Simple Science Fair Projects

Simple Science Fair Projects

This article outlines some ideas, techniques, formatting, and processes involved in designing, developing, and completing an elementary school science fair project.  The following is intended for use by parents and teachers of elementary school children. During this guided experience, children will learn various science-thinking skills, such as how to gather, organize, and display data, while also giving examples of interesting, age-appropriate science fair projects.  Educational prompts and questions encourage the learner and the teacher to apply the knowledge and skills learned to future occasions.

Gathering Data

  • Data can be displayed in a variety of ways, such as in graphs, charts/tables, photographs, drawings, and so forth.
  • The same data can be displayed in more than one manner per individual project.
  • A blank data collection chart and/or data collection format should be determined before the actual project takes place.
  • Data needs to represent quantitative (numbers) and qualitative (such as visual, and mechanical) aspects and observations associated with the project

This article will showcase some basic lesson plans for elementary science fair projects, along with suggestions of and inquires as how to collect, organize, display, and record the gathered data.  This information can be used as a guided experience for individual children or a classroom of students.

Kindergarten – 1st Grade Science Fair Project

A.  Provide materials

1.  A box of Froot Loops cereal

2.  100 feet of plain, cotton string (not too thin)

3.  A box of flat wooden toothpicks

4.  A roll of 1-inch wide masking tape

5.  Aluminum trays, like cookie sheets (5)

6.  A pair of scissors for adult use

B.  Question:  Which color of cereal is found most often in Froot Loops cereal?

C.  Steps involved in the Science Fair Project

1.  Purpose of the project: to determine the answer to the Question

2.  Hypothesis (see this article about developing a hypothesis if you need help)

3.  Research

4.  Materials

5.  Procedure (step-by-step)

6.  Results; Data collection

7.  Conclusion

D.  Procedure:

Ask the students to develop the hypothesis by having them suggest which color of cereal they think is most common in Froot Loops.  Divide the students into teams of six. Give each student a 24-inch piece of string with a toothpick tied at one end of it. Designate which color each student per team will gather and “count,” so that the entire team gathers the total of all the colors.  Pour some of the cereal onto the aluminum trays and give each team a tray of cereal. Have the students string their designated color of Froot Loop (the toothpick will keep the cereal from falling off of the string).

E.  Data Collection & Conclusion:

When each student has collected all of his/her cereal, tape the strings onto the wall.  Line up the colors of cereal so that all of the same colored strands line up vertically to one another.  Which color of cereal comprises the longest accumulative strand?

F.  Further Research:

Discuss the results and remind the students that it is not important who got the correct answer to the big question, but rather what they learned and how they set up their project to get the correct answer.  Ask them: what does this lead you to want to study next?

In addition, you can use this project to further the students’ understanding of math concepts and language skills, such as (a) counting, (b) measuring, (c) saying which strand is longest, longer than, shorter than, shortest, most, more, less, least, (d) using the cereal pieces as math manipulatives to add and subject, and so forth.

Additional Notes on Data Collection, Organization, and Display

In this particular example of a science fair guided experience, I have suggested having the children collect the different colors of cereal on strings, then display those strings as vertical collections to see which color strand is the longest to determine the most common color of Froot Loop. However, here are some other suggestions for collecting, organizing, and displaying the data (different colors of cereal):

Design a chart that has the colors of cereal shown, then count each of the various colors of cereal that were collected by the individuals and record that collection of numbers on the chart.  Afterwards, all of the blues can be summed, all of the reds, and so forth, as shown in the example below:

ColorBlueRedYellowOrangeGreenPurple
Susie106141175
Jose12810687
Lily91187138
Totals312532242820

For older elementary students, the total data could be shown as a bar graph,

line graph, or as a pie chart (depicting percentages).  Having students create pie charts enables them to utilize greater math skills, taking the raw data (as an example of using the above data) and converting it into percentages, so that:   blue is represented as 31/160 or 19% of the total and red is represented as 25/160 or 16% of the total, and so forth. In this case, the students’ data collection sheet would show the chart form, and the percentages, and a pie chart that would reflect the portions of a pie that each color would represent.  

