In general, experiments are what you do when you have this certain idea about something, and set up a situation where you can tweak just that one thing and see if it made a difference. The idea at the heart of your experiment is VERY important and is expressed in the hypothesis, which links “A” to “B”, not just a best-guess prediction of the results. For example, one of your students proposed this question:
Which type of building material burns least in a fire? (Experiment or Study?)
To do this as an experiment: "My hypothesis is that materials that are made of plant materials burn more easily than materials that are made of earth materials. This is important because builders use both kinds of materials and fire is a hazard." So then the student "tests" a number of different materials, being careful to keep all variables the same (sizes, conditions, ventilation, amount of time the material is exposed to the heat source etc.)' the conclusion is "My hypothesis was correct - plant materials do burn more easily than earth materials".
To do as a study: The purpose will be to test samples of building materials from Blackwood Building supplies for how easily they burn (Blah blah - follow the same procedure, being careful etc.). There is NO hypothesis. At the end, the results are presented as: “The most flammable was____- all the way down to the least flammable was ______.“
Next, in the discussion, or interpretation of the data, the student can pull out a generalisation e.g.: "I thought it was very interesting the materials that burned most easily were all made of plant materials like lumber or straw, whereas materials made of rocks, sand etc. did not burn at all."
So - as you can see, it's the cart and the horse, or the chicken and the egg. Does the student want to propose a theory (hypothesis) and test it (using any kind of materials) to say, "Yes my hypothesis was right or wrong?" or does the student want to test various materials and then explain the results and at the end propose an explanation (interpretation). Your choice. Having said that, however, some materials just do not lend themselves to being written up as an experiment.
Just remember: Experiment = hypothesis linking A to B; Study = gather data and explain results afterwards.
Which type of wheel will make a mouse trap car go farther? (Experiment or Study?)
Experiment - the one thing you change and test is the wheel. But the student needs an hypothesis such as "My hypothesis is that thin wheels make a car go faster because they have less contact with the floor"
What fruit has the most % of water? (Experiment or Study?)
Study - you cannot change or tweak the amount of water in the orange, the apple etc. - and nothing to keep "the same"
Are mice smarter than hamsters? (Experiment or Study?)
Study - you cannot change the IQ of the mice! (unless you believe Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH!)
YES - Write it up as a study. The student is gathering high quality information (the "data") about a topic, and drawing conclusions. It's almost a meta-analysis of results reported by scientists in the literature.
In the purpose, state something along these lines: the purpose of this project is to collect, analyse, and discuss current thinking on such and such a topic. It would be helpful if the student includes why this topic is of interest to him/her.
The procedure should describe how the student found and selected high quality sources of information.
Included in the summary/discussion of the results should be:
"some researchers have concluded that____ while others believe that ____. There is no clear agreement on ____" etc.
The conclusion should state what is agreed upon, and areas for further research.
If you need to alter some of the sections and headings on the backboard, go right ahead.
Encourage the student to search for high quality information from the scientific community, rather than "Dr. Phil says. . . ", or articles from teenage magazines. Do not let the student display a bunch of un-analysed and un-summarized internet printouts. Note that not ALL of the sources considered need to be presented - included in the logbook, maybe, but only the significant ones need to be presented, analysed, and discussed in detail.
The fee is $30 per student, so a two-person project is $60. Projects presented by a group of 3 or more are a flat fee of $75.
All students set-up:
All students set up on Wednesday between 4:00 - 6:00 pm. Note that a teacher from each school must be present to sign in the school’s projects, locate the table(s) and signage, and supervise students and their parents as they set up their projects. Teachers will sign out at the end of the evening to say that the table is tidy and the students have departed.
Grade 7 - 12 students:
Students return on Thursday afternoon at 1:00 pm for interviews with judges, leading to gold, silver, bronze, and participation ribbons. Overlapping these ribbon interviews are visits from judges concerning special awards (see below). Students must stand beside their projects until the interviews are finished. Impress upon your students that they should not wander away from the projects. If they need to go to the bathroom, they should tell a neighbour-finalist that they will be absent for five minutes. It is frustrating for a judge to go back, and back, and back and never find the student.
Students return on Thursday afternoon at 3:30 pm. Individual students will be interviewed by a special awards judge. All K-6 students are encouraged to come to UFV to talk about their projects. Unless nominated for a Special Award, no formal interview will take place.
All students take-down:
All students return to UFV after 12:30 pm on Saturday to take down projects. Please help us . . . Any projects not picked up will go into the dumpster. (Hopefully they will already be at UFV taking part in the fun activities and attending the Awards Ceremony).
The school will be notified by phone if students have won a special award on Friday and will be reminded to come to the awards ceremony at UFV on Saturday at 11:30 am. The ceremony will be held in the same gym as the science fair.
Be sure the students bring their backboards, their stuff (displays of things - nothing alive or previously alive, just photos, etc.), their binders (logbooks etc.), any informed consent forms that human-subject projects require (but cut off the bottom and store elsewhere to protect privacy). They should also have a copy of the abstract that they submitted with the registration tucked into the front of the binder.