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"Your school's science fair"
Old 02-16-2007, 12:03 PM   #1
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"Your school's science fair"

Our 9th-grader got herself into a biology class that requires entering the science fair. The teacher is a local powerhouse (conservationist, national teaching honors, selected for research trips to the Northwest Hawaiian Islands) and she drives the kids harder than anyone (including the parents) would believe achievable. There's some serious Helsinki syndrome hero worship but the teacher pours all her time and a lot of bandwidth into boosting her students into doing adult research. For example our kid regularly e-mails her on a school night and receives an answer within the hour. The teacher holds an hour of tutoring every weekday morning and leads community-service conservation field trips on weekends. Several UH profs were roped into mentoring kids who were pursuing their own interests.

Of course our kid sucks that kind of attention up like a vacuum cleaner and has put way too much effort into the class. She has scant appreciation for setting priorities or managing her time when she can spend it all on "grown-up" research and graphic arts designs.

Then she started her four-month research on growing a native plant to check its erosion-prevention & soil-cleaning abilities. We "generously" let her rip up 100 sq ft of our back hillside for planting & data-gathering. (The truth is that she's started our xeriscape for us and in a few years I'll be able to turn off the sprinklers back there.) She learned not to drop a triple-beam balance and how to repair one. She learned a lot about how to build & run a project, and she's also learned far more about "20 minutes a day". Shockingly, data analysis has a higher priority than pretty pictures.

The science fair, "only" 30 entries, was impressive. There were the usual freakin' geniuses (one sophomore devised an AI algorithm to automate mammogram screenings for tumors) but the overall local quality is impressive. One team stumbled onto a serious case of stream contamination by a horse stable that attracted local media attention. Another kid persuaded a wind-turbine company to donate $1600 of equipment, although unfortunately for them her local research convinced me not to set up a wind turbine on our property. (She crunched huge reams of data and won the fair for her analysis.) One kid correlated blood pressure to different music tempos and another compared heart rates of smoking & non-smoking teens at the local mall. (Both attracted media attention and are going to the state level.) I learned how to double the yield on our papaya crop, choose the best roofing material for our neighborhood (she's taking this project to the state science fair) and I met a 14-year-old who's forgotten more about Apple computers than I've ever learned. Our kid also found two projects that she wouldn't mind taking over for next year's chemistry science-fair project. It was probably the most profitable & educational evening I've spent in a year.

Of course the most educational part of the project was the two weeks before deadline-- sheer teen hysteria. Our kid locked herself into a mean do-loop of "just one more picture" that I had to break her out of three or four times. Finally our inkjet printer clogged and I refused tech support so she was forced to concentrate on finishing the project with what she had. There was one breakdown at the dinner table and an impressive attempt to let us parents carry her other loads, but she pulled through. She lost a couple weekends to science but she was in bed by 10 PM the night before while most of the class was up past midnight. She won "best time management". We won "most shocked parents" for our unrehearsed reaction to our kid's award. ("Mom! Dad!! Cut it out, they're taking pictures!!!") At least now we all have a positive experience to build on for next year. And even better, we don't have to prep for the state competition!

I was really surprised by how much this paid off for us local homeowners, to say nothing of the parents & kids. There's a lot of good info on building, planting, growing, health, and lifestyles. As Wab has already mentioned, if you're trying to research the local scoop or spend an enjoyable day of educational entertainment then track down your local science fair. You might even get sucked into volunteering...
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Re: "Your school's science fair"
Old 02-16-2007, 12:20 PM   #2
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Re: "Your school's science fair"

For my science fair project, I cultured bacteria from my dog's water dish.

Sounds like these kids are doing serious science. There may be hope for our future after all....
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Re: "Your school's science fair"
Old 02-16-2007, 03:17 PM   #3
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Re: "Your school's science fair"

great story. cool projects. reminds me of being a kid in school though we weren't quite so sophisticated. still, i really liked that stuff. i remember science in 2nd grade. one project was building a soap sculpture of the solar system. at our 30 year high school reunion i asked my project partner for the sculpture back but she says i'm the one who wound up with it. chicks. another 2nd or 3rd grade project, a few years before apollo 11, i did a lunar lander model & bulletin board on the project and debated my class on infinite space. aw, now i miss my nerdy days.
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Re: "Your school's science fair"
Old 02-16-2007, 03:32 PM   #4
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Re: "Your school's science fair"

My kids' elementary school starts them on science fair projects early - mandatory by 5th grade for all, madatory for certain kids in 3rd and 4th, and encouraged all the way down to kindergarten. At the younger ages, experiments are very simple but it teaches lots of great concepts. For example, in 3rd grade my son surveyed all the kids in his class to get their height and then compared average height of boys to average of girls (BTW girls are taller). We've grown plants in different types of soil, flown different shaped paper airplanes to assess how design interacts with lift, drag and thrust, etc. They learn how to hold other factors constant, learned some simple data collection and how to calculate averages, how to use basic excel, how to make simple graphs and etc.

Pulling it all together is always wild, not only with two kids printing narrative and pictures, but all the pets help by sitting in the middle of all the printed materials and messing up rearranging the layout.

By the time they get to highschool it gets very sophistocated. A friend's daughter is going to the state finals - she built an operable hovercraft!

Oh yea, starting in 6th grade we will add mandatory history fair projects as well.
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Re: "Your school's science fair"
Old 02-16-2007, 03:35 PM   #5
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Re: "Your school's science fair"

Nords,

I want to add, you have a great way of capturing and describing the flavor and experience
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Re: "Your school's science fair"
Old 02-16-2007, 03:40 PM   #6
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Re: "Your school's science fair"

Thanks for the story. We are in the midst of similar last minute anxiety with our 9th grader. Lots of small fish in tubs and tanks everywhere upstairs. Result: "My experiment needs a better design." But this is the only year where a science fair entry is required of the students.

I have judged science fairs for years. It's pretty easy when talking to the kids in front of their posters to tell the difference between self- and parent-motivation. It's fun to get the kids relaxed and learn the real story behind the poster.

BTW, all the scientific conferences that I attend have a poster session which is pretty much exactly like high school science fair, but with cash prizes delivered on the spot. I will still have to judge those ... even as emeritus after retiring.
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Re: "Your school's science fair"
Old 02-16-2007, 06:44 PM   #7
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Re: "Your school's science fair"

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sandy
I want to add, you have a great way of capturing and describing the flavor and experience
Thanks. Next year we're looking forward to History Day and adding the chemistry class to the Science Fair. Chemistry was my bachelor's-- I'm gonna show our kid what happens when you mix bleach with ammonia and a few other household products!

If the science fair had been taking donations at the exit I would've dropped a couple "what are we saving it for" Franklins on the teacher. As it is we're gonna have to figure out how to support that after our kid graduates.
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Re: "Your school's science fair"
Old 02-16-2007, 07:31 PM   #8
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Re: "Your school's science fair"

Great write up Nords.

My daughter's school never did anything like that. More's the pity.
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Re: "Your school's science fair"
Old 02-16-2007, 07:44 PM   #9
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Re: "Your school's science fair"

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nords
I'm gonna show our kid what happens when you mix bleach with ammonia and a few other household products!

Should be a blast!
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