Youth Science Projects – An Imaginary Example
Shelly Ann Shepherd (an imaginary person) noticed that lambs living in a pasture where they could nibble Tioga Broom (an imaginary plant) leaves just seemed to grow faster. Shelly’s 4-H leader pointed out that this might make a great Agriculture, Human Ecology and Life Science Project, and she agreed and proceeded as follows:
1) Shelly went to the library, read in her animal science books and surfed the World Wide Web to find out everything she could about what made lambs grow faster. No one had every written anything about Tioga Broom’s effects on lambs, but her reading and observations suggested to Ms. Shepherd that Tioga Broom leaves might contain some chemical or nutrient which made lambs grow faster, so…
2) She summarized what she had read and observed that might be related to this question and…
3) Shelly created a hypothesis that:
If Tioga Broom leaves are added to Yummy Lamb Pellets (an imaginary complete feed for fattening lambs), then these lambs will grow faster than those which do not get the leaves.
4) Shelly went out and harvested and dried Tioga Broom leaves and mixed 1 part leaves with 50 parts Yummy Lamb Pellets.
5) Shelly then fed the leaf-treated pellets to two of her lambs and the regular pellets to the other two. Ms. Shepherd also convinced two of her friends to do the same, so six lambs were eating pellets with Tioga broom leaves and six were without on three different farms.
6) Shelly Ann recorded what kind of lambs were fed, how old they were, where they lived, how much feed all of the lambs ate every day and weighed them every month.
7) At the County Fair, the twelve lambs were weighed in pounds one last time and Shelly Ann wrote down all of her observations in a nice neat table . She recorded beginning weight, weight at fair, gain during the 90 day feeding period (Tioga lambs gained an average of 71.1 pounds and ranged from 65 – 75; Control lambs gained an average of 50.2 pounds and ranged from 46-63), days on feed, gain/day, feed eaten, and gain/feed.
Since the average gain was greater for the leaf fed animals than the controls and in fact the slowest-growing leaf-fed animal grew faster than the fastest control, Ms. Shepherd concluded that the leaf caused the lambs to grow faster. Since they ate about the same amount of feed Shelly also concluded that the effect of the leaves was to increase efficiency without increasing feed intake. In this case, formal statistical analysis would not add much – all statistical procedures would indicate a difference anyway. But in most cases, she would have consulted a high school or beginning college statistics text to see how to do a “Student’s t test” or analysis of variance to figure out the probability that the results she saw were due to real effects of the leaf or to chance alone.
8) After completing this experiment, Shelly Ann Shepherd prepared a display on which she placed a title, her name, pictures of her experiment (sheep, Tioga Broom, action photos of preparing leaf and feeding sheep), a summary of her project (abstract, results table and conclusions), acknowledgments of written sources and everyone who helped her (including the friends that let her add leaf to their feed and weigh their lambs) and entered her project at the local county Cornell Cooperative Extension office.
9) At the State Fair, Shelly put up her display and discussed her project, her readings and what experiments she thought should be done next with the judges (a science teacher, a farmer and a veterinarian).
10) At the Fair Shelly saw other projects in which other young people had tested new kinds of thread made from weed stalks, stopped pollution of a local creek and grew triangular tomatoes. Some worked on an individual project as she had, others did a single project shared by an entire club. Some worked in smaller groups.
11) Shelly was glad she had spoken to people at Cornell before and during her project. That way, the folks at Cornell were able to make suggestions that she used to improve her project as it progressed through the summer.
Contact: Dana Palmer