Unless otherwise noted, information contained in each edition of the Kansas School Naturalist reflects the knowledge of the subject as of the original date of publication.

KSN - Vol 12, No 2 - Your Science Project

ALL PHOTOGRAPHS, including those on the cover, were taken at the 1965 Emporia Science Fair. The sketches on pages 8 and 9 were drawn by Dr. Boles, co-author of this issue.

Volume 12, Number 2 - December 1965

Your Science Project

by Robert J. Boles and Bernadette R. Menhusen


Published by The Kansas State Teachers College of Emporia

Prepared and Issued by The Department of Biology, with the cooperation of the Division of Education

Editor: John Breukelman, Department of Biology

Editorial Committee: Ina M. Borman, Robert F. Clarke, Helen M. Douglass, Gilbert A. Leisman, David F. Parmelee, Carl W. Prophet

Online format by: Terri Weast

The Kansas School Naturalist is sent upon request, free of cf,arge, to Kansas teachers, school board members and administrators, librarians, conservationists, youth leaders, and other adults interested in nature education. Back numbers are sent tree as long as the supply lasts. except Vol. 5, No.3, Poisonous Snakes of Kansas. Copies of this issue may be obtained for 25 cents each postpaid. Send orders to The Kansas School Naturalist, Department of Biology, Kansas State Teachers College, Emporia, Kansas.

The Kansas School Naturalist is published in October, December, February, and April of each year by The Kansas State Teachers College, 1200 Commercial Street, Emporia, Kansas. Second-class postage paid at Emporia, Kansas.

ALL PHOTOGRAPHS, including those on the cover, were taken at the 1965 Emporia Science Fair. The sketches on pages 8 and 9 were drawn by Dr. Boles, co-author of this issue.

Your Science Project

by Robert J. Boles and Bernadette R. Menhusen, Department of Biology, Kansas State Teachers College

More than a million boys and girls enter projects and exhibits in science fairs in the United States every year. Each year more students discover the fun and excitement of preparing projects and exhibits. As a result, science fairs are increasing in number and quality.

Many boys and girls have been working on their projects for several months; others are still planning theirs. If you have not already planned your project it is not too late to start. If you have never had the opportunity of preparing a project there are several questions that may arise as you plan it. The purpose of this issue of The Kansas School Naturalist is to assist you in the planning, execution, and display of your science fair project.

What Is a Science Fair?

A science fair is an exhibition of science work prepared and displayed by elementary school pupils and high school students. Each exhibit, designed to show a scientific principle or a laboratory procedure, is usually prepared after a project involving scientific investigation and data collection has been completed

Science fairs vary from one community to another and from one state to another. Often the fairs are sponsored by schools, colleges, civic organizations, or science clubs of the community. Most fairs are usually competitive. A run-off fair may be held in each classroom and J the winners permitted to enter a local science fair. Local upper-grade winners may then enter their exhibits in a regional, district, or state science fair. Twelfth-grade winners at this level may enter the National Science Fair, held in a different city each year under the sponsorship of Science Clubs of America and various cooperating organizations. Rules and dates for local science fairs are not uniform. Ask your teacher or principal about the date, location, and rules of your science fair.

What Is the Purpose of Science Fairs?

The purpose of science fairs is to encourage boys and girls who are interested in science to become involved in research, and to give recognition to those who have completed outstanding projects. If you take part in a fair you will meet new friends and learn new things by talking with other young people who are also interested in science.

Besides the honor and recognition accorded the winners, thousands of dollars in prizes and scholarships are awarded each year for the best projects. Winners may receive ribbons, medals, trophies, or prizes such as books, magazines, or encyclopedias in all divisions. In many regional, district, and state fairs, and in the National Science Fair, college and university scholarships are awarded to twelfth-grade winners.

What Is a Project?

A project is a planned study and report, which involves constructive thinking, research, and action. In the science fair exhibit the results of the project are presented in a display. A project is· usually designed to show a scientific principle or a laboratory procedure. The gathering and using of scientific information is the essential feature of both a good project and an effective exhibit.

