A good science fair project begins with a question or hypothesis, according to the University of Southern California. The student must investigate for herself, not simply look up the answer in a book, explains science educator Bill Robertson. He suggests that students do best with projects in which they are interested; a student who is interested in cheerleading could pursue a project in psychology, acoustics, kinesthetics or robotics.
Investigating the Cheerleader Effect
What psychologists call “the cheerleader effect” isn’t about cheerleading but about the way humans perceive faces in groups as more appealing. In “Scientific American,” Cindi May explains that it is so named because of the perception of cheerleaders, often shown together, as attractive. Using this hypothesis, you could show participants pictures of cheerleaders alone and in groups, having them rate their attractiveness. You could also take the term “cheerleader effect” to address a different hypothesis: that cheerleading improves school spirit and team performance. Attend sporting events where cheerleaders perform and where they don’t, measuring crowd response with a sound meter. If you can’t find teams without cheerleaders, research squad size, asking whether having more cheerleaders garners greater crowd enthusiasm and higher scores.
Investigating Cheerleaders’ Sounds
Consider a project on acoustics, the study of sound, such as perceptions of pitch versus volume. Iowa State University posits that humans perceive higher noises as louder than lower ones. Measure cheerleaders’ pitch and volume with a sound meter. Standard meters measure volume in decibels; some professional-quality meters measure pitch, measured in hertz, and software is available that shows pitch, such as the freely available Praat. Have listeners rate the cheers for loudness, and compare their perceptions with the measurements. Another acoustical experiment might test ways to increase volume. The traditional cone-shaped megaphone doesn’t really change volume but simply directs sound waves more efficiently, according to science writer Allan B. Cobb. Ask whether longer, wider or oval megaphones affect volume, testing with a sound meter.
Investigating Cheerleaders’ Movements
The study of body movement, kinesthetics, also offers project options. The University of Michigan Health System identifies 13 sets of muscle movements. Hypothesize about how certain muscle movements affect cheerleaders’ ability to kick or tumble. For instance, measure how high cheerleaders can kick both with and without warm-ups to test a warm-up's effect on flexion and extension of thigh muscles. A different kinesthetic project could focus on the vestibular system, which Ohio University engineering professor Robert L. Williams II explains is the body’s sense of motion and position. Have cheerleaders go through a simple routine as you videotape them. Then have them try the routine while blindfolded or after being spun around to see what happens to balance, sense of position and ability to remain in unison.
Investigating Artificial Cheerleaders
Although simply building a model or device is not a good science fair project, you can use models to demonstrate a hypothesis. Investigate how simple robots can simulate cheerleaders’ movements. Such a project would not be as elaborate as robot cheerleaders developed by Murata, a Japanese electronics firm, but if you are interested in animatronics as well as cheerleading, you could create a simple robot. Homemade computing kits like Raspberry Pi and MaKey MaKey enable fairly sophisticated programming using household objects.
- University of Southern California, California State Science Fair: What Makes a Good Science Fair Project?
- Scientific American: The Cheerleader Effect; Cindi May
- Super Science Projects about Sound: Sound Cannon; Allan B. Cobb
- University of Michigan Health System, Learning Resource Center: Hypermuscle, Muscles in Action
- Ohio University: Engineering Biomechanics of Human Motion; Robert L. Williams II
- Murata: Murata Cheerleaders
- Raspberry Pi: Robotics
- MaKey MaKey Homepage
About the Author
Jennifer Spirko has been writing professionally for more than 20 years, starting at "The Knoxville Journal." She has written for "MetroPulse," "Maryville-Alcoa Daily Times" and "Some" monthly. She has taught writing at North Carolina State University and the University of Tennessee. Spirko holds a Master of Arts from the Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-on-Avon, England.
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