Saturday, December 01, 2007

Science projects.

I have a love/hate relationship with the month of December. I love it because it's cold outside and you can get peppermint shakes at McDonald's. I love it because it's about the only time of year, aside from camping, when an adult can drink hot cocoa without looking silly (especially if you douse your cocoa with Bailey' I wish I was the drinking kind). What else do I like about December? I like buying books and goodies for the kids.

But, strangely, the science fair is a real knuckler for me. I love it (because, it's neat to watch a kid build an experiment using the scientific method and it's fun to see them "get" a principle or make use of a data set). I hate it, however, because it always seems contrived. When I think of science, I think it should be a very natural state of being (especially in childhood). The scientific method is important, and we should teach it, but...I'm just not sure that mandatory participation in a science fair is the best method of applying that knowledge. I don't like that you have a teacher who will basically stand-up and say, "Ok. GO! Think of a question. Form a hypothesis. And, here's the list of six hundred things you're not allowed to do. " And, once the month is gone, the project is forgotten and it seems like the scientific method gets shelved. I could be wrong. But, that's my perception.

That said - Jake's experiment is starting to freak me out (and it stinks!!). He prepped his own agar/petri dishes and took swabs from various places in two kitchens. He wanted to see if cleaning every day resulted in fewer bacterial colonies than cleaning every other day. He was really tight on his methodology - it's pretty impressive. He even brainstormed a way to make his own incubator and it's held a constant 90-94 degree temp. So...he's learned a ton of stuff, on his own, by doing this project.

Alexis has been doing water quality testing from various sources and she's learning a good deal about water safety and potable standards. But, her and I always get into a squall the night before the "board" (which I think is pretty lame..why not just have them prepare a report?) is made. Because, it is then that my type-A daughter takes for. ever. to get the board done. This year, I have already told her that she knows where everything is and I won't be cutting out letter or glue-sticking anything. ;)

I don't know...I think what bothers me is the thought process that, since the sci fair is once a year, it's the only time you have to apply the scientific method. That makes me very sad.


Maggie Rosethorn said...

Science projects..oh how I remember and DO NOT miss them. Although I have to admit, the projects your kids are doing are far cooler than anything mine ever did. Let us know how the fair goes!

Perpetual Beginner said...

Heh. My husband has been a science fair judge in several different states for about two decades. He always comes back with the most interesting tales. Some of the projects are really impressive - others, not so much. My favorites, unfortunately are usually the duds - or occassionally the near misses.

The most entertaining "hit" was a child who put together a petition requesting the ban of oxygen dihydride in his town, based on contamination in all the town wells, and at least a dozen deaths in the last decade attributable directly to oxygen dihydride. He got a whole slew of people, including the principal and at least three members of the school board to sign - plus, most alarmingly, a science teacher.

Misses included things like rainbows from technicolor raindrops, and iron content in the soil rising as one moved up a mountain (that just coincidentally had an iron mine at the head of the road).

Margaret said...

Science Fair projects! Yuck! We never had any science in grade school when I was a kid (1960's) and none of had any idea about experiments or the scientific method, but one year (7th or 8th grade, I think), our idiot teacher suddenly demanded that each of us do a science fair project. I got a book on science fair projects out of the public library and copied one of the "projects" -- no experimentation at all, not really even science, just technology. Neither I nor the teacher knew the difference (and neither did the authors of the book).

Margaret said...

"none of had" --> "none of us had"

When will I learn to proofread?

Chakolate said...

I'd forgotten about science projects, but it sounds very much like doing any sort of research. The fun part and the learning part go by quickly, then you have to write up your research and present it. That part just sucks, no matter what.

Betsy said...

Perpetual beginner - as in water?! yikes!

PMomma, will you post the results of the kitchen experiement?

Anonymous said...

PMomma, will you post the results of the kitchen experiement?

I will. He already grew out the cultures and counted them. His hypothesis was wrong, but that's part of the process. He's researching a question he developed after observing and recording his data. :)