Projects may include "collecting" and "constructing," but also include knowledge derived from observation, study, and experimentation to determine the nature of the principle being studied. Projects are not merely · lists of flowers or wood samples, piles of rocks, or collections of cocoons. They involve the use of such resources as "The Steps in Identifying Wildflowers," "The Steps in Identifying Wood," "Methods of Identifying Rocks," or "The Life Cycle of the Silk Worm."

How Should I Start My Project?

First, choose a broad area of science that interests you, such as plants, animals, or rocks. Then proceed by (1) reading, (2) questioning, and (3) planning.

Read material in the broad area that you have chosen until you begin to find certain areas that seem to be most interesting to you. For example, you may have chosen the broad topic of animals. Aftcr reading and thinking, you have decided that you are more interested in birds than any other group. Your teacher, librarian, or parents may help you locate information, but you must do your own research. Examine text books and encvclopedias. Check references in' the card catalog of your library. Read magazines, scientific journals, and newspapers. Interesting ideas may not only come from any of these sources, but also from television, radio, class discussions, or field trips.

After you have done enough reading to have developed a general background, you will no doubt think of many questions about your chosen topic. Write down these questions as you think of them. For example, in reading about birds you may have become especially interested in feathers. You may have thought of many questions, such as: Are all the feathers on a bird's body alike? If not, how do they differ? Are the feathers of all species of birds alike? What kinds of feathers do young birds have? How do feathers develop? What produces color in feathers? How long does a feather stay on a bird's body?

You are now ready to examine your list of questions carefully, and to start planning how to investigate one or a few questions which seem to be of greatest interest to you, and which appear to be possible for you to work on. You may need to consult your teacher, parents, or a specialist to check on equipment and supplies which will be needed and available. You should also check the procedure to follow in gathering data. It is permissible to seek advice and information from others, but it is wrong to expect anyone to do any of your work for you. The finished project and exhibit which you present must be the result of your own work. As soon 2 S you have chosen your topic for investigation, you will need to start making a list of the necessary steps, materials, and equipment you will need for carrying out your research.

When Should I Start Working on My Project?

As soon as you have formulated your plans, you are ready to proceed. Start working on your project as early in the year as possible, for many projects require months to complete plans, assemble all the needed materials, and complete all the necessary research. It is not unusual for a student to work two or more years on a project. Often it is necessary to repeat parts of projects because of errors or inaccuracies. Be prepared for unexpected events to occur. Sometimes it is advisable to alter your plans to investigate these events.

What is a Report?

Every scientist keeps detailed notes and accurate records of his work. These may be kept in a notebook or on file cards in the form of a daily account of everything that concerns the project-experiments, procedures, data, checks for validity, conclusions, and expenses incurred. This information is used in preparing the final report and exhibit.

You may be asked to write a formal report, to display with your exhibit. In fact, one of the valuable experiences to be derived from science fair participation is practice in writing a research paper. A project report usually includes the following parts:

  1. Title
  2. Abstract (a brief condensation of the entire report)
  3. Introduction (statement of problem and background information)
  4. Materials and methods (description in detail)
  5. Observations and data
  6. Discussion of results (main conclusions your observations tend t) prove or disprove, and possible explanation)
  7. Conclusions
  8. References (books and periodicals used in the study)
  9. Acknowledgments (give credit for all help which you received.)


Planning Your Exhibit

Your exhibit should be organized so that it is quickly and easily meaningful to those who see it. Remember that most viewers know little about what you have done. The following outline is suggested as a way of presenting your science project, but you may think of a different and more effective one.

The title should be as brief and as nontechnical as possible. You may wish to use a subtitle to help explain or amplify the main title.

This should be a clear, concise statement to give the viewer an explanation of the project and its significance. Do not be too technical.

What did you find out? What conclusions did you draw from your data? This information should be listed in a brief, understandable manner. Should the viewer wish further details, they should be available in your notebook and project report.

List the high points of what you tried to do and how you went about it. Emphasize any activities that displayed unusual imagination, ingenuity, or resourcefulness.

Both are important to a good project, but in an exhibit too many data may be dull to the average viewer. Select only those which are essential to a clear presentation of your project notebook.

