Science Fair: stating your question

Student: “I’m thinking about doing ___________ for my project next year. Is that acceptable?”

Firstly, there are some really easy followup questions to this. I always ask a couple of these before saying “yes” or “no” to a student’s ideas.

  • That seems like an interesting idea! Can you tell me more about it?
  • Why does that interest you?
  • How do you want to test it?
  • What do you think the result will be?
  • Who do you think will be interested in your results/conclusions?

Students who are working on independent student research most frequently have one simple goal: to pass the class that is requiring it. After you have an idea of the direction a student is headed with their project, its a good idea to know what their goals are for the coming year.

  • “What are your goals this year? On a scale of ‘pass class’ to ‘present at the International Science Fair’, what are you hoping to achieve?”

For most projects, I’m in pretty good shape in terms of understanding where the student is probably headed in their research. Sometimes, I have to do a bit of background research of my own. (Sometimes, I just ask my students the questions I actually have about their project ideas!)  So, if you are working with your students, know that its ok to have to do that so you can keep up (even better if you can guide them a bit by being a half-step ahead).

  • “Have you considered adding a variable to test for __________?”
  • “Have you considered removing a/some variable(s)?”
  • “Have you done any analysis to see how expensive this would be for your target audience to incorporate this into their daily lives?”
  • “You are very close to being able to qualify for some special awards. Have you considered ____________ so that you are eligible for ___________?”  (In our region, there are awards for working with Soybeans, so I encourage those using plants to consider soybeans or add them to their experiment as a second plant group.)

A mentor should be able to help a student move from their, “Hey, I wonder…” statements to a more refined question in a few exchanges. Even better, students should be challenged to determine that their project has a novel component, it is feasible, and that it is interesting to them.

What questions do you ask students to help them refine their questions?

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