We are on part 2 of our discussion on Winning Science Projects. (Read the post – I’m Not Competitive, I Just Want to Win.) If you are merely interested in getting a passing grade on your assignment and nothing more, you need not read any further. If you are an overachiever and/or the parent of one, read on!
4. Cross Your “t’s” and Dot Your “i’s”: Grammar, spelling, and punctuation are often overlooked in the science world. While I was a TA in graduate school, I got many complaints from students that it was “unfair” to deduct points for grammatical issues in their science papers. I wholeheartedly disagree! Even if you have a Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics, you still need to be able to communicate written thoughts in a proper manner. Grammar errors, in general, will detract from the overall research and will make the end result seem far less polished. “Ya do’nt want there pore grammer to be a detraction from they’re hard wurk [sic, sic, sic, and SICK!]” If your child has problems with grammar, spelling, and/or punctuation, provide him (or get help from someone who can) with editing assistance. However, make sure you explain why their work is incorrect instead of merely fixing it!
5. Beauty is in the Eye of the …Judge/Teacher: Pay attention to the aesthetic details–neatness (I recommend typing if it is allowed), ease of reading, and “curb appeal.” Don’t try to squeeze in an extra page by using a size 7 font. Remember the people evaluating the project may not have eyes as young and healthy as yours. Consider using an attractive fabric as a background if you are doing a display. Pick a color scheme (one to two colors; you don’t want it to look like a hippy bus). If you are displaying graphs and charts, mat or frame them with a contrasting background color (cardstock works nicely and is inexpensive). If you have them, pictures of your project in progress are attention grabbers. Also, if you are able to attach 3-D effects to the display (a measuring spoon next to your procedure, samples of your variables (if they are small and easily attached to a display board), for example. You want to pull in your viewers with as many senses as you can!
6. I said, “Win,” not, “Cheat!”: While I freely admit that I like to win, do not cross the fine line between assisting and taking over! Let the project be your student’s and not yours. If they are in middle school, they are not expected to know complex organic chemistry formulas or scientific terms that most college juniors can’t explain. This is an area that, as a Mom, I struggle with more than I thought I would. Having a child with mild special needs, it is often much easier/faster/smooth and less stressful/aggravating/blood-pressure-elevating if I do an assignment rather than coach him through it. However, there are too many dangers in doing the project for them: (a) If they are asked questions about a paper or procedure, they will be unable to answer (b) There is a risk that the child will get a lesser grade or be overlooked in a science fair if it is suspected that it was a parent’s project and (c) Your child will come to expect you to do every future assignment for them (I shiver at this thought!!).
Again, knowledge and science are rewarding… but winning is nice, too. Happy research and experimenting, and may the best scientist win!
PS If you want to win, but are short on time, go to 24 Hour Science Projects for a complete guide to your (hopefully) winning science project.