These should be used when and if they appear to tell the story as well as (or better than) words. Your notes should include all photographs you have taken of your project, or should tell where they can be obtained. Drawings may be useful to help illustrate your story. Consider space as well as dramatic value when selecting photographs and drawings for use in your exhibit.

When carefully chosen, these will also help in explaining your project. Remember that judges are little impressed by "gadgets" or expensive equipment as such. Did you devise low-cost laboratory equipment to help secure your data? Do specimens help tell the story? Are any of the experimental results or specimens particularly unusual, spectacular, or beautiful? Consider such cases carefully, and see if they lend themselves to a more meaningful and forceful exhibit.

This is an important and often overlooked part of a good exhibit. In a brochure or folder you can present many of the data and drawings not displayed in your exhibit. This condensed version of your project report will allow interested viewers a chance to read about and study your results more carefully and thoroughly. Even a single mimeographed page can supply valuable information that cannot be displayed in the limited space allotted to your exhibit.

Should I use Color?

If used properly, color can make your exhibit more functional and attractive. Here are some suggestions which may prove helpful in choosing the colors you should use and the way in which they should be employed.

In a small space, such as your science fair exhibit, one or two basic colors, plus black and white, will normally be enough. Color should be used in large blocks, rather than in many small patches. Use the different basic colors to define the main areas of emphasis; then different shades of the basic colors can be used to define subareas.

Projects in the biological fields can best use pastel shades, especially in the greens and yellows. Physical science projects most often will utilize more intense colors. In any case, avoid violent contrasts and carnival gaudiness. Your colors should serve to attract and interest the viewer, not shock and repel him.

The visibility and impact of illustrations may often be increased by mounting them against backgrounds of contrasting colors. Do not t;:tpe or paint a border around each illustration, specimen, or block of type. Placing them properly against contrasting background will provide the best border.

Experiment with your color schemes before making a final choice. Invite your family, friends, and teachers (especially your art teacher) to comment upon the effect and to make constructive criticisms before making a final choice.

How Should I Design My Exhibit?

After you have finished your project by collecting all the necessary data, written up your results in your project report, planned and listed what must go into your exhibit, and studied the rules under which your project will be judged, you are ready to design your exhibit. The sections which follow will assist you in planning your exhibit structure, presenting your information (photographs, line draWings, captions, colors, lighting, models, specimens, laboratory equipment), and planning your layout and location of the materials you wish to exhibit.

National Science Fair International rules limit exhibit size to 48 inches wide and 30 inches deep. The structure may rest on the floor, on its own supports, or on a table. The tables supplied by a fair are usually 30 inches high. Even if the local rules of your fair permit more space, it is probably best to limit yourself to the NSFI rules, so that your exhibit will be eligible at all fairs. Do not have your exhibit too tall (not over seven feet if on the floor), as it is difficult for the viewer to examine taller displays. Tabletop displays of 48 inches or less are probably best.

KSN - Vol 12, No 2 - pg 8 illustration

Most science fair exhibits can be adequately shown within a structure similar to that shown in the accompanying figure. Such a tabletop "booth" exhibit will have these features:

  1. A large back wall which can be used for your introductory message, for featured illustrations or specimens, or for important conclusions
  2. Two smaller side walls, angled outward for easier viewing, which contain supplementary text and illustrations.
  3. Flat or horizontal display space at table height to hold specimens, equipment, notebook and reports. and handout sheets.

You may wish to fit this space with a slanted or stepped-shelf base unit. By fastening the back and side walls to such a base the display structure is stronger and more stable. The title board places the main title where it may be seen easily, provides wall space for your display, braces the side walls, and serves as a shield for your exhibit light.

Economical, attractive, one-time only exhibit structures may be made from artboard or similar paper products. These may be more practical for use in elementary school exhibits. But if you plan to enter your fairs, it will economical to that may be exhibit in several probably be more consider materials used a number of times. Most fairs do not permit you to compete in successive years with the same exhibit material, but it is unlikely they would require you to construct a new display structure each year to hold the displays you enter.

