What Are Science Fairs?
Science Fairs are events hosted by schools and organizations to give kids a place to show off their scientific projects. Earth Science Fair Projects are not usually that common (excluding the classic baking soda volcano), but they might be gaining in popularity. Science as a whole is certainly becoming more popular, with everything from local school fairs to national competitions popping up every year.
The real meat of the fair starts weeks or months in advance when kids start their own science projects. They pick a topic and method to explore their own individual ideas, rather than just reading from science textbooks. The fair itself is at the end, providing a space for all the students to present their findings. Each student has a small space to set up a poster which describes their project. Based off the presentation, judges will often select projects with the best methods or most interesting results.
What is the Point of Science Fairs?
Science fairs not only get kids interested in science, but also educate them about the scientific method. Science is not a body of knowledge, but rather the method we use to gain new knowledge or even disprove what we thought we already knew. Recognizing this difference is vital for kids growing up in a society almost entirely based on scientific principles. Or at least, science is behind almost every aspect of modern life; technology, food, governmental policies, and most careers depend on it to a significant degree.
Earth Science Fairs and Projects in particular can help raise awareness in kids of one of the most prolific modern problems: climate change. Earth Science is deeply related to this topic, and it is important to get kids educated about it early. One day, they will be the primary people in charge of fixing the problem.
Apart from the pursuit of knowledge, students also have the opportunity to earn compensation for their hard work. Some science fairs offer prizes, scholarships, and entry into advanced competitions. Certain companies even scout science fairs or host their own to recruit future talent.
Types of Science Fairs
Many science fairs include any and all topics, especially those run by local schools. However, some fairs are run by certain organizations that focus on particular areas.
Earth Science fairs are fairly rare, but some universities host them on occasion. The Center for Integrative Geosciences at the University of Connecticut hosts an Earth Science Fair with projects by faculty and students to help educate the community. Their projects and activities include hands on demonstrations for kids and community members. Guests can identify minerals and fossils, smash geodes, try out drones, and play in virtual sandboxes.
One of the most popular area-specific types of science fairs centers around technology. Tech giants like Google and Intel run fairs full of projects testing out new technological advances in electronics and engineering. They often use these fairs to find rising talent in the pool of young kids showing early interest in such advanced topics.
If Earth Science Fairs or another particular topic interest you, check out universities or science organizations. There may be one near you, or one that is worth making a trip to.
What the Project Entails
There are five main types of Science Fair Projects; research, collection, experiment, model, and demonstration. Each of these has its own structure and method, but the goal is to familiarize students with scientific principles. For some students, especially in elementary and junior high, a science fair project might be their first hands on experience with science.
For this reason, it's okay for the students to do things wrong during their projects. They might have small sample sizes, or have weak experimental technique. But these weaknesses should be highlighted later to ensure that they understand the importance of meeting scientific standards.
The conclusions of the project should even discuss which aspects of the experiment could have or should have been improved. Questions that explore the effects of small sample sizes, contamination factors, or missing information are vital to understanding that conclusions are not necessarily set in stone.
Research consists of collecting information on a topic and presenting findings. Earth Science Fair Projects have great potential to fit in this category due to the timescale of events on Earth. Anything regarding geology or paleontology would require researching the known history of rocks and past life on Earth through other resources. The final project essentially sums up a large number of other scientists' findings. From this information, the student might suggest new implications or conclusions. Then, someone looking at the project can easily understand the topic and any new ideas the student has about it.
Collection is the gathering of items which demonstrate understanding of a concept. For an Earth Science fair project, a collection might consist of a range of soil samples. The student can use the samples to evaluate pesticide usage in the area of collection. Or, it might be a collection of rocks demonstrating the relationship between location and characteristics such as texture, source, organic content, or method of formation.
Experiments and investigations are the most common type of projects, and the most useful for learning about the scientific method. In these projects, the student creates an original hypothesis and draws conclusions about observations made while testing it. To test the hypothesis, a simplified version of the scientific method may be used. This allows the student greater focus on one aspect while avoiding bogging them down in an overwhelming amount of details.
The student might take surveys or samples to collect data, or maybe set up an experiment which they periodically retrieve data from. An Earth Science project example could be setting up one or more plant habitats from which measurements are taken to test soil and air quality over time when certain changes are made to the system.
Model projects involve building replicas or representations to illustrate concepts or principles. The notorious vinegar and baking soda volcano is an Earth Science Project that fits in this category. More useful and not over-done examples could be simplified models of new technology or even prototypes of the student's own invention ideas. For example, maybe the student has an idea for a device that can clean the oceans or filter pollution from the air. Students can implement a small-scale scoop or fan filter to model the idea.
A demonstration is generally re-testing an experiment. Although it might sound redundant, this is actually a very important part of science in general. re-performing experiments allows the verification of other scientists' results, acting as a form of peer review. In the Science Fair context, it allows students to understand where a certain piece of knowledge came from, and why what they are taught in school is indeed true.
Earth Science Fair Project ideas
Because Earth Science Fair Projects are not very common, doing one gives you or your kids the opportunity to do something unique! Here are some ideas for projects of various levels.
Elementary students are just starting to learn about what science really is. Projects should focus on helping them understand the process and its importance, as well as holding their interest. Make the projects simple, fun, colorful, and maybe even a bit messy.
Collections, models, research, and demonstrations, are probably the most ideal project types for these younger kiddos. Research allows the students to learn about a topic that is already well-explored by others. But this option isn't very hands on like the others. For collections, they can pick something that requires scavenging in the year or at nearby parks. Rocks, insects, plants, soil, or even litter might make interesting collections that make a statement about the local environment.
Models let them mix their creative side into the science, creating replicas of anything from atoms to galaxies. They can also be interactive, showing something like how a landslide of pebbles affects a small paper town. Or maybe how a an “earthquake” from shaking a table affects different materials like sand, pebbles, clay, or even artificial materials of different rigidity like Legos or paper.
Demonstrations might be a little more advanced, consisting of repeating an actual experiment. But many experiments are very simple, and having step-by-step instructions helps walk the student through the process. Try looking into some popular simple experiments about simulating parts of the water cycle like acid rain or salt formation from evaporation. Or discover how different rocks form, or how to make your own sedimentary “rocks”.
High school students are capable of more advanced projects usually focusing on experiments. The other projects types can still make for great projects at a higher level, but the student needs to be more creative and think outside of the box. The main goal for high school students is to follow the scientific method closely, learning how they can improve the experiment to ensure results are reliable.
Some Earth Science Fair Projects might look at the effect of soil management on soil quality of a garden, or evaluate factors of erosion. Even the classic volcano experiment can look at more advanced factors like temperature or viscosity of the “lava”. Students can also look at weather using fairly simple measurements like temperature or measuring precipitation in cups.
Modelling can also be done in an advanced fashion to encourage engineering capabilities. Students might try to make various building designs for withstanding earthquakes, or test pipe designs to see which distribute water in the most efficient manner. Whatever the method, try to focus on modern topics and problems to make the science fair a valuable part of education.