We HATE science fair! Except for when we love it.

Mabel stayed up until midnight tonight working on her science fair exhibit board, and it’s all-but-finished–she just has a couple of things left to glue on in class tomorrow. I think she must have shouted “I HATE science fair” at least ten times this evening, and possibly torn out some of her hair, too. And now she’s done, and she’s thrilled and exultant. She told Dean and me, “Thank you SO MUCH for your help! I can’t complain about chores for at least a week, since you’ll remind me how much you helped me with this!” (I said, “But otherwise you could complain?”)

Isaac’s 5th and 6th grade science fair projects were very cool, but he wasn’t nearly as fastidious about how his display boards looked. I think Mabel’s looks like it could have been made by a high school senior.

Every year at science fair we see kids who clearly didn’t have as much parental help, and it always seems so unfair that they might have just as much aptitude for science, but for whatever reason, their parents couldn’t help them as much, so they can’t compete with the kids whose tormented-but-loving parents managed to find hours to help them. Dean is the designated science fair parent in our family (designated by me, which I think is reasonable since he’s the chemical engineer in the family) but this year for the display board we also called on some of the skills I’ve acquired in blogging, including finding and installing free fonts, and modifying images. It was fun that one of my favorite distractions turned out to be unexpectedly useful.

Another thing that’s unfair about science fair (science unfair?) is that the parental judging can be so subjective–or in other words, wrong. Dean’s told me before, “My colleagues–anyone who knows science–would never have chosen some of those winners.” But since it’s not exactly convenient to attend the district-level competition (the kids have to go to the next town over, spend the afternoon, come home for dinner, and then go back for a very long evening) I have mixed feelings about my kid’s project winning. At several points in the last weeks, we’ve thought Mabel’s project wouldn’t get good results and wouldn’t have a chance of winning, and I wasn’t sad about that. But in the end she got interesting results, and now that she’s put in so much work, and her board is so pretty, I have to admit that I think she’ll do well in the competition–and I want her to. But then I’ll be annoyed when we have to attend the district competition. I guess that’s what you call a win/win scenario, right? Or is it lose/lose? No–I guess it’s win/lose, lose/win.

[Here is where I would put some photos and descriptions of Mabel’s project, except for that I’ve already stayed up too late. Blogging is not unlike science (or any other pursuit) in that it takes longer than you think it will.]

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9 Responses to We HATE science fair! Except for when we love it.

  1. Mrs. Organic says:

    Please, please tell me you found a way to put the bunnies on her board.

  2. Jillybean says:

    You just made me realize that we switched schools just in time for our son to miss out on the 4th grade science fair.
    Our new school doesn’t have one yet :0)

    What was her project?

  3. Once I was appointed a judge at an elementary school science fair. I was nearly run out on a rail because I voted for all those projects that looked as though the kids had done the science and the boards by themselves. I also own the distinct honor of having my written request for a science fair wavier framed and hung in the science hallway at our local high school. I opined that as our family had collectively already participated in over 40 science fairs, that we had done our due diligence and ought to be able to forgo yet another foray into insanity. I further said that as we were still chasing down the cricket relations of last year’s project in our basement that we technically were still involved in last year’s research and didn’t have the room nor the time to begin another project. I made a long list of all the scientific garbage, er, gadgets we’d acquired over the years. It’s a pretty impressive list. Most of them are now donated to our local high school, though I kept the soil ph kits and the grow lamps. Our very last gasp project related to batteries and temperature storage which required buying about ten special thermometers. I kept nagging Roland about his data collection and progress on his project during his senior year of high school. Recently while dejunking his bedroom I turned up his “A” project, which consisted of his having altered his brother’s gas mileage project from years earlier. Sigh. Did I say I hated science projects? I have been very careful as each grandchild was born to inform my children that grandparenthood does not include help with science projects!

    Zina, in Virginia it is worth going to the regional fairs, if you are selected. Money accompanies the winning ribbons at our regional fairs. They attract all kind of serious (and not so serious) head-hunters looking to find interns and future employees. Rose-Ellen won $50 (yeah, big deal) from the ADA for her investigation of popular water purification devices (the kind you put charcoal filters in and put in your fridge) to see if fluoride was removed from the water in the process. Now, this wouldn’t be a good project in Utah, because you don’t have fluoride in the water. Rose-Ellen was ahead of the curve on this research because it was only a few years ago that I found Dannon water offering fluoride in their kids’ half-pint bottled water. Yes, we did own a special gadget for testing fluoride concentration AND we paid big bucks to send her samples away for testing as backup. If only the ADA had paid for that!

    Rose-Ellen also got sent to State once for a project (stupid project) that involved hours and hours and hours of observation and miles and miles and miles in a car driven by ME to go and watch parrots who were self-plucking. She (and her partner) had to record every single move of that stupid parrot in hours long sessions over the course of several months. Why do the boring projects attract so much attention? Our local public school winners always get thrown under a bus by the local science focus high school (Thomas Jefferson in Alexandria). They assign mentors to each pair of participants who are then shipped off to NIH and the NSF and NASA and other hoity-toity labs where they do real research that ends up in the pages of Science and gets them real scholarships to Harvard and Yale and MIT. Our kids don’t stand a chance! Did I mention I hate science projects?

    • zstitches says:

      Ha, yes, I think you did mention hating science fair. Thank goodness here my kids are only required to participate in 5th & 6th grade. The idea of recycling a project after a few years is VERY tempting. I think being a judge would be very hard. In our elementary school fair the parents are allowed to help as long as the kid really understands the science and chooses the project, etc., so it wouldn’t really be fair to exclude the projects that had lots of parental help–but again, that does make it less fair (in much the same way that most of life isn’t fair).

      Our regional fair is lots of fun–the kids get a day off of school and don’t have to make up their school work, and there are cash prizes (although the amount’s gone down in the past couple of years). And since it’s during a school day it doesn’t take an evening away from the family. It’s the intermediate district fair that I loathe.

      • Actually, one of our big state winners year after year was a boy who did a mulching project over the course of six or seven years using his back yard as a lab–a recycled project about recycling. He won some serious money and scholarships. If I could start parenthood over I would choose a big family-type project that would last years, and could involve all the kids at whatever grade level they were at.

        Our local high school had a parent so involved in his son’s research that they built a huge wind tunnel in their basement. The son went on to develop a little piece of metal that tops the end of wings of planes and made a fortune from his patents. And yes, he did win a few science fairs along the way.

        I have also noticed and been told by judges that the Eco-friendly projects, and the math and computer projects draw the most attention and the most prizes. Just FYI.

  4. Mabel, if you have to stand by your board and explain your research, you should probably find the online source that tells you how you should stand, dress, do your hair, and (really!) match your fingernail polish to your board. There has been real SCIENCE done on winning science fairs. Check it out. Wish I could give you the link, but it’s been too many years . . . .

    Aunt Ginger

  5. the MomB says:

    Ha ha! I also acted as a science fair judge–for maybe three years as I recall–at a local elementary school, and I’m pretty sure that some of the kids with good research but “odd” presentations got their only vote from me. But I kept getting asked to judge.

    I’m embarrassed that I can’t remember which of–or whether–my kids did science fair projects. I have a vague memory of a couple of posters, maybe one with rain?

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