See Internet sites for a head start on next science fair

Advice: Two online stops might lead to a high grade with a minimum of frustration and wasted effort.

February 21, 2002|By Jennifer Hill | Jennifer Hill,COX NEWS SERVICE

It's February, time to start thinking about science fair projects. I am always amazed at the incredible variety of uniquely interesting topics students find to tackle. Over the past couple of years, I have come to appreciate how helpful the Internet can be in the sometimes arduous road to project completion.

"Your Science Fair Project Resource Guide" on the Internet Public Library site at www.ipl.org/youth/projectguide is well designed and a good place to look for help for science projects.

The site, which looks like an open notebook, leads users through the steps of putting a resource project together by providing an excellent group of resources. The real beauty of it is that your child can develop a good sense of what's involved in doing a science fair project with the information on the links.

The first link is to a page listing sites that explain the scientific method. Included are an explanatory film at BrainPop.com (www. brainpop.com/science/matter/sci- entificmethod/index.weml) and a comprehensive but understandable explanation at Science Fair Studio featuring a handbook about science fairs, written by Janice VanCleave, at Discovery.com (http://school.discovery.com/sci- encefaircentral/scifairstudio/hand- book/scientificmethod.html).

Using the two sites together reminded me of coloring in a coloring book. The BrainPop movie did an excellent job of providing the bold outlines of the important points of scientific method. The information presented in the Science Fair Central report is the box of crayons used to fill in those outlines. It explains the process involved in detail, often with practical information that may not readily occur to a young scientist.

Here is how it explains project research: "Research is the process of collecting information from your own experiences, knowledgeable sources, and data from exploratory experiments."

Your first research is used to select a project topic. This is called topic research.

For example, you observe a black growth on bread slices and wonder how it got there. Because of this experience, you decide to learn more about mold growth.

Your topic will be fungal reproduction. (Fungal refers to plantlike organisms called fungi, which cannot make their own food, and reproduction is the making of a offspring.)

(Caution: If you are allergic to mold, this is not a topic you would investigate. Choose a different one.)

At http://edweb.tusd.k12.az.us/jtindell/sample.html, under sample projects, you'll find several projects done by seventh-grade students along with the project's question, hypothesis, materials and procedures. Reading about the projects can help students clarify each of the steps.

Rader's Chem4Kids is devoted to chemistry. Kids can find information on matter, atoms, chemical reactions, the elements, biochemistry and other related topics.

Eighteen elements are highlighted. The site gives an explanation of why only 18 elements: "It's a lot easier to remember facts about 18 elements than for over 100 elements." The entries are informative and easily understood, providing a launching point to more detailed information on the subject.

You can also get links to Ask an Expert, where you can post questions about your projects.

Under the Tips and Tricks link, the ChartsandGraphpageatwww.twingroves.distr ict96.k12.il.us/ScienceInternet/ChartsGraphs .html explains clearly to students how to use charts and graphs to display their findings.

This is one link that could have eliminated some very tense moments around our house last year.

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