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2. Planning

Research - Log Book - Safety & Ethics - FAQ
Before you get to the practical work...


What is the question that drives us?

  • RESEARCH - Look up information on your topic from a wide variety of sources including the internet, books, and brainy people you can actually talk to. Summarise your findings. Remember to not get stuck only doing research - the Fair is about practical projects for which you collect data.
  • QUESTION - You need a single question to investigate. Refine the question until a manageable question is developed. This will allow you to use numbers (quantitative measurement) to study the relationship between two variables.
  • VARIABLES - There are lots of things that change over time. In a science experiment we need to identify these variables:
    ►CONTROL - The are things that we try and keep the same. 
    ►INDEPENDENT - This is the thing we change or allow to change. Quite often time is selected as the independent variable. 
    ►DEPENDENT - This is the thing we measure.
    EXAMPLE - Question - "How does my height change over time?" 
    Control - measure me, not random people. Bare foot.
    Independent - Time in months (sounds like a long project). Same amount of time between readings at the same time of day. 
    Dependent - my height in metres 
  • GOAL - The idea of all this is to look at your number results and see if your variables change with each other (graphs show this nicely). It's very interesting when they do.
    EXTRA FOR EXPERTS - Correlation (two things changing with each other) does not mean causation (one thing causing the other to change). This makes science even harder when you try and figure out what is really happening and finding an experiment that will help. 
  • OBSERVE - Good science means finding out how things really work and not just appear on the surface. Some good observations might involve:
    ►Process - How easy or efficient is it? eg. How easy is it to light a Bunsen Burner? 
    ►Temperature, eg. Feels warm as a human response or actual temperature?
    ►Sight - What it looks like (colour, brightness, contrast) 
    ►Sound, eg. The blue bunsen flame was noisy 
    ►Touch, eg. Smooth or rough surfaces, soft or hard 
    ►Smell, eg. Gas smells funny 
    ►Taste, eg. Bread making. 
  • ASSUMPTIONS - Don't assume your readers and the judges know what you are thinking or the situation you are writing about. Explain everything about the context you can. For example "The man left the plane" doesn't give any information about where the plane was located. On the ground or in the air? "I measured the reaction with my stopwatch" could be refering to how high a flame was - as tall as a stopwatch. It might seem strange, but you have to spell everything out. 

Log Book

A notebook, a scrapbook, a draftbook?
A place you can summarise your findings and not lose it.

The first thing most people do when starting a project is start a new word document or note book to start collecting ideas and keeping them together. Science is no different. "Log Books" are an essential part of every project. They must accompany your project when it is displayed. The point of a project is not to make a log book. A log book is just a really helpful safe place where you can put project related stuff so you don't lose it. Here is a digital power point version of a log book. It can also help give your project the right structure.  

Your log book can be hand-written, it should show how much work you have done and it indicates the way you have thought through your project. 

If you keep a digital log book, remember to keep all versions of your  work - and any comments you may have added. It should show the progression of your work and the changes you have made. You will need to print a copy of your digital log book, to be viewed by the judges at the fair.

A log book can be all these things:
  • DIARY - to keep your thoughts and ideas in , to plan how you will use your time, and to keep a record of what you did and when 
  • WORKBOOK - to record your method, the mistakes you made, your improvements, the things you need to do and the things you could do 
  • NOTEBOOK - to record notes from conversations with teachers, interviews with experts and ideas from family and friends 
  • RESEARCH BOOK - to record the information you gained from textbooks, the Internet, libraries, businesses 
  • DRAFT BOOK - to write out drafts of all your final notes and to change and revise them to make them better 

Safety and Ethics

Things to consider before starting

Ministry of Education - Download the Safety In Science Booklet from our downloads page.

SAFETY - Falling off a ladder is more dangerous than most science projects, nevertheless, we want you finishing your project in good health with everything intact. Find a knowledgable mentor and ask them "this is my idea, what are the safety issues related to this?" Rather than the Far Side Cartoon version "it was at this point John realised a flaw in his plan..."

ETHICS - Ethics is all about what is right and wrong. Just because we can do something does not mean we should do it. Research in science and technology often involves animals or people: finding out about them, using them, or  testing things on them. In New Zealand we share values that protect people and animals from unnecessary harm.  Download the Ethics Info Book from our downloads page. 

Good science recognises that the things we do to learn and to improve technology have limits that protect people  and animals. “Ethics” is about balancing the need for such protection with the need for learning and development. Because animals and humans can experience pain and suffering care must be taken to value and respect our subjects. Ethics approval must be granted for certain projects. The information below will help you work out what action you need to take and if an application to the ethics committee is required. Considering the ethics of a piece of work, and applying for approval if necessary, is a valuable learning experience for students.

