Elementary school science projects are fun and educational, but coming up with a great idea can be challenging. If the project is for a science fair, there’s competition to win. But, the focus of the project should be on engaging a child in science and raising interest in how the world works.
Elementary Science Project Basics
At the elementary or grade school level, parents and teachers provide guidance, but children should perform the actual project. The first step is finding an idea. Hold a brainstorming session to explore ideas. It’s tempting to have a child do a demonstration or make a poster or model. These projects are fine if they provide an opportunity to introduce the scientific method. If possible, do a project that asks and answers a question or solves a problem. If you are doing a demo or making a model, explain that part of science is using a procedure that yields reproducible results. If you’re following a video or written tutorial, have the student predict the outcome (describe the goal of the project) and then evaluate whether the result met expectations. Discuss the importance of following directions, making notes, and following safety precautions.
Documentation is important, too. Discuss the meaning of data and the forms it can take. Take pictures, draw diagrams, record progress, and so on.
How Much Time?
Time is an important factor for science projects at all educational levels. It’s particularly critical at the grade school level because adult assistance is needed. Also, there a risk a child might lose interest in a long project. Determine how much time you have and plan accordingly. It’s better to have a good short project than a poorly executed long project!
Hour and Weekend Projects
Here are ideas for projects that take an hour to a weekend. Before starting the project, make sure the student asks a question to answer or describes the goal of the project. When the project is complete, have the child decide whether the question was answered or the goal was met. Gather all materials before starting work. Document steps and record conclusions. Most of all, have fun!
- Test a recipe to see if it is accurate and reproducible. For example, bake a boxed cake mix according to the directions. Did the cake turn out as planned? Was the recommended time correct? Have the child describe factors that might affect whether or not a recipe works.
- Make colored bubbles. Predict whether or not you can color bubbles using food coloring. Can your child propose possible explanations for the results? What are the differences between regular bubbles and colored bubbles?
- Predict which objects glow under a black light and then test them.
- Test methods to prevent crying when cutting an onion. Does cutting it under water or chilling it help? (There’s a knife here, so adults get to do the cutting.)
- Make a baking soda and vinegar volcano. Is there a best ratio between baking soda and vinegar to get the reaction? Does the type of detergent you use affect how much lava is produced? What happens if you leave out the detergent?
- Are insects attracted to light or heat? Which insects avoid light? Does the color of light make a difference? Why might some insects benefit from approaching or avoiding light or heat?
- Does the color of a candle influence how long it burns?
- Does the shape of an ice cube affect how quickly it melts?
- Do different brands of popcorn leave different amounts of unpopped kernels?
- Does laundry detergent still work if you use less than the recommended amount? How much less can you use?
- Do a research project. Which apps do students use the most to help them learn science? How many hours a day do students spend online? What is the range of times students get up in the morning to get to school? See if you can draw any conclusions from your findings.
- How do differences in surfaces affect the adhesion of tape? How do different brands of tape compare to each other? Does temperature matter? What are ways to test tape?
- Can you use a household water filter to remove flavor or color from other liquids?
- Do all brands of paper towels pick up the same amount of liquid? Compare single sheet of different brands. Be sure to use a teaspoon to measure incremental additions of liquid and record the number accurately. Continue to add liquid until the sheet until it is saturated, let any excess liquid drip off, and then squeeze the liquid from the wet paper towel into a measuring cup.
- Does the power of a microwave affect how well it makes popcorn?
- Do all brands of diapers absorb the same amount of liquid? Does it matter what the liquid is (water as opposed to juice or milk)?
- Are permanent markers really permanent? What solvents (e.g., water, alcohol, vinegar, detergent solution) will remove the ink? Do different brands/types of markers produce the same results?
Sometimes you can’t expect results immediately or overnight. If you select a week-long project, make sure your child has enough time to complete it and draw conclusions. It’s better to over-estimate the time a project takes than to run out of time. A good rule of thumb is to set aside at least twice the expected time. If something goes wrong, there’s time to start again or even pursue a different idea. Here are ideas for elementary school science projects that take about a week:
- Does light affect how quickly food spoils?
- What conditions affect food ripening? (Tip: You can examine the effect of temperature, light, or closeness to other pieces of fruit. Apples and bananas contain ethylene, which is a plant hormone that speeds ripening. Other fruits and vegetables may be affected by it, especially sealed in a bag together.)
- Do all types of bread grow the same mold.
- How much household trash is recycled? How much more could be recycled? Compare amounts by placing each type of garbage in bags. Either count the number of bags or else weigh them to get numbers.
- Does temperature affect how quickly crystals grow, how large they get, or their shape? Compare crystal growth a room temperature, in the refrigerator, and in a hot water or ice bath. Good crystals to test include borax crystals and Epsom salt crystals.
Some science projects are quick, but others take more time. Projects involving plants or animals often take longer than a week to complete. Here are some ideas:
- Do before/after tests. Try something for one week and something else for the second week and compare the results. Consider the effect of getting up 15 minutes earlier or changing some part of the family’s routine. What effect did the change have?
- Does the size of seed affect how quickly it germinates, how large the plant is, or germination rate? This project can be achieved using internet research, if getting and growing seeds isn’t possible.
- What affect do pollutants in water have on plant growth or health? You could compare plants watered normally with those watered from street run-off, dishwashing water, or bath water.
- Does magnetism affect plants?
- What type of reward works best for training a pet? Why do you think that is?