2nd – 3rd Grade Science Fair Project

A.  Provide materials

1.  Glass marbles, regular size (600)

2.  Plastic shoebox containers (6)

3.  Same size plastic and metal spoons (one each)

4.  Quart size Ziploc bag (1)

5.  Aluminum foil (25 feet, not heavy duty)

6.  Paper towels

7.  Water

B. Question:  Which foil boat design results in carrying the greatest load?

C.  Steps involved in the Science Fair Project

1.  Purpose of the project: to determine the answer to the Question

2.  Hypothesis

3.  Research

4.  Materials

5.  Procedure (step-by-step)

6.  Results; Data collection

7.  Conclusion

D.  Research:

Show the same size metal and plastic spoons side-by-side and ask the students to explain how they are alike (answers may include: both are spoons; they are the same shape; they are about the same size; they are used for the same purpose…to eat with; to stir with; etc.).  

Then ask the students to describe how the spoons are different from each other (answers may include: they are a different color from each other; made of different materials; have different levels of flexibility; are different weights; and of different densities).

Hold up the spoons and ask the students which will sink or float when you drop them into a container of water.  After they have guessed, drop the spoons into the container of water and notice the results (the metal spoon sinks and the plastic spoon floats).  Show the spoons side-by-side again and ask the students to explain why they think one sunk and one floated (answer: the difference in weight/mass; the metal spoon is heavier/denser than the plastic spoon).  

Explain that as the spoon pushes down on the water (due to Earth’s gravitational pull on the spoon), the water pushes up on the spoon (buoyant force).  If the spoon is heavier than the weight of the amount of water contained in the same amount of space (volume) as the spoon, then the spoon sinks. If the spoon weighs less than the weight of the amount of water contained in the same amount of space (volume) as the spoon, then the spoon floats.  So since the plastic is less dense than the same amount of water, it floats, while the metal spoon is denser than the same amount of water, so it sinks.

However, if you are able to add to the amount of buoyant force pushing up on the metal (by increase the size of the spoon’s footprint), you may get the metal spoon to float.  Place the spoon in a Ziploc bag, then into the water and notice that the spoon now floats… simply, you have “spread out the weight” of the spoon across a larger surface, in the same way that a large metal ship can float.

E.  Procedure:

Explain that each student will design a foil boat made from a 6-inch by 12-inch piece of foil.  Marbles will be placed onto the foil boat, representing the ‘load,’ once the boat is placed in a container of water. Have each student develop their own hypothesis to answer the question: which foil boat design results in carrying the greatest load?  The students can either draw a picture of their proposed boat design or give a written description of their boat in order to elaborate on their hypothesis.

Next, give each student a piece of foil measuring 6 inches by 12 inches.  Have each student create a foil boat that they believe will hold the most marbles without sinking or taking on water.  Once the foil boats are created, give some time for the students to share their designs with one another before competing.  In fact, if there are similarities in boat shapes/designs, the teacher can have all of the students with a “sailboat shape” hold up their boats for all to see; then all of the students with a “barge shape” can hold up their boats for all to see; and all of the students with a “smaller, rounded” shape can hold up their boats for all to see, etc. Have the students discuss the reasoning behind why they shaped their boats the way they did.  (Some anticipated answers are: doubling the foil to make the boat stronger; flattening the boat to make more room for marbles; this is how a typical boat is shaped; etc.)

Then each student will compete by placing their foil boat in the water, then adding marbles, one at a time, until their boat takes on water and sinks.  As the competition proceeds, each student needs to record the number of marbles that his/her boat successfully held before sinking.  The student should add this information to the sheet that contains the written description and/or drawing of his/her boat design (this sheet effectively becomes a component of the student’s data collection).

Note to teachers: A way to facilitate a large number of boat tests at one time is for one boat to be placed in each of the six water containers at a time. Each of the six competitors will be given 100 marbles to be placed onto their boat, one at a time, while the teacher slowly keeps count out loud; in other words, on count “1,” each of the six students adds one marble to their respective boat; on count “2,” each of the six students adds a second marble to their boat, and so forth.  All of the other students can watch to make sure the competitors are not cheating.

