STEM Fair Tutorial Post #9: The Problem is...

The key to identifying a problem sounds easy until you must develop an experiment to solve that problem.

Before we discuss experiments, let us discuss the foundation of a STEM Fair Experiment – The Problem.

So, how do you identify a problem?

The best way to identify a problem is to be observant. Pay attention to the problems that you and other people face and then think about a solution. It sounds easy doesn't it? Just look around you and see if you can find the missing piece that will benefit the jigsaw puzzle of life. We wish it were that easy! However, some of the best science experiments identify and rectify some of the simplest of problems.

For example:

A 15-year-old discovered a simple blood test to diagnose one of the deadliest cancers known – Pancreatic Cancer.

A 14-year-old designed a device to help his younger brother who has a speech impediment. The device he created helps strengthen the muscles you use to speak.

Another 14-year-old investigated how cold affects instrument pitch. How did he do this? He was observant and noticed that when his high school band was playing outside in cold weather – the pitch sounded different.

Do you see the trend? Everyday problems that are just waiting for eager young minds to solve with simple solutions. One of the distinct benefits of youth is the ability to approach everyday problems with fearless creativity to find a solution. This is an advantage – do not waste it. We realize it seems like a daunting task, so here is a list of instructions to help get you started:

Instructions for Identifying a Problem

- Utilize a notebook to help get you started. When you think of an idea; write it down. Just think of it as an idea journal.

- Divide a page into thirds and draw vertical lines to create three columns.

- At the top label column one, “Problems,” label column two, “Solutions,” and column three is, “Provable.” Keep in mind that your solutions column is simply a brainstorm of ideas to help get you started.

- The Provable column is your reality check where you ask yourself one simple question, “Can I prove it?” For example if the problem requires you to travel to outer space (and you aren't Elon Musk), you probably can't prove it.

- You can also brainstorm your interests. Using the same column method used above, simply start writing down the things you are interested in.Baking, eating, swimming, running, horses, flowers, football, orienteering, etc. Next, indicate some problems that are associated with those interests as well as possible solutions.

- Lastly, work with an adult, review both sets of brainstorming notes and try to identify all the interests and problems that seem the most practicable and reasonable to solve.

- With the help of your adult mentor, narrow your “Problems” down to just one. The next step will be to conduct research to gain as much information as possible regarding your chosen subject.

To offer you some inspiration on your journey of solving a problem here is a link to the United States Patent and Trademark Office for Young Inventors:

Homework and Materials:


Composition Notebook and Pen


Entry #8: Follow the Instructions for Identifying a Problem and utilizing your brainstorming ideas from last weeks entry - list the problems that you entered into the "problem" column for this week.

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