ANIMALS - Certain experiments with animals require formal ethics approval before you can procede with the experiment. Download the Approval Flow Chart to find out if you need animal ethics approval (link shows downloadable dpf).
Also see the NZASE Animal Ethics website and their Resources page.
The Royal Society also have great information on the whole Ethics Topic

The following do not require Animal Ethics Committee approval:
►School, classroom or student pets including pet days where appropriate animal care is given;
►Observations of behaviour (provided the presence of people does not interfere with normal behaviour, for example, animals giving birth are often affected by the presence of people);
►Observations of body structure and function;
►Measurement of growth e.g. regular weighing to chart a growth curve;
►Identification of diet preferences and food “treats”;
►Observation of animal response to different cage equipment such as
tubes, platforms and ramps;
►Breeding to teach reproduction and development; and
►Routine animal care and handling techniques including routine farm husbandry pratices.

Care and Safety Form
If you are using Animals in your investigation you must complete the Care and Safety of Animals Form in our downloads section, have it checked by your teacher and put it into your log book to be available for judges to view as required. Ethics committee approval must also be attached for those projects requiring it. 
Care and Safety of Animals Booklet
Download and read our booklet on this topic on the downloads page.  

All the Safety Info - Download our booklet about the safe use of micro-organisms here. 
The Ministry of Education also has a great info booklet here about safety in science. Read the section on micro-organisms. 

Culturing Micro-organisms
• Human or animal sources of micro-organism, other than skin, must not be used. Including blood and saliva
• Skin surfaces may be used only if cultures remain sealed
• Samples must not be taken from toilets and toilet areas, including sinks and door handles
• Known pathogens, other than genetically crippled strains of Escherichia coli, must not be used
• Samples must not be taken from rubbish bins and drinking taps
• Sterile swab sticks should be used to inoculate plates
• All cultures should be labelled with students’ names and date
• Petri dishes should be covered and sealed to prevent contamination and the spreading of spores. Adhesive tape can be used to securely seal the dishes
• Petri dishes should be incubated upside down
(prevents condensation falling on culture and drowning it.)
• Incubating at 35o to 40oC must be avoided because this tends to select organisms adapted to the human body. Temperatures of 25oC or below should be used.
• All cultures must be destroyed before disposal by being heated in a pressure cooker for at least twenty minutes and plastic dishes must be disposed of. As an alternative, dishes could be soaked in a 10% bleach solution for three days.

Care and Safety Form
If you are using Micro-organisms in your investigation you must complete the Care and Safety Form in our downloads section, have it checked by your teacher and put it into your log book to be available for judges to view as required

Human Ethics
There are two main considerations for activities involving humans. The first is when humans are involved in activities such as tasting or smelling when the substances involved may be toxic or provoke an allergic reaction, or undergo exercise which may trigger unexpected effects in the subject. The second is when information such as weight, height, preferences etc is collected and presented - if this takes place then privacy must be ensured. If your project involves either of these two situations then you need to view the Royal Society website  (slightly down the page) which gives ethics information for students who carry out similar investigations for Crest Awards. This will provide you with the information you need to decide if you should proceed with your project or if you require guidance from a specialist.  

Note: No human survey participant should be named - use code numbers only. All human participants should be aware of the survey and consent. Experiments should generally not be carried out on yourself.

Don't blow yourself up.
Chemicals that may spontaneously combust, explode or emit toxic fumes are prohibited unless permitted by the organising committee. Ask your Science Fair Teacher to discuss this with the committee. Examples would be hydrogen production by electrolysis or photobiological water splitting where the amount of hydrogen produced on site could become dangerous. 

POWER - Any exhibit using mains power for any purpose other than powering ordinary commercial devices must use an isolating transformer or RCD. Any exhibit using or producing voltages in excess of 50 V AC or DC must be enclosed to prevent intrusion (especially by fingers) which might lead to electric shock, and should be checked safe by a person appropriately qualified to do so. Mains power is dangerous and great care needs to be taken.

►Any exhibitor requiring mains electricity must be provide a suitable cord 5 metres long and a 3-pin plug, which must be constructed to comply with standard electrical safety laws.
►Exhibitors using mains electricity are recommended to use a suitable isolating transformer, or a current limiting device, to supply power to their exhibit. These devices give an extra margin of safety.
►Where 100 volts or more are used, all wiring, switches, metal parts etc., must be completely enclosed by barriers to prevent any possibility of an observer being able to receive an electric shock.
►Projects using voltages above 100 volts must be plainly labelled with a conspicuous sign stating the highest voltage being used. Such projects must be safe at all times and, if necessary, locked when unattended.