The teacher will continue to count and marbles will be added, while some boats may take on water and sink. If a winning competitor needs more marbles, they can take them from those competitors whose boats have sunk.  The teacher can then write on the whiteboard, the winning student’s name and number of marbles that the boat successfully held before sinking, then arrange for the next set of six students to compete.   If in the second round of competitors, a student is able to achieve a larger load on their boat (more marbles, than in the previous round) then the teacher will erase the previous winner’s name and number of marbles, and write the new champion’s name and number of marbles in his/her load on the whiteboard.  The competition continues until the most effective boat design and builder are announced.

F.  Data Collection & Analyzing the results: what conclusion can be formed?

Discuss the design of the winner’s boat shape.  As previously mentioned, each student should add to his/her datasheet drawing/written description, the number of marbles that his/her boat successfully held before sinking.  The students should record the number of marbles that the winning boat successfully held before sinking.  

G. Further Research:

On Day Two of this project, allow the students to design new boats (each from a 6-inch by 12-inch piece of foil) to see if they can exceed the number of marbles that can be loaded onto their boats without sinking. The goal is to have each student excel in his/her own creation of a load-bearing boat, however, an ultimate goal could be to exceed the winner’s achievement from Day One.  See the example of an initial datasheet below; note that measurements of the boats will be taken on Day Two.

DesignerDay 1 marbles heldDay 2 marbles heldLengthWidthHeight
Gavin25



Chloe(winner)78



The teacher will distribute a 6-inch by 12-inch piece of foil to each student.  Once the students have designed their Day Two foil boats, they will measure and record on their datasheet the length, width, and height of their boats (see Gavin’s datasheet above).  They will also compare and contrast their boats with their previous design (again drawing or writing a description of their Day Two boat) as a component of their data collection, explaining to others how and why they changed their boat design.

Then the Day Two competition will proceed in the same manner as the Day One competition. The students should record the number of marbles their Day Two boat was able to hold before it failed to see if there was an improvement on the boat’s design and to determine if there might be a correlation between the dimensions of the boat and the load it can carry.

G.  Further Discussion:

Ask the students: Were you able to improve your design?  What changes to your design would you make next? What did you learn from other people’s designs?  Do you have any ideas for another competition-based project? What does this lead you to want to study next?

4th – 5th Grade Science Fair Project

A.  Provide materials

1.  3 different brands of same size disposable diapers (one diaper per student)  

2.  Aluminum trays, like cookie sheets (12)

3.  A plastic teaspoon for adult use

4.  A container of table salt

5.  Sodium polyacrylate (6 teaspoons; also called Waterlock for plants) 6.  Tap water (2 gallons)

7.  8-ounce plastic cups (6)

8.  3-ounce Dixie paper cups (48)

9.  Paper towels

10.  Wooden craft sticks (6)

B.  Question:  Which brand of disposable diaper can absorb the most water?

C.  Steps involved in the Science Fair Project

1.  Purpose of the project: to determine the answer to the Question

2.  Hypothesis

3.  Research

4.  Materials

5.  Procedure (step-by-step)

6.  Results; Data collection

7.  Conclusion

D.  Research:

Ask the students to develop the hypothesis by having them suggest which brand of diaper they think will absorb the most water.  Divide the students into teams of six. Each team will receive two of each brand of diaper which they will test. Explain that the material (sodium polyacrylate) that you are going to give each team is hazardous and should remain inside the cup and not touched by their hands, nor sniffed.  

Explain that sodium polyacrylate is a super absorbent polymer.  It has a membrane (outside skin) which is permeable (has little holes in it).  In simple terms, if a certain type of liquid is nearby, that liquid wants to pass through the membrane, so there is an equal amount of liquid on each side of the membrane (this process is called “osmosis”).  In this case, this passage of liquid is due to the amount of ‘salt’ inside and outside of the membrane. Sodium polyacrylate contains a lot of ‘salt.’ Therefore, less-salty water will pass through the membrane, entering the ‘giant’ sodium polyacrylate molecule.

Give each team an 8-ounce cup with a teaspoon of sodium polyacrylate in it.  Using a 3-ounce cup, have the team add one 3-ounce cupful of water to the sodium polyacrylate and carefully stir the mixture using the craft stick.  The mixture will become gel-like as the sodium polyacrylate quickly absorbs the water. (The sodium polyacrylate will absorb 800 times its own weight in distilled water; or 300 times its own weight in tap water.)  Allow the student teams to experiment by adding a second 3-ounce cupful of water, if you like, and have them discuss the results.

