Planning the Experiment
A well planned experiment will give you the best results. Taking a little extra time planning can help you get good results that are useful. Your plan must take into account and control as many factors possible so that your results will be valid.
Stating the Problem
After you have selected or developed your science project problem, you need to rewrite it in a cause/effect question or statement. Writing your own problem this way makes it clearer and more understandable. One way you can rewrite your problem is in the following form: What is the effect of ___________ on ___________?
To do this:
- After reviewing your background research, choose a problem that is still not completely understood.
- State the problem in a simple sentence.
- Find in your problem, the factor that you are going to change (the cause).
- Find in your problem, the factor(s) that will be affected (the effects).
- The cause goes in the first blank and the effects go in the second.
Problem A: St. Augustine grass appears to grow better in some conditions than in others.
Restated: What is the effect of the amount of water on the growth of St. Augustine Grass?
Independent Variable (Factor I will change): the amount of water (ml/day)
Dependent Variable (Factor(s) that will be affected): growth (cm) of St. Augustine Grass
Problem B: Wing design seems to affect the quality of airplane flight.
Restated: What is the effect of wing surface area on the distance a model airplane flies?
Independent Variable (Factor I will change): the surface area of the wings
Dependent Variable (Factor(s) that will be affected): the distance a plane flies
Writing your research plan
After you have written your problem in cause/effect terms, you are ready to write your Research Plan. The plan should help you see the overall “picture” of what you are going to try to do in order to answer your science project question. Be sure to consult with your adult sponsor. He/she should be able to help you write your plan clearly and carefully.
Your Research Plan should have the following information:
- The Problem: State this in cause/effect terms
- Independent variable: This is the factor YOU will Change in your experiment
- Dependent variable: This is the factor that will change because you have changed something in your experiment.
- Controls: These are factors that you will make sure are NOT CHANGED in your experiment. List as many as you can.
- Quantitative measurement: This is the standard unit of measurement you will use to record your results
- Do not use measurements that can not be recorded using numbers; terms like “better” or “higher” are not scientific.
- For example, to measure color, you might print a color chart with your computer and record the RGB numbers.
Choosing a Title
Your title should not be a question. Your cause/effect statement is NOT your title. The best title describes your experiment. For example, in the experiments above, you might choose:
“Enhancement Of The Growth Of St. Augustine Grass Using Various Amounts Of Water.” Or “Changes In Flight Distance Due To Modifications Of Wing Surface Area In Model Airplanes.”
After you know exactly what you want to do, it's time to complete an official proposal. Your proposal must be on the official forms used for Science Fairs all over the world.
Check on the forms page of this website for copies of the forms.
Start with four forms:
- 1 Checklist for Adult Sponsor / Safety Assessment Form
- Put your name on this form and hold it for your adult sponsor to complete.
- This form is for you to list the important information about yourself, your research site and your school. Make sure you fill in every blank carefully. Include your proposed start and end dates, but leave the actual dates blank until after your experiment is complete. Remember, your start date is the day you do your first experiment, not the day you start your library research.
- This is the form you use to list the question you are researching, state your hypothesis, problem, or engineering goals and describe, in detail, your research plan. This is where you write the information about the procedure that you and your sponsor have developed. You will also list, from your bibliography cards, every source you used for your research. Make sure the information on this form is complete and very detailed. You will probably need to use extra pages. Start on the official form and complete your proposal on blank pages.
- This form has three important purposes:
- It is the form you use to acknowledge that you know about any safety or ethical concerns and that you intend to follow all the laws and rules that apply to your project.
- It has a place for your parent/guardian to sign that they understand the rules and give permission for you to do the project.
- It has a place for your adult sponsor to sign after they have reviewed the project with you and assured that your project follows all the laws and rules regarding safety and ethics. It also states that your sponsor agrees to help you with your project.
Using a computer, fill out each of these forms carefully. It is the best way to make everyone knows exactly what you intend to do. When you have completed the four forms, take them to your Adult Sponsor. Your Sponsor will review them and make suggestions for any changes you might need to make. He/she will also review the list on Form 1 to see if you need any additional forms or information. Some projects need special forms or special supervision. Your Sponsor should be able to help you make arrangements for these, also. If you need extra forms, fill these out on the computer and attach them to your proposal packet. When your packet is complete, take all the forms and pages to your teacher. Your teacher will review them and, hopefully, give you permission to start your project.
Some projects, because they involve sensitive subjects, or a little more risk than others, require review by special review boards. Your teacher will make arrangements for these boards to review your project and will let you know when the review is complete. The two boards are known as:
Institutional Review Board (IRB)
The members of this committee, including a doctor and a psychiatrist/psychologist, review all projects involving human subjects. They will compare your research plan to the laws, rules and regulations that govern all human research in this country. If your project meets the requirements, they will sign your form 4 giving you permission to proceed. They will also sign your form 1B. Remember, you can not do any project involving human subjects without IRB approval.
Scientific Review Committee (SRC)
The members of this committee will review projects of high ethical or safety concerns. For example:
- a veterinarian will review all projects involving non-human vertebrate animals;
- a microbiologist will review all projects involving pathogens;
- an environmental biologist will review projects that impact the natural environment;
- an engineer, physicist, or chemist will review projects involving dangerous equipment or substances.
If your project meets the requirements, they will sign your form 1B giving you permission to proceed. Remember, you can not do any of these projects SRC approval.
After your project obtains the proper permissions, your teacher will notify you that you may begin your experimentation.