►Any radio transmitter in working order must comply with Radio Regulations and be licensed by the Radio Frequency Service (Write to Ministry of Commerce, PO Box 31433, L. Hutt Phone 566-5537).
►Extreme care needs to be taken around X-ray or Microwave emitters and these cannot be displayed on a project without being disabled.

Ethics FAQ

Actually, everyone must do an ethics check for every investigation. This applies to schools, universities, research laboratories, farms and factories and field workers – anyone investigating or testing anything in the broad area of science and technology. In most cases the check is a simple personal test to make sure what is being done is
ethical. However, if the investigation involves animals or people, a more formal check is required. So it is not just students doing a project who have to do ethics checks.

For some investigations your teacher can approve your project if he/she is satisfied it is ethical. In that case “Ethics Approval” is what you get when your teacher says you can do the project. In other cases your project has to be checked by an Ethics Committee. If they approve your project they will issue an “Ethics Certificate” permitting you to do the project. That certificate must be displayed on your project. This book tells you how to find out if you need ethics approval, and if so, which type of approval you need.

Wrong. If you are doing a project you are a real scientist. Science and technology are not things only strange geeks in white coats do in hubbly-bubbly laboratories. It’s what you do when you try to find out something about the universe in which we live, or some way of solving a problem – and that’s what you do in a science or technology project. But in any case, there are four very good reasons why school students have to do ethics checks
– they are explained next

►The law requires it. The Animal Welfare Act 1999 makes it very clear that investigations and experiments with animals as part of school studies must be checked for ethics. Even keeping a pet or other animal at school must meet the requirements of this Act. The Privacy Act 1993 also controls how you collect, use and report information about people. There are other laws too, such as those controlling the health and safety of people at
work, people having medical treatment, and testing things on people.

►You should want to make sure you are caring for animals and other people properly. Sometimes you may not be aware that something could be wrong with what you plan – no one expects you to be an expert! Even experienced researchers can make mistakes, which is why they get other people to check their plans too. The only way to be sure is to do an ethics check.

►Science and Technology Fairs are sponsored by the Royal Society and by corporate sponsors who also have to keep the law – and they have a right not to have their names and standards blemished by students who lack ethical care.

►Learning to “do” science and technology includes learning to do things the right way. Ethics checks are a part of every science and technology investigation – so learn now and be better educated for the future.

The first step is very simple: you just have to decide whether your project involves any sort of animals or any people (including yourself) in any way. If it does, then the next step is simple too: you have to check whether or not you will need a special Ethics Certificate – actually, you don’t have to know why the certificate is needed, just if! And if you do need a certificate, that too is simple (but not as simple as the first two steps!): you have to explain what you want to do to an Ethics Committee who will tell you if you can do your project or not. That’s it.

The best way is to fill in the Ethics Flow Chart that comes with this explanation. Its very easy: draw a line from “Start Here” through the options – there it will tell you if you need an Ethics Approval. If you get stuck you should ask your teacher to help you decide.

If everything else is ready, you can start your project straight away if you find you don’t need ethics approval. But if you need ethics approval, you must get that before you begin any investigation or testing. (You can get information from books and such places as the internet. And you can plan how you will do your investigation, But you must not begin any observations or tests, or gather information from people or from observing people or
animals, until you have approval.)

If you need ethics approval and you begin or do a project without it,
►You will not be allowed to enter or display your project at the fair
►You may have broken the law and you and your school could be in trouble.

Don’t panic! If you have done your checks properly, or even if you have gone too far without ethics approval, stop and get help. We can all make mistakes, and your teacher and the Fair Committee want to help you learn and do well. If you have made a mistake we will all help you. Of course, there are consequences for mistakes, and if a project that needs ethics approval has gone too far it might not be possible to fix that – in that case you will not be able to enter or display your project. But whatever you do, don’t press on with a project if you have made a mistake with ethics – you must stop and get help.

If your project is selected for the Fair you and your teacher will have to complete parts of the entry form that certify you have done ethics checks properly and have any approval needed. If you have not done this you will not be able to enter your project even though it was chosen by your school. If your ethics checks and approval are correct, your project is now headed for the fair! Congratulations.

Well, it’s simply that we have a duty to care for all forms of animal life. The Animal Welfare Act has some lists of animals for which ethics must be checked. Some animals are not included in those lists – but the Act also requires we care for all animals, and we know from projects sent to the Fair in the past that there can be ethical issues that students and teachers are not aware of. So to help everyone, to make sure all investigations are ethical, and to help train you in good science and technology, we require proper recording and authorisation procedure for all projects involving animals in any way.

This is about ethics – there can also be safety issues that need to be checked. Make sure you talk to your teacher about safety for any experiments or investigations you plan to do. Also check about safety before your make up you project display – there are some things you cannot have on display even if they have been part of your investigation. 


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