Afterwards, explain that you (the teacher) will walk around the room and add about a teaspoon of salt to each mixture.  Ask: What do you think will happen to the mixture? Remind them that the passage of water is due to the amount of salt on both sides of the permeable membrane.  (Yes, the water should start leaving the gel which will become evident by the “loosening” of the gel; the solution will become equalized and ‘liquid.’) Add the salt and observe the results.  

Explain that sodium polyacrylate is used inside of disposable diapers.  They can absorb only about 60 times their weight in urine because urine has a high amount of salt (.9%)  Sodium polyacrylate is also used in potting soil, batteries, and as a fuel filtration material to remove moisture from car and jet fuels.

Safety / Disposal of Sodium Polyacrylate: Non-toxic, however do not let children breathe the powder or get it into their eyes.  Dispose of in trash. Do not put down sink.

E.  Procedure & Data Collection:

Review the student’s hypotheses.  Using the same teams, give each student team two of each brand of diaper (each student will test one diaper), two aluminum trays, and six 3-ounce cups (one per student) for measuring purposes.  Explain the criteria for when a diaper has become saturated: the students will add one 3-ounce cup of water to the diaper laid on the tray for which they are responsible.  Then once the water has seeped into the diaper, the students will lift their respective diaper by two corners so that it hangs vertically to see if any water drips from the diaper.  If there is no dripping, then the student will lay the diaper back onto the tray and another 3-ounce cupful of water will be added to the diaper. The diaper is considered as “saturated” when water drips out of the vertically suspended diaper; no more water will be added to the diaper after that point.

Before starting the experiment, have the students develop a data collection sheet to track the amount of water added to their diaper.  Then, have them perform the experiment, tabulating the information per diaper, carefully recording their data. See the datasheet below designed as an example for this project.  The students can individually use tally marks each time a 3-ounce cupful of water is added to the diaper. Then each individual’s tally marks can be added at the end, then multiplied by 3 to determine the amount of ounces that the diaper was able to hold before becoming saturated.  (See example below)

TEAM OneBrand of diaperTally marksTimes 3-oz
BillyPampers I I I I I I I I  24 oz
RohanHuggiesI I I I I I I I 24 oz
ZoePampersI I I I I I I I I 27 oz
MelindaParents’ ChoiceI I I I I I 18 oz
TianaParents’ ChoiceI I I I I 15 oz
CharlieHuggiesI I I I I I 18 oz

Students can then use the team datasheet to calculate the average amount of water that a particular brand of diaper could hold.  [If students merely added the total amount of water that each brand of diaper held, this would skew the data, since more Pampers may have been tested than Huggies, for example.]  Using the Team One datasheet above as an example, the average amount of water that each brand held was:

Pampers’ average was 24 oz. + 27 oz. divided by 2 diapers = 25.5 oz.

Huggies’ average was 24 oz. + 18 oz. divided by 2 diapers = 21.0 oz.

Parents’ Choice’s average was 18 oz. + 15 oz. divided by 2 = 16.5 oz.

To increase the accuracy of the test by adding more trials, have all of the teams share their data with the others in order to tabulate the complete set of all of the teams’ data.  See the datasheet below designed as an example for this article:

TEAMSTotal oz. PampersTotal oz. HuggiesTotal oz. Parents’ Choice
Team One25.521.016.5
Team Two28.026.018.0
Team Three 27.524.517.5
Totals81.071.552.0
Total average per brand27.023.8 17.3

F.   Analyze the results; what conclusion can be formed?

Once individual teams have compiled their data (example shown above), they will be able to determine the answer to the question: Which brand of disposable diaper can absorb the most water?  [Remember, the dataset above was designed for this article, but may not reflect the actual data once students are able to perform this experiment. Try this experiment to see which brand of diaper actually can absorb the most water.]

G.  Further Research:  Discuss the results and remind the students that it is not important who got the correct answer to the big question, but rather what they learned and how they set up their project to get the correct answer.  Ask them: Convert the total amount of ounces from each of the diapers to determine how many cups of water it takes to saturate the diaper. Do you think that a caring mother would allow her baby to completely saturate its diaper?  What does this lead you to want to study next?

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