Participation in a science fair can be a positive and even life-changing experience for students. However, science fairs (and classroom labs) can also reinforce misunderstandings of how science works, particularly with respect to the notion of hypothesis formation.

Colleagues and I have investigated student projects at eight International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) competitions in recent years for a total of almost 2000 student projects. Students included a hypothesis in 78% of these projects but actually wrote only predictions 81.2% of the time. True hypotheses – potential generalizations or explanations – appeared in only 272 (18.8%) of the projects, as we showed in a 2015 article in The American Biology Teacher (77:17–23).

Thus, even though generating hypotheses is a fundamental component of most scientific investigations, students at the ISEF seem to misunderstand the difference between hypotheses and predictions, and this is likely true at local science competitions too.

This problem...

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