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Advice on Science Projects

Ideas, research and preparation

      It’s about that time of year when parents come to me seeking ideas for their child’s science project. Most of the time, they are desperate because their children procrastinated in announcing they had to turn in a project idea yesterday.
       Here’s what I tell them:
       A good science project should be simple, straightforward and accessible to facilities for conducting the experiment in question. Beyond satisfying an assignment, a student — or family — doing a science project should learn something, possibly discover something, even win a prize.
      Step 1 is coming up with an idea. Science projects for elementary and high school competition do not have to be original. I have judged many good science projects that presented results that were different from similar projects.
     Step 2 is finding out what’s known about your idea. Computers make easy work of reviewing research. 
     Step 3 is doing the research. In this step, you act like a scientist, taking careful measurements of growing conditions and correctly recording results.
     You’ll need to take good photographs of the experiment, including closeups of all components.
     Step 4, preparing the science project for final presentation, demands accurate description of procedures used and clear explanation of the responses along with potential reasons for differences. Along with your photos, include graphs and charts with the results and discussion. Take time to prepare a poster that clearly demonstrates what you did. Have representative components of equipment you used and, if possible, representative samples of your results.
       You and your project must impress the judges, showing you have gone above and beyond in doing the research. You do that with your presentation and, on judging day, your presence near your display. Dress properly because you want the judge to see a student who is truly interested.
     Next week: Science experiments on plants you can finish in under a month.
Know Your Orchids
Q I read your Jan. 18 Bay Weekly column on orchids.
       My orchid is in a terrarium with forest soil and moss on the bottom. The orchid sits on top in a plastic pot that drains through the bottom. It has many aerial roots, some white and dehydrated, others anchored to soil base. I want to repot this plant. How do I handle anchored aerial roots?
–Kevin Smith, via email
A Only wild orchids such as lady slippers and Jack-in-the-pulpit will grow in forest soils. Domesticated orchids will not grow in forest soil and must be potted either in fir bark or in osmunda. Wash away all soil and repot in either of the above media. Once the orchids are properly potted, I suggest you use fish emulsion fertilizer.