Parents' Guide to Science Fair Project Vocabulary

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How can you help your child with her science fair project when you don't understand the many terms used? Read on for some definitions to bring you up to speed, along with thoughts on how working with your child on a science fair project can improve your relationship.

Benefits of Science Fair Projects for Kids

Science fairs are a great way to teach kids to investigate our world. From breakthroughs in our understanding of the biology of cancer to disease outbreaks such as the Zika virus to fears about the Yellowstone supervolcano, these topics are in the news daily.​ Schools have changed remarkably in recent years, and most of these projects require parental input. At the same time, the world has changed, and kids are often learning terms unfamiliar to their parents.

It's not just learning science that's at stake here. Relationships between children and parents are changing. First, we heard about the quality of time versus the quantity, but now that quality time is often threatened by anything with a screen. Doing a science project with your child—with your phones turned off or in another room—is a great opportunity to re-establish or improve your connection.

Even the times when we converse with each other, the topics have changed. The latest media hype or Hollywood antics have replaced some of the more in-depth topics of discussion. With a science project, you may discuss problems that are more meaningful than the last media scare or celebrity slip-up.

For example, how do doctors figure out how a drug works to treat cancer? What happens when you are stung by a mosquito, and why do some people receive more bites than others? How do we know the world isn't flat? How should you behave around a person with autism, and what is life like for that person. What happens to children who are bullied?

To be an active parent in helping with the project, you'll likely be reading scientific publications. There's no need to panic.

Science Fair Project Terms

After your child poses a question for her science fair project, she will be asked to generate a hypothesis. If she is experimenting, you will need to identify the dependent and independent variables. If these terms are already leaving you confused, don't fret. Here's a list of the science project terms and definitions you need to know as a parent.

Abstract: A brief summary of your child’s science fair project. An abstract should explain the project concisely, using about 200-250 words.

Analysis: The explanation of the data your child has gathered. The analysis will describe the results of the experiment, what those results proved, whether or not the hypothesis was correct (and why), and what your child learned.

Application: The real-world implications of what an experiment discovered. In other words, how that information can be used to make changes to how something is done.

Conclusion: The answer to the initial question posed by your child’s science fair project. The conclusion sums everything up.

Control: The component or variable of the experiment in which nothing changes or is changed.

Data: Data is information, specifically, the information gathered before, during, and after an experiment that is used to reach a conclusion.

Dependent Variable: The dependent variable is the component or piece of the experiment that changes based on the independent variable.

Display Board: The free-standing cardboard, typically trifold, on which your child will display information about his science fair project. The display board is how the general public will learn about his experiment.

Graph: A chart that visually displays the data of the experiment. It can be a numbered grid or a spreadsheet.

Hypothesis: The “educated guess” as to what will happen during a science experiment when certain variables are introduced or changed. It is a prediction of the answer to the question posed by the science fair project.

Independent Variable: The piece or component of the experiment that is changed while everything else stays the same. The independent variable tests the “what if’s” of the project.

Log: A scientific log is a written account of what happened moment by moment (or day by day, depending on the project) throughout the project/experiment.

Procedure: The step-by-step directions of how to experiment. The procedure should be clear enough that anyone who reads it can replicate the experiment.

Purpose (Problem): The question the science project sets out to prove or test.

Science Project Proposal: A brief description of a proposed science fair project. The proposal should include the problem, the hypothesis, and the procedure. It sometimes will include an explanation of the independent and dependent variables and a material list as well.

Scientific Method: An organized manner of discovering something, the scientific method must be followed to make a project valid. The scientific method has six steps: Observation, Question, Hypothesis, Experimentation, Analysis, and Conclusion.

Choosing a Science Fair Project Idea

If your child is still brainstorming an idea for their project, how can you help? You may best capture her interest if you look at topics that are being researched today. The field of immunotherapy, for example, can be fascinating as you look at how doctors are using our immune systems to fight cancer.

Or perhaps you can re-ask one of those challenging questions your child asked when younger. How far does space go? Looking at something such as this allows you to let your child know how special she is by recalling things she said long ago.

Another idea may be a question someone in your family has asked. Why do some people need allergy shots, and how do they work? What exactly is an allergy? Why do so many kids have peanut allergies these days, and should peanuts be banned from schools?

There are many ideas for science fair projects online. The key is to make the project something your child is interested in researching, rather than you.

Tips for Working With Your Child

If you think of the importance of communication with your child, you would think that parents would be required to take classes. For example, nurses are instructed on communication techniques because of the importance of patient-health professional interaction. Those in sales are taught a multitude of methods for understanding people.

And those in management? A glance online reveals seminars galore on how to communicate. Yet parents, as the primary influence in the life of a precious child, are taught little. Your science fair project, however, can give you a chance to practice!

You may want to begin by learning some of the mistakes parents make when talking to kids. Perhaps the most important mistake is to allow kids to finish what they are saying. Be comfortable with moments of silence. Let your child work through problems before giving her your answer.

Avoid focusing on the grade and instead focus on what your child can learn. Yet if your child is excited about going for an "A" go along with her goal. To be prepared ahead of time for frustrating moments, think about the traits and habits of good parents.

A Word From Verywell

We've shared the definitions of common science fair terms so you can help your child on her science fair project. The reason being is that working together on science fair projects is a great way for a parent and child to focus on a task as a team and practice communication skills.

If you view the project as an opportunity to improve communication with your child, you may feel a bit less frustrated when the project becomes—as many parents would agree—a much more significant undertaking than anticipated.