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5th Grade Science Fair Projects

Instructor: Joanne Abramson

Joanne has taught middle school and high school science for more than ten years and has a master's degree in education.

Is it almost science fair season? This lesson explains how to properly coach your students through the project to ensure that it is an enjoyable experience for everyone.

What Is a Science Fair?

The science fair is a rite of passage for American children. Students design and conduct an experiment of their choosing, and then exhibit their findings to their peers. The focus of a science fair project for early adolescents should not be on whether or not the project produces groundbreaking results or a picture-perfect final presentation. Rather, the emphasis should be on the process; a student-led study with adult coaching to ensure accurate experimental design.

A county science fair in Fayette County, Georgia.
Photo of a county science fair.

A proper science fair experiment follows the steps of the scientific method. The scientific method is a series of procedures for studying the natural world. This includes observing a phenomenon, creating a hypothesis based on the observation, testing the hypothesis and modifying it if needed.

While these procedures are modified slightly in a science fair to fit the developmental needs of the students, the spirit remains. The steps used for a science fair are:

  1. Observe the world.
  2. Ask a question based on what you see.
  3. Conduct background research.
  4. Develop a hypothesis.
  5. Test the hypothesis through an experiment.
  6. Collect and analyze data.
  7. Communicate the results.

Science Fairs meet the Next Generation Science Standards.
Next Generation Science Practices, Grades 3-5.

Step 1: So, What Interests You?

This is the easy part. Let the students start with a topic that they find fascinating. Growing plants? Building a rocket? Skateboarding? There are websites that offer many examples to start the gears turning.

Step 2: Ask a Specific Question.

This is where the process gets a little harder. Students must take their broad ideas and focus them down to a single, testable question. This will require some coaching from the teacher. Remind students that the project needs to be small enough that they can do it at home over a short time period. (They can't actually build a rocket ship that will send someone to the moon, but they could build a model out of an old soda bottle.) Here are some examples based on the ideas generated above.

  • What is the right amount of water for growing plants?
  • How do different rocket designs affect their flight?
  • How does the speed of your skating affect the height of your ollie (skating jump)?

Step 3: Conduct Background Research

The next step is for students to learn more about their topic so they can construct a hypothesis and design an experiment. When conducting internet research, be sure that the students include the words ''for kids'' in their search. For example:

  • ''Growing plants for kids.''
  • ''Rocket design for kids.''
  • ''How to do an ollie for kids.''

President Barack Obama views an exhibit at the White House Science Fair in 2013.
Photograph of the White House Science Fair.

Step 4: Develop a Hypothesis

Now that the students know more about their topic, they are ready to write their hypothesis. A hypothesis is a scientific prediction based on the available information. For a science fair, they are usually written as ''if-then'' statements that cover both what the student plans to do and what they think will happen.

  • If I give a plant either too much or too little water, then the plant will die.
  • If I build a rocket with a cone and fins, then it will fly further.
  • If I skate faster, then my ollies will go higher.

Step 5: Design the Experiment

For many students, this will be the hardest part. As an educator, be prepared to provide lots of coaching and feedback. The experiment must be simple enough that it can be completed at home, but not so simple that the students are not challenged academically.

In this experiment the independent variable is whether or not the plants receive fertilizer. The dependent variable is the height of the plants.
Photo of a plant growth experiment.

Students must identify the independent and dependent variables. The independent variable is the aspect of the experiment that they are changing.

  • The amount of water given to the plants
  • The aerodynamic aspects of the rocket.
  • The incoming speed for skateboarding trick.

The dependent variable depends on the independent variable. It is the aspect of the experiment that the students are measuring.

  • How tall the plant grows depends on how much water it receives.
  • How far the rocket flies depends on its aerodynamics.
  • The height of the ollie depends on the incoming speed of the skateboard.

Here are some other things that students need to consider: What materials will they need? How many trials will they conduct? How are they going to measure the dependent variable?

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