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How Do I Participate?

Step One: Get a notebook from the school office (or use your own). This is where you are going to record all your notes and data for your project. It’s like keeping a diary of your work. The judges will be looking at all your information in this notebook.

Step Two: Ask a question! Is there something that you are interested in learning about? Do some research in books and the Internet for science fair project ideas.

Step Three: Choose a format and conduct your experiment! There are two possible types:

  • Learn and Explain (not judged)

  • Scientific Experiment

(See below for descriptions of each format.)


Step Four: Communicate your results! Get a display board from the school office to make your presentation.


Step Five: Bring your completed board and notebook to school office on the due date prior to the Science Fair!


Step Six: Attend the Science Fair and enjoy the experience!




Learn and Explain

In this format, the judges look at the student project, but it is not “judged” - meaning, the student does not participate in the interview and is not eligible to go on to the county science fair. “Learn and Explain” is perfect for the student who wants to participate in the fair but does not want the pressure of being judged. Also, there is no required hypothesis to challenge. It is just how it sounds - the student learns something and then explains it!

Required elements for Learn and Explain:

  • Background:  Provide information about the scientific concept you are exploring.
  • Procedure:  List materials and describe how you explored your idea.  This could be a model, a survey, artwork, or other ways of presenting your concept.
  • Observations:  Describe what happened when you tested your concept or built your model.
  • Conclusion: Describe what you learned from this project and how it could be used in real life.  Discuss any problems you encountered and how you overcame them.

Scientific Experiment

Projects that are “Scientific Experiment” entries have the option of being judged.  The top 10 of the judged projects will represent Vine Hill at the Santa Cruz County Science Fair.

Required elements for Scientific Experiment:

  • Purpose:  Explain what you are trying to prove or why you are doing the experiment.
  • Investigative Question: What do you want to know?
  • Hypothesis:  Explain what you think will happen in the experiment and why. 
  • Procedure:  List materials (with exact amounts if possible), how the experiment is set up, and the steps you took to perform the experiment.
  • Data:  Describe or show observations and display actual measurements (in graphs, tables, photos, etc).
  • Results: Summarize your test results and explain how the results pertain to the objectives or purpose.
  • Conclusion:  Discuss how the results support (or don’t support) your hypothesis. Discuss possibilities for errors, how the experiment could be improved, future possible steps, and real life applications.


Important: If students wish to take part in the judging, they must meet the following criteria:

  • Follow the “Scientific Experiment” format
  • Maintain a lab notebook that contains everything from initial ideas, to experiment, to conclusions.
  • There must be no more than 3 participants for the project.
  • Project participants should try to attend the Santa

Tips on Display Boards, Notebooks, and Interviewing
At the science fair, the display is the focal point of each project and contains all of the information about the project. Below is a sketch and an actual sample of how information is presented on a typical display.

Layout Diagram for Board

Sketch of the components of a display board presentation

Model Project

An example of a Science Fair project display


Some Helpful Hints

  • Presentation boards of corrugated cardboard are provided by Vine Hill PTA. They are also readily available at most office supply stores (Staples, Office Depot, Office Max). A standard size is 36" tall by 48" wide (folds in three panels to 36" tall by 24" wide). Of course, homemade ones will work just as well, made from a large cardboard box.
  • Use pictures and drawings to help the audience understand the experiment.
  • Be Organized. Using our sketch above as a guide will help to organize the information so that the audience can quickly follow the thread of the experiment by glancing at the board. Every chart, graph, and picture should be clearly labeled with titles, headings, and units of measure.
  • A Good Title. The title is the attention grabber. Pick something that is catchy, while accurately summarizing the research. The title should be big and easily read from at least three feet away.
  • Eye-Catching. Use colorful headings, charts, and graphs to present the project. Using similar font families and colored backgrounds can further help to group the information and organize the display.
  • Proofread. Carefully review all of the materials put on your display board.
  • Neatness counts. Make sure anything on the board that is handwritten is neat and legible and the board is constructed as neatly as possible.
  • Don't forget the table space. There is more than just the backboard display to show off the project. Use the table space to display the project notebook, research papers, and any appropriate models.
  • Check that the display board contains the following (as appropriate):
    • Title
    • Purpose
    • Question/Hypothesis
    • Review of Literature or Background Material o Procedure (include materials list)
    • Data Chart(s) and Graph(s)
    • Discussion of Results
    • Conclusion

Keeping a Notebook
For a notebook, use a durable notebook or black and white composition book. Typically a lined journal works great. Spiral bound notebooks tend not to hold up over the course of your experiment. Papers are too easily removed or torn from them, and before you realize it, important items are missing. Loose papers are a disaster waiting to happen. 

Here are some helpful hints for keeping a notebook (only needed for the judged entries):

  • Label your lab notebook with your project title, your name(s), and teacher's name in a prominent location. Make lab notebook entries in pen not in pencil. This is a permanent record of all of your activities associated with your project.
  • Number the pages in your lab notebook before using it, unless already numbered for you.
  • Always date every entry, just like a journal. Entries should be brief and concise. Full sentences are not required.
  • Don't worry about neatness. It's a personal record of your work. Do not re-do your lab notebook because it looks sloppy. Think of the lab notebook as your "Dear Diary" for science fair. It's not just for recording data during the experimental phase of your project and it's not just for your teacher.
  • The notebook should be used during all phases of your project: jotting down ideas or thoughts for a project, phone numbers, contacts or sources and prices of supplies, book references, diagrams, graphs, figures, charts, sketches, or calculations.
  • Log entries should include your brainstorming, calculations, library/internet searches, phone calls, interviews, meetings with mentors or advisors, notes from tours of laboratories, research facilities and other related activities. Remember that it's documentation of your work.
  • Glue, staple or tape any loose papers, photocopies of important items. Loose papers or other unsecured items are prohibited since they tend to fall out and can end up missing.
  • Include a reflections section in your lab notebook. For example, what, if anything would I do differently next time? What part of the experiment could be changed to improve the experimental procedure? In many cases, this is part of the conclusion.
  • Always include any changes made to procedures, mishaps, failures, or mistakes. Sometimes the best discoveries are due to a mistake or failure of an experiment.
  • Include any and all observations made during your experiment. In other words, record ALL data directly in your lab notebook. If that is not possible, then attach photocopies of data in the lab notebook.

Remember, keeping up a great lab notebook throughout the entire duration of the science project really pays off later! Not only will a nicely maintained lab notebook impress your teacher and the judges at the fair, it will also help you stay out of trouble later when you need to look back and provide details of what you did.

Preparing for the Interviewers
The interviewers (judges) will be interested in hearing how well the participants can discuss their project with others. In particular, they want to see that participants can clearly and briefly discuss their project's purpose, procedure, results, and conclusion. The best way to prepare for the interview is to create a brief presentation and practice it as often as possible. Having friends and family ask questions about the project is also good practice.

Some examples of questions the interviewers may ask are:

  • Why did you choose this topic?
  • How long did it take you to do the experiment?
  • How did you make your apparatus?
  • How does your apparatus work?
  • Did you take all the data under the same conditions?
  • What sources of errors are there?
  • If you did this experiment again, what would you do differently?
  • What is the next step to continue this work?

For more help in finding and executing a science project visit the sites listed under Helpful Links.