Easy Steps to Science Fair Projects (Part III)

Yet another part of the same loooong article… feedback welcome!

When things go wrong…
So you’ve taken the steps, come up with questions, formed experiments, and even tested out your ideas, but the results you got make no sense at all. What do you do now?

When I taught at the university, I deliberately gave the students an experiment for which a conclusion did not exist… because the results were never the same twice. I did this for two reasons… first, to teach them never to cheat and lie about their results (they were given an immediate ‘zero’ without warning if they did “fudge” the results), and second… how to handle such a thing when it happens for real.

Over half the class got the “F”.

However, they were allowed to “redo” the experiment for a half-grade, if they chose to. Most of them did. Now, why would I do such a thing?

No matter what happens in your experiment, in any experiment, keep in mind that your results stand, no matter what. The laws of the universe, the laws of physics are still working and active… regardless of how you wanted the experiment to turn out. By fudging your results, you can’t really ever be sure if your conclusion stands, and you may as well throw away the entire experiment. But what do you do when you feel like you’ve tried everything, but it still doesn’t work right?

Your greatest moments of thought happen in instances just like this one… One of the most important parts of being a true scientist is being an observer – being able to step back and ask, “What’s really going on here? Why did the marble fly off the track? Was the marble going too slow or fast? Was the track too steep, or too wobbly?”

The truth is, you haven’t tried everything, because if you did, it would be working right now. But it isn’t, so you haven’t. It helps to write down what you have tried… and if you’re keeping good records of your results, this is where you’ll find the information.

You are a great scientist, no matter what results you produce in any experiment. The world will know how sharp you are, how ingenious your mind is when you are able to step back and observe what’s really going on… while the rest of the world gets wrapped up with thoughts that cripple their creativity. “Why didn’t it work? It’s supposed to! It’s broken… it’ll never work. This is dumb.”

When you get stuck, frustrated (hey, we all do!), or just upset, take a breath, go outside, and remember it’s just one experiment… and you’ll get back to it when you’re ready. Smile, get an ice cream, and remember that there will always more to learn, and no, you’ll never get it all done.

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