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High School Science Projects



Preparing high school science projects is different from preparing elementary science projects or middle school science projects. Read this article to find out how high school students can prepare to create an effective high school science project.

Whereas elementary and middle school science projects are more often closely linked to curriculum and assigned by the teacher or suggested in the text or curriculum being used, high school science projects may more often give students free reign to explore areas at the intersection of their course of studies and their own interests. In addition, in high school, students may not only have the opportunity to but also be expected to formulate their own science projects.

One thing you should clarify in your own mind and with the student before s/he gets going is the purposes of the project: some projects are for a science fair; some are to assess learning; some are for exploration. Depending on the purpose, your input may be excluded (in a science fair situation, for example) or an integral part of the project.

Incorporating Student Interests Into Extended Science Projects

There are several different approaches to this aspect of science projects for older students. Often a student will already know what he or she is interested in and be able to put words to it and explore on his or her own to pinpoint a project. In these sorts of cases, some of the most important support you can give is in two areas:

  • Provide students with support for safe Internet researching and discerning evaluation of information found on the Internet.
  • Provide guidelines to help students choose a project that is doable in terms of time, cost or accessibility of materials and equipment, level of skills required.
  • For students who are having difficulty coming up with a project that grabs their interest, either because that kind of open-ended thinking isn’t their forte, or because they have lots of ideas that won’t work for one reason or another, try the Topic Selection Wizard at http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/recommender_register.php

This resource surveys the students interests, notes their grade levels and the project length, and offers a wide range of projects for their consideration.

Even though this may seem a bit generic, generic can be fine for a science project in which a student is interested and engaged. Or, the student can invest more in the topic to give it a personal spin.

Assisting Students in Formulating Their Own Science Projects

In order to formulate a meaningful and interesting question to address in their science project students should:

  • do background reading in the subject area to understand the field, the current state of understanding in the field, the standard terminology of the field, etc.
  • understand the scientific method
  • choose something that is within their capabilities
  • construct a testable hypothesis that takes into account any limitations (such as time, space, budget, availability, etc.)
  • construct a testable hypothesis that takes into account both safety and ethics concerns
  • think about the presentation as part of the formulation, rather than as an add-on at the end

Another important thing you can do to help students is broaden to their outlook to include specific subfields of scientific inquiry that are within the target area, but possibly not directly covered in their course.

What High School Students Should Know Prior to Beginning a Science Project

There are several things that it is important to clarify prior to the project’s onset:

  • what is due when
  • any content and formatting specifications for elements of the project
    •   the style guide in effect if a research paper
    •   the sections of the paper
    •   parameters on projects such as size, weight, etc.
    •   cost limitations for materials and equipment
    •   availability limitations for materials and equipment
    •   software requirements
    •   topic limitations
    •   types of questions that are deemed to be “unscientific” or outside the realm of the requirements in some other way
  •  what criteria they should use for deciding the number of trials to undertake
  •  what they can/should do if something goes very wrong in their project
  •  what safety precautions they are responsible for
  •  what are the components on which they will be judged and what are the standards by which they will be judged?