Monday, February 20, 2006

Keeping a Project Notebook

A Useful Tool for Science Fair Projects and Physics Research

This book will be your "Project Log," where you will keep track of everything to do with your project (and only stuff for your project). The notebook serves two very important purposes:
    a) It allows anyone else who reads the notebook to see exactly what you did to recreate your project (if they had to). This is important as skill for any future career in science you might consider.

    b) The notebook also helps you prove that project is, in fact, your own work (should your teacher need convincing that you did not just copy an older relative or friend's project from a previous year).

In order to do this, your notebook should:
    1.Contain all your notes, thoughts and ideas.

    2.List the books and articles you read during your research – keeping track of the Titles, Authors, and possibly pages (check with your teacher about their preferred reference style)

    3.Develop your hypothesis (see “The Scientific Method”)

    4.Design your experiments

    5.Record your data and observations

    6.Analyze the data to find results and draw conclusions

    7.Draft your report

Everytime you write anything down about your project, make sure it is in your log, and note the date, time and anything else that seems important.

Hints for keeping a useful notebook

1. Keep the left margin clear, except for a few descriptive words. Write more detailed text to the right of the keywords. Some keywords you should use are:
    Research Summary – summarizing something relevant you've read.

    Questions to ask – Keep track of any questions you want to ask your teacher (or anyone else who can help you).

    Possible Topic – If your research sparks an idea about a topic you could focus upon, write it down so you don't forget.

    The Question – The same applies for your "question" once you've got a topic – write down your ideas, and annotate them in the margin so you can find them again.

    Experiment design - Sketch out your experimental design – in images and/or words, depending on the type of experiment you are going to do.

    Problem – describe a problem you have encountered – this may be a step on your experiment that isn't clear immediately.

    Proposed Solution – describe an idea for solving the problem.

    Success – describe how the proposed solution worked.

    Failed Attempt – describe how the proposed solution failed, and what you learned from the failure.

    Measurement – describe a measurement (e.g. of a spring constant) and how it was made.

    Predictive Calculation – describe a calculation that predicts something.

    Observations – keep track of what you see as you conduct your experiment.

    Data Analysis - crunching the numbers you observe to find out the answer to your question

The idea of these annotations is to keep the various things you write down for yourself easily accessible. For example, when you get up to choosing a question for your project, it will be easiest if you can flick through your notebook and find all the ideas you've had during your reading and topic fine tuning.

2. Leave time at the end of each period you work on your project for a summary.

    Briefly summarize the accomplishments of the session.

    list your goals for the next time you work on your project.

    clean up anything that needs to be cleaned up and put anything that you're keeping together somewhere safe – nothing is worse than having your project cleaned up by a well meaning parent.

3. If there is a digital camera available to you, you can photograph your apparatus at each stage of your work. Paste these photos in your lab notebook, with a caption describing what the image is of – this will help you keep track of what you're up to.

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