Community Education

1) Pick Your Topic.
Get an idea of what you want to study. Ideas might come from hobbies or problems you see that need solutions. Due to limited time and resources, you may want to study only one or two specific events.

2) Research Your Topic.
Go to the library and read everything you can on your topic. Observe related events. Gather existing information on your topic. Look for unexplained or unexpected results. Also, talk to professionals in the field, write to companies for specific information, and obtain or construct needed equipment.

3) Organize.
Organize everything you have learned about your topic. At this point you should narrow your hypothesis by focusing on a particular idea. Your library research should help you.

4) Make a Timetable.
Choose a topic that not only interests you, but also can be done in the amount of time you have. Use a calendar to identify important dates. Leave time to fill out the forms and to review the Research Plan with your Sponsor. Certain projects require more time because they need prior Scientific Review Committee (SRC) or Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval. Allow plenty of time to experiment and collect data--even simple experiments do not always go as you might expect the first time, or even the second time. Also, leave time to write a paper and put together an exhibit.

5) Plan Your Experiments.
Once you have a feasible project idea, write a research plan. This plan should explain how you will do your experiments and exactly what it will involve. All students participating in the ISEF and affiliated fairs are required to complete the Checklist for Adult Sponsor, (1A) Research Plan and (1B) Approval Form.

6) Consult Your Adult Sponsor.
You are required to discuss your research plan with an Adult Sponsor and obtain a signature of approval. In reviewing (1A) Research Plan, your Sponsor should determine if additional forms and/or IRB/SRC prior approval is needed.

7) Conduct Your Experiment.
Give careful thought to experimental design. During experimentation, keep detailed notes of each and every experiment, measurement and observation. Do not rely on your memory. Remember to change only one variable at a time when experimenting, and make sure to include control experiments in which none of the variables are changed. Make sure you include sufficient numbers of test subjects in both control and experimental groups. A group must have five or more subjects to be statistically valid.

8) Examine Your Results.
When you complete your experiments, examine and organize your findings. Did your experiments give you the expected results. Why or why not? Was your experiment performed with the exact same steps each time? Are there other explanations that you had not considered or observed? Were there errors in your observations? Remember that understanding errors and reporting that a suspected variable did not change the results can be valuable information. If possible, statistically analyze your data.

9) Draw Conclusions.
Which variables are important? Did you collect enough data? Do you need to conduct more experimentation? Keep an open mind--never alter results to fit a theory. If your results do not support your original hypothesis, you still have accomplished successful scientific research. An experiment is done to prove or disprove a hypothesis.
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