"Masonite" and similar woodfiber sheets are relatively inexpensive, take paint and adhesives well, are fairly light, and may be purchased in thicknesses down to one-eighth inch and lengths of eight feet. When cut into panels of less than 48 inches they are sufficiently rigid, when supported by adjoining panels, to display your data sheets and illustrations. The predrilled sheets lend themselves to the use of various "pegboard" hanger devices, from which you may suspend or upon which you may place exhibit materials. The holes also permit fastening items that might be damaged by being knocked down or picked up by thoughtless spectators.

A standard 4-by-8 foot sheet of hardboard or plywood is sufficient to construct a typical tabletop display structure. Plans for such a unit are shown in the accompanying drawing.

You should seal plywood and untempered hardboard with a primer coat before applying the finish coat of paint. Putting sealer on the reverse side of the panels reduces the amount of warping that may take phce. The finish coat of enamel may be easily applied by the use of aerosol spray cans. It is best to apply several light coats, rather than one thick one. Lav the panels flat for painting in order to avoid unsightly "runs."

Should you need braces or other woodwork, you will find white pine is probably the best, as it is light, strong, easy to work, and, if seas~ned properly, is unlikely to warp.

You may use hinges, washers, bolts, and screws of uncoated steel if you intend to paint over them. Otherwise, it would no doubt be better to use brass, stainless steel, aluminum, or chrome-plated fixtures.

If your exhibit should be a winner, you may need to erect and dismantle it at several fairs. With this in mind, you may select wingnut bolt assemblies and removable pin hinges, as you will then be able to save a considerable amount of time and help keep your exhibit in good condition.

KSN - Vol 12, No 2 - pg 9 illustration

Incandescent showcase lamps are usually preferable to the more bulky and hard to conceal fluorescent lights. They are also less expensive. Clip-on bed lamps may suit your purpose.

Some fairs have rather rigid rules regarding the electrical wiring that may be used. It is well to study these rules, as well as those of the National Science Fair International, before you prepare your exhibit. A fused entry-outlet box on the back wall of your exhibit stand will facilitate the attaching of an extension cord. It is wise to include 25 to 50 feet of heavy duty extension cord with your exhibit, in case the fair does not provide power cords to the area assigned to you for your display.

How Should I Present the Necessary Information?

After you have built your display structure, you can plan how best to present the information needed to explain your project. There are many ways to present the same information. The following guidelines are suggested to assist you in your planning.

Make some sketches of various ways your information may be presented. Study them carefully to see whether they are clear as to content and effective visually.

Keep your text to a minimum number of words. Viewers prefer to see an exhibit. Too much discussion detracts from its effectiveness. A good illustration, graph, or specimen can save many words. When text is needed, the letters should be clear and large enough for easy reading. Back off several feet and imagine that you are a viewer. Avoid too large or fancy lettering. Titles and text are valuable only to explain your exhibit. They should never dominate it?

Captions may be placed uniformly over or under all illustrations. Your exhibit may be more attractive if text books are placed at the side of your illustrations.

If you use a series of illustrations or specimens to tell a running story, consider enlarging or featuring one of the most significant items so it can serve as a focal point of the series.

If the viewer must squint to view your photographs in detail, either have them enlarged or discard them.

Color photos are expensive, but one or two in a large group of black-and-white prints nearly always add interest.

If your exhibit contains charts and graphs, keep them Simple. The average viewer will have trouble with logarithmic charts, scatter diagrams, and line charts where several curves must cross and recross. Simple pie, bar, and representational charts are among the best. You may be able to use colors to make the various factors more discernible. Caption and explain diagrams adequately.

Approximately 40 per cent of your available display space should. be occupied by absolutely nothing! This prevents the effect of crowding and cluttering. Viewers are much more apt to read what is there, than they will if the space is crowded or cluttered with too much material.

Your exhibit elements (textual and visual) should be organized into groups and sub-groups. You may also choose to use the "feature" technique, emphasizing the most unusual or striking portion of your exhibit by placing it on a raised or differently colored background.

The amateur exhibitor may easily be "carried away" with enthusiasms for large arrays of mechanical apparatus, most of which is usually both unnecessary and confusing. You may wish to display a unique piece of equipment without the entire assembly into which it fits. You can do this by displaying the featured part alongside a drawing or photograph of the complete assembly. Again, keep details to a minimum; put them in the project report.

