Last week and this week, students in first, second, and third are showcasing their scientific investigations at science expos for their grade. A common question that often arises for parents during preparations for and at the science fair is "What is a testable question?"
A testable question is one that can be answered through hands-on experimentation (e.g., direct observation, measured with scientific tools, etc.) by the student. The key difference between a general interest question and a testable question is that testable questions involve changing one thing to observe or measure what the effect has on another item.
This means that testable questions contain two parts:
Independent variable - variable changed by the student
Dependent variable - variable that is being measured in the experiment
Testable questions follow this format:
Does changing [independent variable] affect [dependent variable]?
How does changing __________ affect __________?
If I change __________, will it affect __________?
Untestable question: How do rockets fly?
Testable question: How does changing the shape of a rocket's payload (pointed nose of the rocket) change its flight?
Untestable question: What's the best flavor of ice cream?
Testable question: Does the flavor of the ice cream affect how quickly it melts?
At home, you can practice transforming a general interest question into a testable one with your child(ren). For example, starting with the general question, What makes a lemon tree grow best?
Think of a cause and effect relationship to the question. In this case, you can change something to affect the growth of a lemon tree.
Identify examples of things you can change. Ex., amount of water, amount of sunlight, and type of soil.
Identify specific effects you are looking for. Ex., the number of lemons on the tree, height of the tree.
Plug one cause/independent variable and the effect/dependent variable into a testable question format. Ex., What is the effect of six hours of sunlight on the number of lemons on the tree?
AVS Science Fairs
Science fairs play an important role in building students’ independence with the scientific process and helping students learn how to find answers to questions that interest them. The purpose is also for students to learn how to communicate clearly, both verbally and in writing, about their scientific process and findings. Lastly, science fairs are an opportunity for students to learn how to manage their time in order to complete a large scale independent project by a certain date.
First graders hold a science expo event where interactive science exhibits are set up for students to practice demonstrating their understanding of the scientific procedures.
Our students in grades 2-4 participate in their own science fair every year. For four to six weeks, second through fourth grade teachers practice the steps of the process with students, then support them in developing their science fair testable question, prediction/hypothesis, experiment methods, data analysis, and conclusion. Along the way, students also identify the independent, dependent, and controlled variables in their experiment.
Science fair projects culminate in a presentation to parents, other students, and faculty. Though the specific expectations for each grade vary, the commonalities are that each student makes a display board showing the steps of the process they went through and practice talking about these steps without reading off of their board.