What makes a good science project?

Absolute essentials:
A curious mind
Paying attention to detail
If you have these, read on. Other things will fall into place.

First steps

  • Form a group of like-minded children and select a group leader amongst you.
  • Choose a Guide / Advisor for your project. You may have more than one guide.

Problem statement

  • Identify your project focus area. Let’s say ‘Water resources’ is the main theme. Discuss with the project group as to whether you will look at water availability and usage, water conservation, water pollution, linkage between water and energy or any other such sub-theme.
  • This typically arises out of noticing specific problem in your locality / school / city. Look for a challenging problem and something that is different, but don’t take on more than you can chew. Take one specific problem and not a gamut of them.

Clearly write out the Problem Statement. For example: “People in XYZ colony constantly complain about inadequate municipal water supply.”

Hypothesis and rationale
Once you have decided the sub theme, brainstorm and create a list of testable hypothesis. A hypothesis is a statement that the project will either prove correct or wrong. It directs the student's efforts toward a particular result or expectation.

An example of a project hypothesis is as follows:
Despite facing water shortages, people in XYZ colony have not implemented rainwater harvesting systems because they find its installation very expensive and maintenance very cumbersome.

Please note that it is NOT NECESSARY that the project should prove your hypothesis as correct. The hypothesis gives direction to the project and does not state the project results. When you conduct a project with the above hypothesis, you may find that the people are willing to pay for rainwater harvesting systems but do not know who can install such systems for them. Or, true to your hypothesis, you may find that cost of the system is prohibitive, especially when water from non-municipal sources is available at cheap rates.

A hypothesis is typically based on a rationale and a few lines explaining how you arrived at the hypothesis would be good.
After selection of a hypothesis, you need to do some background research. So in the above case, you may want to read up on traditional and modern rainwater harvesting systems in the region. You may also want to go and meet rainwater harvesting experts to get a better understanding of advantages and disadvantages of such systems, the components and costs.

Project Plan

  • Then work out a methodology to investigate this hypothesis.
  • Project methodology can be divided into two categories –
  •   * Survey based and
      * Experiment based
    Sometimes to carry out a project successfully, both survey and experiment may be required.

  • To investigate whether residents are not implementing rainwater harvesting systems due to cost constraints, you may need to conduct household surveys, observation visits and monitoring of water quality. Your methodology or project plan should detail out how you will go about your project. Some projects may need a control for comparison. Detail that as well.
  • The methodology should ensure that objective methods are employed to collect data and there is no bias towards proving the hypothesis as correct.
  • Data must be collected to answer questions and test the hypothesis. Plan on how you will collect only necessary data and not crowd the project with useless information.

Project implementation and reporting

  • Once your project plan is ready, the next step is to collect the data, analyze it and arrive at conclusions.
  • It is wiser to represent your results and conclusions using diagrams / figures rather than pages of written report; figures / diagrams make a report much more interesting and understandable

Follow up

  • Once you have arrived at the conclusions, you may need to take on an activity that helps address the problem statement. So the follow up activity in this case may include
  •   * Organizing an interactive workshop between the residents and rainwater harvesting experts
      * Organizing an interactive workshop between the residents and rainwater harvesting implementers
      * Setting up a rainwater cell where students can help residents calculate annual rainwater yield
      * Conducting a door-to-door awareness campaign or a rally that will motivate more and more people to adopt water conservation and rainwater harvesting
      * Negotiating with the rainwater harvesting implementers for a viable cost, provided a group of residents sign up together to install such systems
      * The more tech savvy among you can also set up an XYZ colony website on rainwater harvesting. Each resident who implements water conservation techniques or rainwater harvesting can be acknowledged on the website and case studies and interviews presented for wider dissemination

Learning from experience
From past experience it has been found that projects rated very good had the following elements:
* Proper understanding and definition of the problem undertaken.
* Quality and quantity of work, including team work, learning process, subject understanding and efforts to validate the data collected.
* Relevance of the proposal to the community / school problem and impact of project on school-mates, neighbourhood community.
* Originality, innovation and creativity shown to understand the problem and fine the solution i.e. in methodology and experiment design.