Motion in a science fair exhibit should be used only when there is a clear need for it. Usually you may spend your time and efforts better on scientific content, careful design, and clear text rather than on mechanical gimmicks.

Most audience-participation devices in science fair exhibits do not merit the effort, money, and space devoted to them. If you do display equipment for viewers to operate, be sure that it can be operated. safely and dependably even when you are not there (as during the judging). Nothing frustrates an exhibit viewer more than a pushbutton that doesn't work!

Though demonstrations may be informative and interesting, most science fair displays do not include them, as the exhibitor cannot be on hand at all times to give the demonstration. You should design your exhibit so that a demonstration is not necessary to a clear understanding of your work.

The use of plants and animals that have been employed in the science project may well lend interest and meaning to the exhibit. You must keep several important things in mind, however.

1. The science fair follows the development of the project. Meanwhile, plants and animals keep growing and changing. By fair time they may be less meaningful and attractive than they were at the peak of your project.

2. If you compete at several fairs, you must plan for transportation and special care of your plants and animals.

3. You must become familiar with the regulations that each fair has concerning the use of living specimens, especially animals.

4. You must arrange for attractive and comfortable housing for your animals.

5. Your plants :end animals must be protected from the fingers of inquisitive viewers. Be selective, and use only the minimum number needed to make your point in the exhibit.

KSN - Vol 12, No 2 - pg 12 photo
KSN - Vol 12, No 2 - pg 13 photo
KSN - Vol 12, No 2 - pg 13 photo

You should try several temporary layouts before you mount your exhibit materials on your exhibit structure permanently. Step back and examine each one for clarity and dramatic value. You should then pencil in your lettering (title, captions, text) in actual size. Use a separate sheet of paper for each part of the layout. Thus, you may try them out in various arrangements.

Headings are normally in capital letters, and subheads in smaller "caps," or in initial caps and "lower case" letters. Text and other statements should use caps and lower case. Do not use capital letters for your text material, as a mass of capitals is harder to read than lower case letters. Don't make your letters too large or too small. Fancy letters and labeling do not add to the value of your exhibit. Avoid too many signs and labels that would tend to clutter your display. Have someone (such as your science teacher or English teacher) check your composition and spelling.

Science fair exhibits should be understandable to the intelligent layman as well as to the trained specialist. For this reason, it is best to tryout your lettering and layout on a number of people, such as classmates, family, and teachers. Scientific writing: as in any good writing, should be simple and direct in its approach. It is best to use short sentences, familiar words, and a minimum of technical terms and formulae.

Final lettering should be done carefully. Inking may be done by the use of various sizes of lettering pens (e.g., "Speedball"). Unless you have had some practice, you may save yourself trouble by not lettering directly upon the background. Instead, letter each "block" on a sep8rate piece of art paper which can be glued in position later. Rubber cement, obtainable at stationery stores, is a good mountant. Double-coated adhesive tape, such as you may purchase from art-supply stores, is also good for mounting your display materials.

At the science fair, assemble your structure, place your lighting fixtures in place, and plug in your extension cord. Arrange any equipment that needs to be displayed in its planned position. Put your project notebook, project report, and handout brochure (if you plan to use one) in place. Check carefully to see that you have not forgotten anything.

Rules for judging the exhibits may vary somewhat among various science fairs, but most judges follow fairly closely the criteria and point values used by the National Science Fair International. These criteria and point values are:

I. Creative Ability - Total 30 pts.
How much of the work appears to show originality of approach or handling? Judge that which appears to you to be original regardless of the expense of purchased or borrowed equipment. Give weight to ingenious use of materials, if present. Consider collections creative if they seem to serve a purpose.

II. Scientific Thought - Total 30 pts.
Does the exhibit disclose organized procedures? Is there a planned system, classification, accurate observation, or controlled experiment? Does exhibit show a verification of laws, or a cause and effect, or present by models or other methods a better understanding of scientific facts or theories? Give weight to probable amount of real study and effort which is represented in the exhibit. Guard against discounting for what might have been added, included, or improved.

