The due date for the presentation of your project is approaching and you don't know how to start yet? Are you still looking for an idea to apply to this year's competition?
Whether you are 7 or 25 years old, whether you want to carry out an engineering project, an experiment or a video, whether you are a botany or robotics enthusiast what you need is a path to follow that takes you straight to your goal.
Of course you can find your way, proceed by trial and error or you can follow paths already traced by those who have already faced similar issues.
Even if an experiment and a new invention follow slightly different paths, they have many points in common, let's see what they are.
Identify a problem
Probably one of the most difficult parts in dealing with a project is to find a starting point, your starting point, the topic you want to investigate or the problem you want to solve.
Search among the things that thrill and fascinate you the most, look around, observe the people and the things that surround you. Get informed: read the newspapers, listen to the news on television, watch videos of scientific journalism, discuss with your teachers.
What are the issues you discuss most often in your class, at school or in your city? What do your neighbour or the man in the TV interview always complain about?
You don't need to search so far, maybe the goal of your project is next to you, just around the corner.
A big project starts with big questions.
A good project is one that tries to give an answer to a specific problem. If your idea of "Searching for a new spaceship propulsion system" is a bit generic, probably it is better to make an effort to deepen it: start asking questions, interview experts on the subject, teachers, scientists or simple enthusiasts, identify and collect resources that could be useful (books, articles, online documents, videos).
What is the effect of sunlight on plant growth? How does the color of the materials affect heat absorption? Which cleaner produces more lather?
If at the end of your search your idea has turned into something more specific like "The effects of the proximity of a black hole on the warp motor" then you are ready to move on to the next step.
Take some time to brainstorm with other members of your team or with people (teachers, parents, experts) you think can help you identify as many solutions to your problem as possible.
It's time to make courageous and unconventional hypotheses: don't be afraid to share your intuition.
Take inspiration from what you have already seen or that others have already done: knowing how to recognize value in what already exists does not mean copying uncritically.
In the end you will have to find a solution among all those you have found: it will be your idea for a new product or a hypothesis to be verified through an experiment.
At this point, depending on whether you have decided to work on a new invention (a new video game, a robot or the warp drive of a spaceship) or an experiment, your work will take different paths: if you want to create a new product or improve an existing product or process, you'll create a prototype or a physical model. If you wish to verify a hypothesis you have formulated, you will have to prepare an experiment.
Perform tests and collect data in order to verify that what you have done is exactly what you wanted and really solve the problem you are working on.
Try to make sense of the data you collect (through elaborations, tables and graphs) to get useful information to reach your goal.
Is my engine speed the one I have planned? Are my junk-eating nanoparticles able to clean up 1 square kilometer of ocean?
Do not worry if things don’t go as you expected on the first attempt: many of the discoveries and products that we take for granted today because they are part of our daily life have required a long creative process made of trials and errors.
If the verification does not give the results you hoped, you should change your prototype or experiment.
If you are making a new invention and you realize that the solution you chose was not the optimal one, identify a new solution, implement it and carry out the new tests. Repeat the last three steps until you reach your goal.
If you are testing your hypothesis through an experiment and the hypothesis turns out to be incorrect or inaccurate, don't change it! Obtaining a valid hypothesis is NOT the objective of the competition: the judges will evaluate if the conclusions are consistent with the data collected and processed.
Now that your project is finished, it's time to evaluate the results and communicate them: did you get the results you expected? Does the solution you have adopted satisfy you? Will you carry on your project after the competition? Have you already thought about the next steps?
General purpose resources
Resources for experiments
Science Fair Central https://www.sciencefaircentral.com/students/scientific-projects
Ted Rowan’s Page http://users.rcn.com/tedrowan/primer.html
Resources for invention and new product
Science Fair Central https://www.sciencefaircentral.com/students/engineering-projects
Teach engineering https://www.teachengineering.org/k12engineering/designprocess
Digital Learning in Middleton http://digitallearninginmiddleton.blogspot.com/2019/03/steam-in-1st-grade-im-not-box.html