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Alaska Native Cultural Resources
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Alaska Science Camps, Fairs & Experiments

ANKN is a resource for compiling and exchanging information related to Alaska Native knowledge systems and ways of knowing. We are pleased to create and distribute a variety of publications that assist Native people, government agencies, educators and the general public in gaining access to the knowledge base that Alaska Natives have acquired through cumulative experience over millennia.


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Developing a
Science Fair Project


Find a topic of personal interest. See the connection between the subject and your life. Once that connection is made, you will have the energy to carry you through the tough places.

You will be the expert when you are done.

All year long you should be looking and thinking about a science project. When you run into a problem, store it in your memory until the time to develop science projects.

A science project is the opportunity to get school credit and use school resources to find out something you have been wondering for a long time. If you do well, you could even take a trip to the state or national science fairs.


Decide if you are going to do a collection, a demonstration, or an experiment. Grades K-5 can do any of the three. Grades 6-12 should do a demonstrate or an experiment. Grades 9-12 should do an experiment.


Pick a project that is interesting and one you can do. "How can I save the dolphins?" is not a do-able project in an Interior Athabascan village. Pick something that you can observe or test in your home village. "Do the trees on the hills always turn black just before the weather warms up in the winter?" That is do-able. Why did our ancestors have fringes on their buckskin clothing. That is do-able.

Studying and experimenting with the material in snowmachine tracks is an easy one in the village. It is do-able.

Test which tastes better: campfire coffee, percolated coffee, or filtered coffee. That is do-able.

"Lunar landings" is not do-able. Pick something you can get your hands on, observe, test, and prove. 

A student said, "I want to do thunder." I said, "How do you do thunder?'" You might study thunder in a library, but that is a library project, not a science project. How would you make thunder and test it?

There are many suggested projects in this part of the book, some of which have never been done before. The results will surprise everyone.


As you start on your project, a new question might arise that seems more interesting than the one you started with. It's okay to change your project once, but students who change twice or change too late are not ready on the day of the science fair. If you think of a new topic late in your current project, save it for next year. You'll need a project then too.


There are many sources for science project ideas. 

Your Own Imagination.

Your own imagination and curiosity are the best source of projects and ideas. If you work on a question that has arisen in your life, your interest and energy level will be high. Why does the water spray your back when you have no rear tire guard on your bicycle? Why do unripe blueberries give you a stomach ache?


Brainstorm (bubble) with your classmates about things people your age are interested in. Write everything down. From one of these bubbling sessions someone got the idea to experiment on the signals given by a TV remote control. Do the signals go through pillows? Do they bounce off or go through walls? How far do they travel?

Village People

Ask questions of people in your village. Do outboard motors really go faster after dark or is that a trick our eyes play on us? There are many things the Elders know that are worthy of testing. Their knowledge has come from generations of scientific observation. Most villages have someone who is an "expert" in what we are interested in. Go to that person and ask questions. Someone knows guns better than others. Someone knows tanning better than others. Someone knows winter travel better than others. Local Elders are the best resource.

Teachers and Books

Books have suggestions. Teachers do too. However, the ideas must perk your interest. This book is full of Alaska science ideas and projects. Perhaps a few will excite you. Libraries, magazines, and internet have many answers, but are usually lacking in traditional Alaska information.

There is a big difference between a library report and a science project. Science projects involve doing. Do library research about your project, but find a project you can get your hands on and do some discovery.


Find something you would like to collect. Often collections are more fun when they are done by teams. See the suggestions for collections for ideas, but you should pick something you are interested in. It takes time to make a good collection. Don't wait until the last minute. Plan ahead so you don't rush.

Start your collection. Keep your samples in a safe place. Do they need to be dry? Damp? Frozen?

Record where you got each one from and when you got it.

Organize your collection. How does the collection make sense to you? You might organize the samples by type, by color, in the order that you found them, by location that you found them, etc. There are many ways to organize a collection. Can you later add to your collection without disorganizing it?

Look closely at your samples. Look at them under a magnifying glass. Look at them from all angles. Do you want to weigh them? Measure them?

How will you display the collection? How will you store it again after showing it to others? 

Decide how to present your collection. If you are going to enter your collection in a science fair, see the judges scoring rubric in the appendix following the section on "Culturally Relevant Science Fairs". The judges will use a scoring sheet something like this one. Can you change your collection in any way to score higher? If you are entering a science fair, you might want to organize your poster to look something like the one below.

Science Fair Project

If you can't keep your samples for long, be sure to take pictures.



