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Rule Check


Hello, Grade K-5 students!

We are glad that you starting on your project and want to make sure that you follow the rules.

Remember, you can do a project several different ways.

  1. By yourself: Work on your own idea and project board
  2. With a small team: Teams of two or three students can decide on the same topic and work together to research and present. (But each of you must be involved in all parts.)
  3. With a group or your whole class: Groups of four or more can do a project, as can entire classes. It is important that each student compile his or her  own log book and help put the board together.
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Approval Before Experiment

Before you start a project, there are several important rules. These are not only to keep you safe, but also to teach how scientists work. Elementary school students will start with the one page, Grades K-5 “Research Plan and SRC Approval Form.”

See the form at: Gr K-8 SRC Approval Form 11-2

And this form may be needed if human participants are involved: Informed Consent K-8

Any survey or interaction with animals or humans other than pure observation (watching) must be approved. You must get approval by the Scientific Review Committee (SRC) BEFORE you start the project — if it involves non-human vertebrate animals (animals that have a backbone and internal skeleton.) You must also get approval if the project involves animal or human tissue, recombinant DNA, pathogens, human subjects, controlled substances, hazardous materials or hazardous devices.

If you proceed without permission, it may result in Failure to Qualify at SARSEF.

This important review process starts with filling out the required forms to send in for approval early in the school year. Do it now, before you start!

For Grades K-5, your school should have formed its own SRC Committee. If so, you do not need to send the forms directly to SARSEF.

(Some elementary school students may be asked to file additional forms depending on their project or school’s SRC requirements. Those documents can be found under the high school SRC section.)

What Your School Scientific Review Committee Will Be Looking For

Upon reviewing a project, the SRC arrives at one of three decisions:

  • Approval: If a project is approved, the SRC chairperson signs the appropriate forms and returns paperwork to students as soon as possible, so that they can begin their project.
  •  Disapproval: The SRC chairperson will provide the student and sponsor with a list of reasons for disapproval, and suggestions for changes needed for approval. If suitable corrections are made, the revised project forms should be re-submitted for reviewed. If the project is approved, the student and sponsor will be told immediately so that the student can begin their project.
  • Projects that are NOT allowed: Some projects are unethical or should not be done by elementary students. Examples: projects designed to kill vertebrate animals, toxicity studies using vertebrate animals, improper treatment of animals, proposed use of potential pathogens at home, and lack of appropriate supervision. The SRC will notify the student and sponsor promptly and provide them with a complete list of reasons the project may not be done.

Specific items SRC members consider in reviewing a project include:

  • evidence of library/literary search (Internet, journals, books, etc.)
  • evidence of proper supervision
  • use of accepted research techniques
  • completed forms, signatures and dates
  • evidence of search for alternatives to animal use
  • humane treatment of animals
  • compliance with rules and laws governing proper care and housing of animals
  • appropriate us of devices and activities
  • appropriate/safe handling and use of recombinant DNA, potentially pathogenic organisms, tissues and hazardous substances
  • adequate documentation of the substantial expansion of continuing projects.

Mold and bacteria projects:
Mold – bread mold projects (K-8) may be allowed at home ONLY if the study is stopped as soon as the mold is seen. (In other words, as soon as mold starts to grow, the bread is thrown away.)
Bacteria – At NO time is bacteria culturing allowed at home. Samples may be collected at home or in the environment, but they must then be taken to a laboratory (school or lab) to be grown. Please review ISEF rules for specifics regarding the type of bacteria that can be grown in a BSL 1 lab.

Questions may be sent to

If the school SRC is in doubt, members may submit the form to the SARSEF Scientific Review Committe (SARSEF SRC, 7380 E. Snyder Rd., Tucson AZ 85750)


Questions may be sent to

If the School SRC is in doubt, they may submit the form to the SARSEF Scientific Review Committee: (SARSEF SRC, 7380 E. Snyder Road, Tucson AZ 85750)


Informed Consent

Remember, these projects — regardless of grade level and relationship to the 
human subjects — must have SRC review, and obtain approval where necessary before experimentation may start.

Fill out and send in all of the material requested on the SRC & Informed Consent K-8 Form to your school’s SRC.

Projects that involve humans and are more than just observing natural behavior will need an informed consent form:

Informed Consent K-8

Failure to receive approval before experimentation will result in Failure to Qualify for SARSEF, AzSEF, Broadcom MASTERS and ISEF.

