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Frequently Asked Questions

Why a homeschool science fair?

Children of all ages can benefit in many ways from putting together a science fair project. We all know that science should be hands on and experiment based whenever possible. In addition, the process of designing, implementing, and presenting a science experiment results in a much deeper understanding of the specific science topic and of the scientific process in general. Students also learn broader skills such as time management, report writing, graphic / artistic display, and oral presentation, which have applications in many areas of life.

Participating in a homeschool science fair gives 6th to 12th grade students a chance to practice presenting their science projects before entering the more competitive, county-wide science fair (if they so desire). Any improvements recommended by our judges (or their peers) may then be made prior to the county fair. For younger children, this may be their only opportunity to participate in a science fair.

Goals of the GPHSF

To bring together homeschooled students from Philadelphia and the surrounding counties in order to:

  1. promote science education at all grades by hands-on exploration of scientific principles;
  2. promote understanding of, and creativity in, a scientific method of investigation;
  3. promote the self-discipline necessary to accomplish the task within the given time frame;
  4. stimulate and nourish an interest in science;
  5. foster a lifelong appreciation of scientific processes in preparation for life in an increasingly technological society;
  6. foster a sense of community among homeschoolers;
  7. increase public awareness of homeschoolers and their achievements.

Who may enter the GPHSF?

Any homeschooled student from the Greater Philadelphia area (or beyond) who is in grades K through 12 during the 2019-2020 school year may enter this fair. Each student may enter only one project which covers research done over a maximum and continuous 12-month period beginning no earlier than January 2019. In addition, students must have been homeschooled for the duration of the project. Projects entered in this or another science fair during the 2018-2019 school year are ineligible. Continuation of a project from a previous year is permitted, as long as the entered project presents new research conducted during the current school year. In this case, please submit the ISEF continuation form (Form 7).

What about cyber-schoolers?

Although technically public-schooled, students enrolled in Pennsylvania's cyber charter schools are still taught primarily at home by one of their parents. If this is the case, the GPHSF considers them "home-schooled" and therefore eligible for the GPHSF.

My child attends a traditional school; may s/he enter the GPHSF?

No, this fair is for homeschoolers only. A child who attends school presumably has the opportunity to enter his or her school’s science fair. If your child’s school does not currently hold a science fair, perhaps you should encourage the principal or teacher to start one.

We don't live in the five-county area; may my child enter the GPHSF?

The GPHSF has no residency requirements. If the parent is willing to drive to Villanova for the science fair, we would love to have the student enter the GPHSF. In fact, we have had many students from beyond the 5-county region, including Central PA, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland.

Must my child do an experiment, or may we simply display a project we have worked on?

While scientific demonstrations are useful for learning certain concepts (e.g., building a model of the solar system or an electrical circuit), the emphasis of this fair is doing experiments using the scientific method. Experiments will score higher than demonstrations or models. Please keep this in mind when you plan your project!

Why should I register for the GPHSF before I start my experiment?

The simple answer is: just in case. There are many types of experiments which require additional paperwork and approval before beginning research; some types of experiments are completely prohibited for students in grades K to 5. [See Restricted Topics for more information.] Unless you are sure that your project deals with none of these restricted items, you should send in your research plan before you get started. That way, if your project is determined to be unacceptable, you will find out before you do a lot of work. You can then make the appropriate changes and conduct your experiment safely. On the other hand, if on the day of the fair your experiment were determined to be unsafe, or if you worked with substances or organisms which required special paperwork or supervision, your project would be disqualified.

If you are eligible for your county's science fair and would like to participate, ISEF forms must be completed and signed before any data collection begins. See Advanced Competition for more information.

Can I start my experiment over the summer (or even earlier)?

A number of people have contacted me about starting their science fair projects over the summer. This is a good idea! The rules of the Greater Philadelphia Homeschool Science Fair (GPHSF) -- as well as your county science fairs, Delaware Valley Science Fairs (DVSF), and Intel International Science & Engineering Fair (ISEF) -- state that projects may be started any time after January 1 of the previous year (which means that, for the 2020 science fairs, you could have started your project in January of 2019).

If you are considering starting early, keep in mind that there are forms which must be filled out and submitted BEFORE experimentation begins. If you start before the new ISEF forms become available (which is some time in May), it is acceptable to use year-old forms. Please see restricted topics and advanced competition for details about which forms you might need.

How are projects judged?

Because the GPHSF is an experiment-based science fair, judges first determine a project's qualification as an experiment. They then rate each project according to 12 criteria. Here are the details.

Can I enter the GPHSF without being judged?

Because several parents have questioned the necessity of competition and judging, we have created a "non-judged" category of the GPHSF. Students may enter projects to be displayed at the GPHSF but will not have to be interviewed by judges. Here are the details.

My experiment didn't work; should I drop out of the GPHSF?

No! Even a failed experiment is still an experiment, and it can still be displayed at the GPHSF or any other science fair. You'll notice on the judging form that there are no points awarded for success. The important thing is to discuss in your project report reasons why you think the experiment failed, and how you would improve the project if you were to do it again.
In fact, one recent GPHSF participant had a failed experiment. He started the experiment over from scratch, but it still didn't work. He entered it anyway, and it won first award! In fact, his project made it all the way to the national level!

May we attend the GPHSF just to look at the projects?

Of course! We welcome visitors to the GPHSF, and there is no entrance fee. Visitors are also welcome starting at 9:00 a.m. as long as you do not disturb students who are being judged. Directions...

I want to start a homeschool science fair in my area. Can you give me some advice?

People from many states have stumbled upon this web site and asked me this very question.
For the long answer, read an article I wrote for the PA Homeschoolers Newsletter in 2000.
If you want a short answer, my best advice is to go out and buy the book Not Just Another Science Fair by Laura Vazquez, et al., and published by GoodYear Books. This book was recommended to me when I first started the GPHSF, and I could not have done it without this book! You may have to order it; if so order it with the diskette, which contains text files of all reproducible pages as well as the computer normalizing program. If after reading this book you still have more questions, I'd be happy to answer them via email.

by Lisa Swieson, GPHSF Director
©2001-2019 Greater Philadelphia Homeschool Science Fair.



Questions? Contact the GPHSF Director. Last modified: 17 November 2019