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Assignment Sheet Human Needs Project

To insure the safety of students and other people they may be working with, many fairs require pre-approval of projects involving the interviewing, surveying, or physical testing of other people.

The following summary is intended as a guide to help you determine whether your intended project involving human subjects would be subject to such pre-approval when participating in a fair that follows the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) rules. Often school science fairs and fairs for the primary grades or middle school rely on the teacher's judgment to insure safety, so their rules might be different. For complete information, consult the rules for your local fair, or the ISEF Rules and Guidelines.

Projects Not Requiring Pre-approval

ISEF rules give the following examples of projects that do not require pre-approval:

  • Product testing of engineering projects or inventions (NO health hazard, NO personal data collected, and all feedback is in direct reference to the product) do NOT require SRC review, but it is recommended that a Risk Assessment Form be completed
  • Data/record review studies (e.g., baseball statistics, crime statistics) in which the data are taken from pre-existing data sets that are publicly available or published and there is no extra data taken from new individuals
  • Behavioral observations of unrestricted, public settings (e.g., shopping mall, public park) in which all of the following apply:
    • The researcher has no interaction with the individuals being observed,
    • The researcher does not manipulate the environment in any way and
    • The researcher does not record any personally identifiable data.
  • Data that has been collected by a health professional and given to a student to use in which all of these restrictions apply:
    • The original data was collected and shared in a manner that complies with all a federal privacy and HIPPA laws
    • The data is devoid of any information that would identify the people the data is based on. All information has been de-identified and rendered anonymous.

Projects Requiring Pre-Approval

For studies involving human subjects (including interviews and surveys), the ISEF rules state that your project must be reviewed and approved by officials from your fair before you start. These officials are called an Institutional Review Board (IRB). The rules also state that you must obtain written permission from each of your human subjects before you test or interview them. This permission is called informed consent.

Waiver of Informed Consent

The IRB may wave the informed consent requirement if the project involves only minimal risk, anonymous data collection, and falls into one of these categories:

  1. Research involving normal educational practices.
  2. 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.
  3. Surveys and questionnaires that are determined by the IRB 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.
  4. Studies involving physical activity where the IRB 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.

What to Do About Informed Consent When Using Data from Previous Studies

For some studies involving human subjects, a student may work with data from human subjects that was collected previously. These projects do not involve any interaction with human subjects by the student or data collection from human subjects. These types of studies fall into three categories (1–3, below), with separate rules for each category (Science Service, 2006).

  1. If the data are not de-identified/anonymous (e.g., a data set that includes patient name, birth date, phone number, or other identifying variables; student gathers data from patient files that include identifiers), the project is considered a human subject project. The project requires IRB review and pre-approval. The student researcher and adult mentors need to be familiar with the relevant privacy laws and be sure to comply with them.
  2. If the data are in a de-identified/anonymous format, the project does not require IRB pre-approval, but the project must comply with BOTH conditions below:
    1. The professional providing the data must certify in writing that the data have been appropriately de-identified and are in compliance with all privacy laws, including HIPAA.
    2. During the final Scientific Review Committee (SRC) review and approval process before the fair, the SRC must ensure that the data were appropriately de-identified by review of the written documentation provided by the supervising professional.
  3. If the data are publicly available (i.e., in print, or electronic or internet format) the project does not require IRB review or approval. Examples of such projects include examination of statistics from sports teams or individual athletes, or crime statistics.

Informed Consent from Minors

For all other experiments involving human subjects, informed consent is required in writing from each participant. For studies involving children (minors) as subjects, informed consent must be obtained from both the child and the child's parent/guardian. See the ISEF Rules and Guidelines for a discussion of the forms required to obtain pre-approval for your project.

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In this lesson, students watch video clips of animals and plants in their natural environment, to gather evidence that all living things have basic needs that must be met in order to survive. Then, to illustrate their understanding of this concept, students draw pictures of real or imaginary pets eating, drinking, breathing, and taking shelter (from the elements or from other animals).


  • Understand that in order to survive, animals need air, water, food, and shelter, and plants need air, water, nutrients, and light
  • Identify the ways in which an organism's habitat supports its basic needs
  • Recognize that organisms cause changes to the environment in which they live

Grade Level: K-2, 3-5

This lesson is appropriate for students in all elementary grades. Activities, multimedia resources, and materials for students in grades 3-5 are specially designated.

Suggested Time

  • Three 30- to 40-minute blocks

Multimedia Resources

For students in grades 3-5:

Use these resources to create a simple assessment or video-based assignment with the Lesson Builder tool on PBS LearningMedia.


  • Plain white paper, Crayons or markers

For students in grades 3-5:

Before the Lesson

For students in grades 3-5:

  • Make a copy of the handout for each student.

Background Information

In order to survive, animals need air, water, food, and shelter (protection from predators and the environment); plants need air, water, nutrients, and light. Every organism has its own way of making sure its basic needs are met. It is important that young children be given the opportunity to recognize these needs by observing and then describing the natural world.

The Lesson

Part I

1. Have students brainstorm answers to the following questions:

  • What do living things need to stay alive?
  • What do you need? What do your pets need?
  • What do plants need?

Record students' answers on easel paper or on the chalkboard.

2. Show students the What Do Animals Eat? video. Ask:

  • Why do animals need to eat?
  • What kinds of things do they eat?
  • Do all living things eat?
  • Do plants eat?

Explain that animals need to eat for energy; plants don't eat but they still need energy. Ask:

  • "Where do plants get energy?

3. Have students watch the Beavers video. For students in grades K-2, alert them to look for things that beavers need to stay alive.

For students in grades 3-5, distribute a copy of the handout. Have students record the needs of the beavers as they watch the clip.

4. Discuss the following questions:

  • What do beavers need to stay alive?
  • Where do they get what they need?
  • What changes do beavers make to their environment?
  • How do the beaver's activities help other organisms living in the same environment?

Part II

5. Have students in grades K-2 watch the Biome in a Baggie video. Tell them to look for things that plants need to stay alive.

Have students in grades 3-5 watch the Photosynthesis video. Then have them answer the two related questions on the handout. Encourage them to watch the video multiple times.

6. Discuss the following questions:

  • What do plants need to stay alive?
  • Where does their food (energy source) come from?
  • How do plants absorb water?
  • What things do plants need that animals don't?
  • What things do animals need that plants don't?
  • How do you know plants are living things?

7. End this part of the lesson by asking students whether they want to make any changes to the list of basic needs compiled at the start of the lesson (in Step 1).

Optional Activity for Students in Grades 3-5

8. Both plants and animals need air. To help students understand that plants need carbon dioxide (a gas that animals exhale) and that animals need oxygen (a gas that plants produce), have students explore "The Cycle" feature within the Illuminating Photosynthesis Web activity. Focus on the gases plants and animals need, not on understanding the process of photosynthesis.

Have students explore the Web activity with a partner and work together to complete the handout.

9. Distribute white paper and markers or crayons to students.

10. Review the needs of living things.

11. Have students draw a picture of a real or imaginary pet. Tell students to show their pet enjoying food, water, air, and shelter -- having all its needs met. Label the "needs" represented in the drawing.

12. Optional:

  • Discuss how the needs of beavers might come into conflict with the needs of humans, using the following scenario: What would happen if beavers built a dam across [insert the name of a nearby river or stream]? How would it impact people in your town?
  • Have students make a Biome in a Baggie as described in the ZOOMSci video clip of the same name.
  • Have students plant some seeds and record the growth of the plants under different light conditions.

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