III. Thoroughness - Total 10 pts.
Score here for how completely the story is told. It is not essential that step-by-step elucidation of construction details be given in working models.

IV. Skill - Total 10 pts.
Is the workmanship good? Under normal working conditions, is the exhibit likely to demand frequent repairs? In collections, how skilled is the handling, preparation, mounting or other treatment?

V. Clarity - Total 10 pts.
In your opinion, will the average person understand what is being displayed? Are guide marks, labels, and descriptions spelled correctly, and neatly yet briefly presented? Is there sensible progression of the attention of the spectator across or through the exhibit?

VI. Dramatic Value - Total 10 pts.
Is this exhibit more attractive than others in the same field? Do not be influenced by "cute" things, lights, buttons, switches, cranks, or other gadgets which contribute nothing to the exhibit.

Judges are allowed room for individual discretion, especially regarding the distinction between the science project itself and the exhibit. You should study your local rules and judging criteria carefully. Note that some 60 points pertain to creativity and sound scientific thought. More than half of your points depend upon the choice and execution of your science project. The remaining 40 points apply to the manner in which you exhibit that project. Keep this in mind when a judge selects the less attractive of two exhibits. One, though not as attractively displayed, may have shown much better creative and scientific thought than the other.

KSN - Vol 12, No 2 - pg 14 photo

Congratulations if you are a winner in your science fair competition. As in most competition there are many entries but few winners. You can be proud of a good exhibit. While at the science fair, you should examine the other exhibits carefully-especially the prize-winning exhibits. Take a few notes if you need to, checking for topics, type of project completed, method of presentation of data, conclusions, and display arrangement (i.e., background, use of color, amount of information presented, and materials displayed).

You may then want to begin to plan your project and exhibit for next year's science fair competition. You cannot enter the same exhibit a second time, but you may have ideas as to how you might expand or improve your project using similar theme for next year. By starting early, you will have sufficient time to plan and execute a project of high quality for which you and your school may well be proud. We hope you are a winner in next year's science fair competition. Good luck!

KSN - Vol 12, No 2 - pg 15 photo KSN - Vol 12, No 2 - pg 15 photo



Science Projects Handbook, Shirley Moore (Ed.). Ballantine Books. Inc.. N. Y. 1960. 254 pp. $0.50

Ideas for Science Projects, V. Showalter and I Slesnick. National Science Teachers Association. Washington. D. C. 1962. 53 pp. $1.00

Wonderful World of Science, Shirley Moore and Judy Viorst, Science Service. Washington. D.C. 1961. 246 pp. $0.50

Science Fair Projects, Science and Mechanics Publishing Co.. Chicago. Ill. 1962. 162 pp. $0.75

Thousands of Science Projects, Science Service. Washington. D. C. 45 pp. 1962. $0.25

Student Projects, Science Service. Washington. D.C. 25 pp. $0.50

Your Science Fair, Arden Welte. James Diamond. and Alfred Friedl Burgess Publishing Co.. Minneapolis. Minn. 1959. 103 pp. $2.75


The Department of Biology presents the ninth AUDUBON SCREEN TOUR SERIES in 1965-1966. This series consists of five all-color motion pictures of wildlife, plant science, and conservation personally narrated by leading naturalists. Two of the films were shown in October and November; the remaining three will be presented in Albert Taylor Hall at 7:30 p.m. on the dates listed below. Both group and single admission tickets are available; for further information write Dr. Carl W. Prophet, Department of Biology, KSTC, Emporia.

Frank W. McLaughlin, A Wonderland Endangered, February 24, 1966.

H. Charles Laun, The Alpine Tundra, March 30, 1966.

Robert C. Hermes, Between the Tides, April 22, 1966.

"Statement required by the Act of October. 1962; Section 4369. Title 39, United States Code. showing Ownership, Management and Circulation," The Kansas School Naturalist is published in October, December, February. and April. Editorial Office and Publication Office at 1200 Commercial Street. Emporia. Kansas. (66802). The Naturalist is edited and published by the Kansas State Teachers College. Emporia, Kansas. Editor, John Breukelman, Department of Biology.


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