5. Remember – one experiment can support a hypothesis but does not prove that hypothesis. A well designed experiment can disprove a hypothesis.
    6. Are there any practical applications for your findings? How can this information be used in the real world?
    7. How could you improve this project?
Prepare to Present your Project

Prepare to Present your Project

  1. Write a Research Paper
  2. 250 word Abstract (summarizing your purpose, hypothesis, materials, methods, results, and conclusion )
  3. Complete a Display Registration Form describing what materials you intend to bring to the science fair along with your backboard. Parents must sign this form
  4. Prepare a tri fold backboard with: Title, Purpose, Hypothesis, Materials List, Procedure, Data, Discussion, Conclusion, and Applications (for Scientific Method Projects) or Title, Definition of Need, Design Criteria, Preliminary Design, Materials, Prototype Testing Data and Analysis, Projected or actual modifications, and Applications(for Engineering Design Projects)
  5. Prepare a tangible display. Bring only those items allowed by the Seton Science Fair.
  6. Set Up in the gym (John Paul II Center) on Sunday, (the day before Science Fair) between 2:00 – 5:00 PM (check in at any other time can only be done with special permission from Science Fair Committee)
  7. Project Presentation to judges on Monday, (Day of Science Fair) in gym (John Paul II Center). Students attend 8:30 AM Seton School Mass at All Saints Church before checking in at Seton.
FAQ
Where do I turn in my research plan and other paperwork to get pre-approval for my project?

All science fair related paperwork is to be turned in to the science teacher supporting your project. For junior high school, paperwork is submitted to the 7th Grade science teacher. For high school, paperwork is submitted to the science department through your science teacher (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Astronomy, Advanced Lab Science). Seton School has a Scientific Review Committee (SRC) and an established Institutional Review Board(s) (IRB).

When can I begin experimenting?

Students must submit a completed research plan and signed registration forms. These must be reviewed by Seton School Science Fair Committee and be approved BEFORE students can begin formal experimentation. Any data collected prior to approval cannot be included in project data.

How do I determine the "start date" of my project?

The start date of your project is when you begin to collect data for your experiment. This cannot be before project approval from Seton’s Science Department. Your science teacher will confirm this approval for each project. The literature review and the design of your study will occur prior to your start date.

What is the difference between a Scientific Method Project and an Engineering Design Project?

Scientific Method Projects utilize the traditional scientific method of experimentation with a single independent variable, constants, and a control set up. Data is gathered (“dependent variables”) and analysis of results is conducted. Scientific Method projects can be classified in ANY of the listed project categories (including ENGINEERING categories).

Engineering Design Projects are a modification of the above. The need for construction of a particular structure / machine is defined, and Design Criteria are established. After constructing a prototype, the effectiveness of the model is tested (using the SCIENTIFIC METHOD of experimentation). Engineering Design projects can be classified in ANY of the listed project categories (including ENGINEERING categories).

How do I determine if a chemical is hazardous?

Ask your supervising adult and consult the Material Safety and Data Sheet (MSDS) for the chemical(s) you plan to use. Some MSDS sheets (e.g. Flinn), rank the degree of hazard associated with a chemical. Generally a rating more than 1 should be considered hazardous. It is possible that two or more chemicals ranked 0 or 1 when mixed can react and form a hazardous chemical.

How do I find out the Biosafety level of an organism?

Visit the website for the American Biological Safety Association at www.absa.org

How can I determine if my laboratory is a BSL 1 or BSL 2 laboratory?

Seton School Science Lab is a BSL 1 Lab. Any experimentation performed in other labs must be identified as BSL 1 or BSL 2.
The criteria are available for ISEF affiliated fairs as self-assessment checklists for laboratories serving as sites for BSL 1 and BSL 2 studies.  These checklists are available on the ISEF website.

Can I order organisms from a biological supply house?

No – any purchases of organisms or microbiology equipment will need to be handled by your science teacher. Payment can be made by check to Seton School through the main office. Coordinate this with your science teacher.

When do I need to get written consent?

Seton School IRB, after reviewing your research plan, will decide if you need to get documentation of informed consent (for adults), assent (for minors) and parental permission, or if only verbal consent is required. If written consent/assent/parental permission is required, it is documented on Form 4.  If written consent is not required, the subjects must still give verbal assent/consent before participating in the study.

How do I get written informed consent if I do a survey on the internet?

If the IRB determines if written informed consent or parental permission is required, then:
a) If the participant is 18 years of age or older, the survey must contain a statement of informed consent that those taking the survey can read and check a consent given prior to continuing with the survey. This “check” can be considered documentation of informed consent.
b) If the participant is under 18 years of age, the parent/legal guardian must give permission by signing and returning a informed consent form to you. An informed consent form is available with Form 4.

Could I use my farm animal in my science project?

Yes, farm animals may be used at a “non-regulated [research] site”, i.e., farm or ranch using only standard agricultural practices.

What is meant by "invasive" procedures?

This includes all procedures involving entry into a living body by an incision, and/or by insertion of instruments, tubes, probes, etc. Injections for the health of an animal, as directed by a veterinarian, as prescribed by a veterinarian are not considered invasive (e.g., insulin, vitamins).

I’d like to do a study using extracted teeth from a dentist’s office. What forms do I need?

If the teeth have been sterilized and there are no identifiers (patient’s name, etc.), the teeth do not need to be treated as potentially hazardous biological agents.  However, if the teeth have not been sterilized the project requires prior SRC review and approval and treated as a BSL 2 study.  You will need forms 2, 6A and 6B.  If the teeth can be identified with a specific person, the research must also be reviewed and approved by an IRB and you will need forms 4 and documentation of informed consent.

Are team projects permitted at Seton’s Science Fair?

Team projects are not allowed at the junior high school level. High School team projects are allowed at the discretion of the science teacher.

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