Choose a demonstration of something you are interested in. Demonstrations can be done by teams. If you will be part of a team, pick team members who will work as hard as you do.

Once you have chosen something to demonstrate, find out as much about it as you can. Talk to Elders and local experts who know about it. Don't wait until the last minute. Start early. Good information doesn't come quickly. Think about your demonstration.

Try many ways of doing the demonstration. Try different materials. Try different methods. Try different sizes at different times. Is there a traditional way and a modern way to do the same thing? Explore what you are doing in every way you can think of.

Be sure a teacher says the demonstration is safe and a local Elder says the project is okay for your village.

With teacher help, find the science principles involved in your project. 

Study those principles. Do you see them working in other places in your community? 

Look at the judges scoring rubric in the appendix. Is there anything you can do to your project to make it score higher with the judges?

Science Fair Project


Make a poster board. Your poster might follow the form above. Make it attractive.

If your demonstration is safe enough to show in the science fair, decide how you will show it to people. Will you allow them to try it? Will you let the judges try it? Will you do the demonstration, show only the results, make a model, make a video, or have pictures?



Pick an experiment that you are interested in and that is do-able. 

Ask a question about your project. This is the main focus of your experiment. What are you trying to find out? What are you curious about? Start with one big question, not two or three. "What kind of set is best for marten: pole or cubby?" "Which local natural plant is most effective for curing infections?" "Why do air holes form on certain lakes even during cold weather?"

Make a guess what you think is right. How do you think the experiment will turn out? This is your hypothesis.

"I think the smoke goes up the stovepipe because warm air is lighter than cold air, and the smoke is warm." "I think the green net catches more fish because the fish can't see it in the water of the lake."

Plan a fair test to see if your hypothesis is right. Do the test one way then another. Perhaps you will test which shape of canoe paddle is the quietest for hunting. Get two paddles of different shapes and paddle in identical ways with the only variable being the type of paddle. Perhaps you will test which type of skin is more durable for mukluk bottoms: moose or seal. Make mukluks with one bottom of moose and the other one of seal. Wear them for two or three months. Compare the wear.

Record on paper what the results are. Observe, measure, weigh, time, etc. This is your data sheet. You might want to show your data in a graph so people can get a picture of your results.

Make a materials list. What materials did you use in this experiment? 

Come to a conclusion. Was your hypothesis right or wrong? Why? How could you perform the experiment again to get a more accurate result. What did you learn? Do you want to take the experiment farther? Have new questions risen? What are the village applications of your findings? Remember, many science projects have won science fairs with a failed hypothesis.

There are many suggestions for experiments included in this book.

Science Fair Project

Finding and Developing
a Science Fair Project

ƒ Decide which kind of project you will do
ƒGet ideas for a project
ƒGo to your local sources



a Find a project that is interesting

a Find out about your project from local Elders and experts

a Start your collection

a Organize your collection

a Look closely at your samples

a Decide how to present your collection, including an attractive poster



a Choose a skill or activity you are interested in

a Find out as much as you can about your project. Go to local Elders and experts

a Be sure the project is safe and culturally appropriate

a Try many ways of doing the demonstration

a Find the scientific principles involved in your demonstration

a Study those principles

a Look at judges scoring rubric. Improve your project

a Decide how you will present the demonstration to the judges and public

a Make an attractive poster and display



a Pick an experiment that is interesting and do-able

a Ask a clear question about your topic. Go to Elders and local experts

a Make a good guess what the answer is. This is your hypothesis

a Plan a fair test to see if your hypothesis is correct

a Record the results. This is your data

a Make a materials list that shows what you used to do the experiment

a Come to a conclusion. Was your hypothesis correct or not?

a Plan your presentation including an attractive poster

Finding and Developing a Science Fair Project

Examples of "Observe and Think" Projects

200+ Ideas for Science Fairs!

Traditional Lighting


Traditional Firemaking


Fishing with Lures

Rabbit Snares

Spearing Fish and the Refraction of Light

Chill of the Campfire

Solution vs Suspension

Seals & Beaver, Floating & Sinking


Selecting a Birch Tree

Spruce & Other Roots

Spruce Gum

Spear Throwing

Berry Pickers

Drum Frames


Book Cover

© 2004 Alaska Native Knowledge Network. All rights reserved.

A partner with the Alaska Rural Systemic Initiative

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0086194. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


Camps as an Environment for Science & Culture

Culturally Relevant Science Fairs



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Last modified April 12, 2011