Are you one of the following?
- A science, technology or mathematics teacher who has the been given, or taken on, the responsibility of conducting open-ended student research projects, technology projects or mathematical investigations with your students
- A primary teacher who has a particular student who is inquisitive, needs some extra stimulation and would benefit from doing a project but you don’t know where to start
- A student who has been given the task of completing a student research project, technology project or maths investigation and need some ideas to get started
- A parent who has a child who has come home with a science, technology or maths project and obviously needs help to get started
…….then follow these steps to help you get started
Step 1: Have the big picture
Right from the start, students need to know what they will be dealing with over the next couple of weeks or months. They will be embarking on a project, which they can really take ownership of and they will get the ideal opportunity of learning skills that they would normally not cover in a typical classroom or laboratory lesson. If they really get involved, this project should be one of the most exciting things they do this year!
For students working on an investigation they should end up with an investigation that has an original idea, lots of measurements, good use of tables and graphs and some sort of interesting finding.
For students developing a working model of an innovative device or application, they should end up with an innovative device that is new or an improvement on an existing device. They must design and construct a working model of an innovative device that is easy to use and solves some sort of need or problem.
Step 2: See what’s been done before – students need some form of expectation
The difficulty that the majority of teachers and students face is that they have no real expectation of what a suitable student research project or innovative device looks like that embrace a comprehensive coverage of the processes of Working Scientifically or Working Technologically and/or Working Mathematically. Without a suitable benchmark, both teachers and students have no visual reference to go by and consequently the final product is usually of a low standard.
For the third year in a row, student finalists have given permission for their projects to be uploaded to our Young Scientist website. These past winning projects are the best resource for giving you an indication of the ingredients of a good student research project. 90 of the 96 prize-winners in the 2016 STANSW Young Scientist Awards have given their own and have their parent’s consent for their reports, logbooks and even some videos to be available for teachers and students.
Also have a look at our Young Scientist Youtube Channel, where we feature some of our best projects.
If you are doing a study that involves humans, remember to get consent! We have included a Master Informed Consent Form which needs to be filled in if your project involves human subjects.
Step 3: Getting an idea
By far the most difficult step in conducting an investigation or developing an innovative device is coming up with a good idea. In choosing an idea it is best that a student selects a topic that they are interested in. Get them to carefully consider a need or a problem, associated with their area of interest, and see if they can construct something to solve the problem or investigate what happens when they change a particular variable.
Another source of good ideas is a student’s family. Get your students to discuss possible ideas with members of their family, for often there would be a family member who has a need or knows of some problem that needs exploring.
If a student still needs inspiration, go online and visit http://www.stansw.asn.au/ys/honour.htm to see what past STANSW Young Scientist winners have produced from 2006-2016. They can improve on an existing idea or create their own original idea. Another great website that groups science fair project ideas into everyday A-Z topics is http://www.juliantrubin.com/sciencefairprojectsaz.html.
A further idea if you have a student who is totally stuck with getting an idea, is to get them to select a science-sensor app, such as a light meter, decibel meter, tone generator or even a heart rate monitor that can be loaded onto their phone, ipad or laptop. Using this app they can easily collect masses of data and come up with an original research. Some ideas could be:
- Use a decibel meter app to measure the loudness of a teacher’s recorded voice at different desks in a classroom to see if some seating positions are quieter than others.
- Use a light meter app to measure the ambient light levels in a room during the course of a day and use this data to regulate the artificial light needed to conserve energy.
- Use a tone generator to generate different frequency tones and compare how different frequencies transmit through glass and other materials.
- Use a heart-rate monitor to measure your own and other people’s heart-rate while watching a movie to see if people respond differently to nominated scenes.
Step 4: Get parents and mentors involved
Teachers, where possible, utilise the parent body and mentors to assist in the day-to-day development of your students’ projects. When running multiple open-ended research projects or technology projects, it is impossible for any teacher to devote enough time or expertise to each student. By sending home a Student Research Project or Design Project or Technology Project Timeline, teachers can establish a communication line with parents. Parents can assist by ensuring their child is filling out their logbook entries, driving them to fieldwork sites and they can even supervise or support their child in the development of their project. It is important to note that any assistance must be acknowledged and each student will ultimately be judged on the work that they have personally conducted.
Teachers, you should also encourage your students to seek expert advice from scientific, technology or mathematical experts in the relevant area of study. These “experts” may also be willing to act as mentors. Mentors can often provide specific support in experimental procedures and in the interpretation and analysis of experimental data, well beyond the scope of a teacher’s expertise.
Step 5: Just start – don’t procrastinate (to students)
Finally, once you think you have some sort of idea, start taking some measurements. Start recording results in your logbook, even if you are unsure of your final aim. As you start collecting data, you will quickly develop a clearer picture of what you can investigate and then you will be ready to start. If you wait until you have that revolutionary idea, you will never get started.
All the best for this exciting venture and don’t hesitate to contact the Young Scientist Coordinator if you need any assistance with getting started. The coordinator can arrange for one of the sponsors, to assist you if you need a kick-start with a project.