The process of obtaining informed consent provides information to the subject about the risks and benefits associated with participation in the research study, and allows the subject to make an educated decision about whether or not to participate. Informed consent is an ongoing process, not a single event that ends with a signature on a page. It must incorporate procedures that do not involve coercion or deception.

Documentation of informed consent is required:

  • When the SRC determines that a research study involves physical or psychological activities with more than minimal risk
  • When the SRC determines that the project could potentially result in emotional stress to a research subject
  • When the SRC determines that the research subjects belong to a risk group and the study does not meet any of the criteria below for a waiver.

Documentation of informed consent is required for most research projects. However, the SRC may waive the requirement for documentation of written informed consent if the research involves only minimal risk, anonymous data collection and if it is one of the following:

  • Research involving the observation of legal public behavior
  • Research involving collection or study of existing publicly available data or records
  • Research involving normal educational practices
  • Research on individual or group behavior or characteristics of individuals where the researcher does not manipulate the subjects’ behavior and the study does not involve more than minimal risk
  • Surveys and questionnaires that are determined by the SRC to involve perception, cognition or game theory and do NOT involve gathering personal information, invasion of privacy or potential for emotional distress. If there is any uncertainty regarding the appropriateness of waiving informed consent, it is strongly recommended that informed consent be obtained.
  • Studies involving physical activity where the SRC determines that no more than minimal risk exists and where the probability and magnitude of harm or discomfort anticipated in the research are not greater (in and of themselves) than those ordinarily encountered in daily life, or during performance of routine physical activities.

It is recommended that informed consent be obtained for ALL research subjects who are under 18 years of age. Both the parent/legal guardian and the school-age research subject must sign Informed Consent Form (for K-8 researchers), and for high school researchers ISEF Form 4 (Human Subjects and Informed Consent Form). Full out: Informed Consent K-8

It should then be copied for each participant’s appropriate signatures. These should be kept in your research journal. They should remain confidential, but may be brought to SARSEF competition for SRC approval before competition, but should then be taken home.

Re: Mold & Bacteria projects:

  • Mold – Bread mold projects (K-8) may be allowed at home ONLY if the study is stopped as soon as the mold is seen. In other words, as soon as mold starts to grow, the bread is thrown away.
  • Bacteria – At NO time is bacteria culturing allowed at home. Samples may be collected at home or in the environment, but they must then be taken to a laboratory (school or lab) to be grown. Please review ISEF rules for specifics regarding the type of bacteria that can be grown in a BSL 1 lab, etc.

Schools may set up the SRC/IRB, following SSP guidelines, but may refer questions to the SARSEF SRC, whose decisions will prevail.

Many questions can be answered by an e-mail or phone call to Dr. Paula Johnson (D.V.M.) at 621-3483. She can advise methods that will lead to approval, or counsel the student in a direction that will not run the risk of rejection by the SRC. Even after the phone call, if the project involves any of the SRC categories, approval must be obtained in writing on the high school ISEF forms, before research is initiated. This applies to kindergarten through high school. This simple step can save potential conflict and embarrassment, or worse, failure to be allowed to exhibit at SARSEF.

When in doubt, contact Dr. Johnson at, or phone 621-3483.

Display Dimensions and Hints

Elementary students should expect to share a table with at least one other project.

ALL Tables are 76cm (30 inches) high. The project must not exceed:

  • 18 inches deep, front to back
  • 122cm (48 inches) wide, side to side
  • 36 inches tall for elementary and middle school projects

Hints & Suggestions:

  • Text may be handwritten or typed.
  • Include at least one graph OR chart — even at the kindergarten level.
  • It should be clear and readable from one meter away.
  • Make it colorful.
  • Make it visually interesting and inviting.
  • Intersperse photos that were taken along the way.
  • Consider using double stick tape, glue or Velcro to attach items to your display board.

Remember: How you display your project draws the viewer to it. But the science in your project is what you want them to remember!

What Goes On and With the Poster/Board?

The following is a list of items that an upper elementary student may want to put on his or her  display board.

