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Sci4Kids is a series of stories about what scientists do here at the
ARS. Geared to kids about 8 to 13 years old, it is produced by the ARS
Information Staff in Beltsville, Maryland. We bet you'll agree that much of
what our scientists do is not what you might expect.

You may be a student today but may already be on your way to a career in
science or farming or computers. Or maybe you're curious about some of
the strange creatures that share the planet with you. (Other than your
brother or sister.)

Science is not something far away in a laboratory. It's wired right into your
daily life--to the food you eat, the clothes you wear, the water you drink.
Whatever your interest in science, we hope Sci4Kids will help you find out
that it can be fun as well as informative.

The stories in Sci4Kids are based on some of the research stories in our
monthly Agricultural Research magazine and other news reports. Those
materials are geared to an adult audience, but please explore them as
you wish. You can use our search engine to find stories on specific topics.
Science News for Kids is a new Web site devoted to science news for
children of ages 9 to 14.

Our goal is to offer timely items of interest to kids, accompanied by
suggestions for hands-on activities, books, articles, Web resources, and
other useful materials.

Our emphasis is on making the Web site appealing by offering kids
opportunities to comment on and grade the subject matter, get ideas for
science projects, and try out mathematical puzzles. At the same time, we
offer teachers creative ways of using science news in their classrooms.

There is a teacher zone as well.
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute
invites curious kids to explore biology...
on screen, off screen, and in between.

Cool Science for Curious Kids
Science Fair Guide by EPA
What have you always wondered or liked
about that topic? Here are some subjects you
can choose from.

1. Animals and Insects: What are the
common classifications of the animal
kingdom? What do they do and eat to survive
and communicate? Common and different
traits and characteristics of animals and
insects. What happens when you enclose an
animal or insect in a surrounding different
from where it got used to?

2. Solar System: Earth, Sun, Stars and Other
Heavenly Bodies. What are the planets and
other bodies that orbit it? Characteristics and
distances of the planets and other bodies.
How does the color of a background affect its
absorption of solar insolation? How do you
prove life exists in the universe? How does
solar energy work?

3. Food and Our Bodies: How humans look
like? What do they eat? How do their bodies
work? How people get food? What are the
food in different places and customs? What
are the food names? What is a food chain?
What are eating disorders? On which food
does fungus grow best? How do acids affect
teeth? Can humans survive without water

4. Oceans, Rivers, and Streams: What are the
different water bodies that cover the earth
surface? What are the other living things and
creatures that live under the sea? What are
the minerals that can be found in the ocean?
How important are these water bodies to our
survival? How does the ocean influence the
weather? Does the amount of water affect the
size of the wave and other water movements?
Where is the current of a stream the fastest?
How polluted is our water? Will there ever
come a time where water on Earth decrease
in volume?

5. Water Cycle: What is it? What are the
causes of water cycle? How important is
water cycle? What are the sources of water
vapor? What are the factors that affect water

6. Plants, Photosynthesis and Gardening:
What is photosynthesis? How does it work?
How is it essential to life on earth? What kind
of soil is best for water retention? What is the
percentage of water in various fruits and
vegetables? Does the type of water affect the
growth of plants? Which plants and
vegetables make the best dye? Can plants
deprived of sunlight grow? Is soil necessary
for plant growth?

7. Weather: What are the causes of weather?
What are moisture, air pressure and air
masses? How do changes in air pressure affect
the weather? What is a weather forecast? Is
there a relationship between phases of the
moon and our weather? How does
topography affect weather conditions? Are
there alternative ways to prevent rain?
Scientific Method

A science project is an investigation using the scientific method to discover the answer to a
scientific problem. Before starting your project, you need to understand the scientific method.
This section uses examples to illustrate and explain the basic steps of the scientific method.
The scientific method is the "tool" that scientists use to find the answers to questions. It is the
process of thinking through the possible solutions to a problem and testing each possibility to
find the best solution. The scientific method involves the following steps: doing research,
identifying the problem, stating a hypothesis, conducting project experimentation, and reaching
a conclusion.

Research is the process of collecting information from your own experiences, knowledgeable
sources, and data from exploratory experiments. Your first research is used to select a project
topic. This is called topic research. For example, you observe a black growth on bread slices
and wonder how it got there. Because of this experience, you decide to learn more about mold
growth. Your topic will be about fungal reproduction. (Fungal refers to plant-like organisms
called fungi, which cannot make their own food, and reproduction is the making of a new
offspring.) CAUTION: If you are allergic to mold, this is not a topic you would investigate.
Choose a topic that is safe for you to do.

After you have selected a topic, you begin what is called project research. This is research to
help you understand the topic, express a problem, propose a hypothesis, and design one or
more project experiments—experiments designed to test the hypothesis. An example of project
research would be to place a fresh loaf of white bread in a bread box and observe the bread
over a period of time as an exploratory experiment. The result of this experiment and other
research give you the needed information for the next step—identifying the problem.