Your display board should include all steps of the Scientific Method or Engineering Design. You should have a page on: Introduction, Background Research, Question and/or Hypothesis, Method or Procedure, Materials, Data and Results (inclusive of some charts and graphs), Conclusion, Discussion — inclusive of Limitation (What would have made the project stronger?) and Implications (Why the project was important.) Optional: Definitions

  • Backboard: Any freestanding design within the allowed dimensions. Many student in high schools have started making posters for presentations, however, they will still need some kind of back support. Pre-made, tri-fold, corrugated cardboard display boards are available. But backboards may also be made from large boxes, hinged wooden panels or other materials. The display board may be covered with fade-proof bulletin board paper (available at teacher supply stores), gift wrap, self-stick shelving paper or cloth. Remember, while it is helpful to have an attractive, interesting board, your project is the most important element.
  • Project Journal/Lab Notebook: This is the account of your project from idea conception through to conclusion, including development and brainstorming for how to extend/expand your work next time. Date and initial all notebook entries. This is proof that you did the work!
  • Abstract- Optional but encouraged in Upper Elementary:  This is a short summary — 250 word or less — of your entire project.
  • Photos of model, test equipment or items studied: While allowed under the “display and safety rules,” we discourage leaving actual models or equipment/devices on the project tables. There is a list of items that indeed are unacceptable for display at SARSEF. Please review it.
  • If the student feels that device or models must be shown, consider how to protect your model (possibly encasing in a clear Plexiglas box) as damage or even theft may occur by fair visitors. Photos are an excellent substitution and good method of communication. Safety is key: for items at the project, exhibitors and visitors.
  • Photos/Diagrams: Hand drawn diagrams are equally effective. Images of any sort must be accredited to the photographer, artist, magazine, website or other source. When photos include people, they are to be performing their experiment, not posing — you want the focus to be on the science process, not the researcher! Inappropriate photos of animals in other than their natural habitat will be removed by Display and Safety.
  • Applicable Forms: All projects that have been approved by the Scientific Review Committee must have those forms available during setup and judging, regardless of grade level.  It is STRONGLY recommended to bring ONLY copies to the fair. Keep the originals at home for safe keeping.
  • Board Organization: Project boards are creative masterpieces. Each is different, yet all contain some fundamental information including: the problem statement (or question and hypothesis if used) methods including materials and procedures, data, analytical procedures, results, conclusions, bibliography and abstract. Some project boards discuss what they would do next if the project was done again.

Display and Safety Rules for SARSEF

Items Not Allowed At Project or In Booth:

  • Living organisms, including plants, mold or bacteria
  • Taxidermy specimens or parts
  • Preserved vertebrate or invertebrate animals
  • Human or animal food
  • Human/animal parts or body fluids (for example, blood or urine). Teeth that have been decontaminated may be exhibited if kept in sealed containers.
  • Plant materials (living, dead, or preserved) that are in their raw, unprocessed or non-manufactured state. (Exception: manufactured construction materials used in building the project or display)
  • Chemicals, including water
  • Poisons, drugs, controlled substances, hazardous substances or devices (for example, firearms, weapons, ammunition or reloading devices)
  • Dry ice or other sublimating solids
  • Sharp items (for example, syringes, needles, pipettes or knives)
  • Glass or glass objects unless deemed by the Display and Safety Committee to be an integral and necessary part of the project (Exception: glass that is an integral part of a commercial product such as a computer screen)
  • Open flame or highly flammable materials
  • Batteries with open-top cells
  • Awards, medals, business cards, flags, endorsements and/or acknowledgments (graphic or written) unless the item(s) are an integral part of the project. (D&S decision)
  • Photographs or other visual presentations depicting vertebrate animals in surgical techniques, dissections, necropsies or other lab procedures

Any apparatus deemed unsafe by the Scientific Review Committee or the Display and Safety Committee (for example, large vacuum tubes or dangerous ray-generating devices, empty tanks that previously contained combustible liquids or gases, pressurized tanks, etc.)

Items Allowed, but with the Restrictions Indicated

  • Soil or waste samples if permanently encased in a slab of acrylic
  • Postal addresses, World Wide Web and email addresses, telephone numbers, and fax numbers (of the finalist only) should be listed in journal or required forms only.
  • Photographs and/or visual depictions, 
  • they are not deemed offensive or inappropriate
  • they are photographs or visual depictions of the conducting the project (not a portrait style photo of the child)
  • they are photographs of human subjects for which signed consent forms are at the project or in the booth.
  • Any apparatus with unshielded belts, pulleys, chains or moving parts with tension or pinch points — if for display only and not operated
  • Any apparatus producing temperatures that will cause physical burns if inadequately insulated.

Project Display

Electrical power is no longer provided at display tables for ANY projects (Grades K-12)

Remember, models and devices are discouraged. Instead, please take photos where possible. If brought to SARSEF, they will need to pass all safety considerations and may not be allowed to stay.

Project dimensions (below), including any equipment, models, devices, books, etc.

Every Child. Thinking Critically. Solving Problems.