Do use many references from printed sources—books, journals, magazines, and newspapers—
as well as electronic sources—computer software and online services.

Do gather information from professionals—instructors, librarians, and scientists, such as
physicians and veterinarians.

Do perform other exploratory experiment related to your topic.

The problem is the scientific question to be solved. It is best expressed as an "open-ended"
question, which is a question that is answered with a statement, not just a yes or a no. For
example, "How does light affect the reproduction of bread mold on white bread?"

Do limit your problem. Note that the previous question is about one life process of molds—
reproduction; one type of mold—bread mold; one type of bread—white bread; and one factor
that affects its growth—light. To find the answer to a question such as "How does light affect
molds?" would require that you test different life processes and an extensive variety of molds.

Do choose a problem that can be solved experimentally. For example, the question "What is a
mold?" can be answered by finding the definition of the word mold in the dictionary. But, "At
room temperature, what is the growth rate of bread mold on white bread?" is a question that
can be answered by experimentation.

A hypothesis is an idea about the solution to a problem, based on knowledge and research.
While the hypothesis is a single statement, it is the key to a successful project. All of your
project research is done with the goal of expressing a problem, proposing an answer to it (the
hypothesis), and designing project experimentation. Then all of your project experimenting will
be performed to test the hypothesis. The hypothesis should make a claim about how two
factors relate. For example, in the following sample hypothesis, the two relating factors are
light and bread mold growth. Here is one example of a hypothesis for the earlier problem

"I believe that bread mold does not need light for reproduction on white bread. I base my
hypothesis on these facts:

Organisms with chlorophyll need light to survive. Molds do not have chlorophyll.
In my exploratory experiment, bread mold grew on white bread kept in a dark bread box."
Do state facts from past experiences or observations on which you base your hypothesis.

Do write down your hypothesis before beginning the project experimentation.

Don't change your hypothesis even if experimentation does not support it. If time permits,
repeat or redesign the experiment to confirm your results.

Project Experimentation
Project experimentation is the process of testing a hypothesis. The things that have an effect
on the experiment are called variables. There are three kinds of variables that you need to
identify in your experiments: independent, dependent, and controlled.

The independent variable is the variable you purposely manipulate (change). The dependent
variable is the variable that is being observed, which changes in response to the independent
variable. The variables that are not changed are called controlled variables.

The problem in this section concerns the effect of light on the reproduction of bread mold. The
independent variable for the experiment is light and the dependent variable is bread mold
reproduction. A control is a test in which the independent variable is kept constant in order to
measure changes in the dependent variable. In a control, all variables are identical to the
experimental setup—your original setup—except for the independent variable. Factors that are
identical in both the experimental setup and the control setup are the controlled variables. For
example, prepare the experiment by placing three or four loaves of white bread in cardboard
boxes the size of a bread box, one loaf per box. Close the boxes so that they receive no light.
If, at the end of a set time period, the mold grows, you might decide that no light was needed
for mold reproduction. But, before making this decision, you must determine experimentally if
the mold would grow with light. Thus, control groups must be set up of bread that receives light
throughout the testing period. Do this by placing an equal number of loaves in comparable-
size boxes, but leave them open.

The other variables for the experimental and control setup, such as the environmental
conditions for the room where the boxes are placed—temperature and humidity—and the
brand of the breads used must be kept the same. These are controlled variables. Note that
when designing the procedure of your project experiment, you must include steps for
measuring the results. For example, to measure the amount of mold growth, you might draw
1/2-inch (1-cm) squares on a transparent sheet of plastic. This could be placed over the
bread, and the number of squares with mold growth could be counted. Also, as it is best to
perform the experiment more than once, it is also good to have more than one control. You
might have one control for every experimental setup.

Do have only one independent variable during an experiment.

Do repeat the experiment more than once to verify your results.

Do have a control.

Do have more than one control, with each being identical.

Do organize data. (See A Sample Project for information on organizing data from experiments.)

Project Conclusion
The project conclusion is a summary of the results of the project experimentation and a
statement of how the results relate to the hypothesis. Reasons for experimental results that
are contrary to the hypothesis are included. If applicable, the conclusion can end by giving
ideas for further testing.

If your results do not support your hypothesis:

DON'T change your hypothesis.

DON'T leave out experimental results that do not support your hypothesis.

DO give possible reasons for the difference between your hypothesis and the experimental

DO give ways that you can experiment further to find a solution.

If your results support your hypothesis:

You might say, for example, "As stated in my hypothesis, I believe that light is not necessary
during the germination of bean seeds. My experimentation supports the idea that bean seeds
will germinate without light. After seven days, the seeds tested were seen growing in full light
and in no light. It is possible that some light reached the 'no light' containers that were placed
in a dark closet. If I were to improve on this experiment, I would place the 'no light' containers in
a light-proof box and/or wrap them in light-proof material, such as aluminum foil."

From Janice VanCleave's Guide to the Best Science Fair Projects,
Janice VanCleave (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1997)