Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Protect us from science fair

It's that time of year again: Science Fair time. I remember my consternation when I discovered, when Mad Scientist was in 7th grade and had to do his first science fair project, that science fair is a yearly event, starting in 7th grade and lasting through 12th, and that all four of my children would have to participate. That's twenty-four science fair projects, folks. These are the things you don't think about when you're young and want lots of babies.

The completed project is due in January, or possibly February, but now is the time that the children declare their project and fill out the necessary forms. Miss G, who is in 7th grade, needed more security clearance for her science fair project, than she did to get her US passport. Safety is, of course, a big concern. We don't want our budding scientist to build a particle accelerator that will accelerate his personal particles, or his family's, or possibly his next-door neighbor's, into oblivion. Miss G's forms were particularly focused experimentation on humans or "other vertebrates." Apparently, it is acceptable to torture frogs and other non-vertebrates. Actually, I think the species most likely to suffer torture from the science fair are parents, but there is no special form to protect us.

I know, some parents lovingly help their children create electric dog food dispensers or teach mice to blow on a tiny flute in response to a fluttering red ribbon or whatever. And there's nothing wrong with that. If you are that type of parent, fair play to you and no hard feelings. I, (obviously) am not that sort of parent.

Except for once, when Drama Queen was in 2nd grade and had a teacher who was fond of projects. For the first project, on Egypt, Drama Queen sculpted a replica of the Sphinx from paper clay. It was a good effort, for a seven year old, and she did it all by herself. I helped her bring the Sphinx into school on the day it was due, and saw an array of parent-made projects--I swear there was a freaking life-sized replica of King Tut's tomb. DQ's little Sphinx made a poor showing, and the teacher was enthusiastically gushing over all the projects that the parents had done and ignored DQ's. This led to the awkward (for the teacher) incident in which the principal came to survey the projects and witnessed DQ quietly sneak out of her chair and steal her project from the table and sneak it to the cloakroom where she hid it in her backpack. Apparently, the teacher may have been reprimmanded for not noticing DQ's actions. At least that's what was implied later when I was told about the incident at a "child study" meeting involving the teacher, principal, a social worker and child psychologist because the teacher was concerned about DQ's self-esteem.

Anyway, the second project came along, this one on China. I had decided that if this teacher wanted a parent-made project, she was going to get a parent-made project. DQ's topic was silk worms. At the best fine fabrics shop in town, I bought traditional Chinese silk and a silk of narrow pink & white stripes. From the Chinese silk, I made a doll-sized traditional Chinese native costume. From the striped silk, I made a doll-sized replica regency gown, with train and hand embroidery--this to represent the historical era in which Americans were importing silk from China. I lent DQ my antique dolls to model the clothes and set up a miniature loom in order to demonstrate the weaving process. We brought all these things to school and the teacher went ga-ga over it. At a later conference, she mentioned how great "her"--meaning Drama Queen's-- China project had been. I would have been happier if she'd told me she was disappointed that Drama Queen hadn't made a project by herself, as she had when they'd studied Egypt.

Since then, we've had teachers who do insist that children do their own work on projects. There have even been a few--may they be canonized--who set aside class time for project completion so the parents need never be involved at all.

So the silk project was the only time I was ever a successful parent project facilitator. Well, there was the time I took pity on Mad Scientist and helped him recreate a model of an animal cell. I thought I was so clever for using clear jello for the protoplasm, and blue jello for the nucleus and strips of gum for the endoplastic reticulum, only I was sadly unaware of the ban on food in projects and mice got into the classroom and ate Mad Scientist's cell and the teacher was not impressed at all.

Where was I? Right, Science Fair. With Mad Scientist in college, and Drama Queen in 10th grade, I now have just fifteen Science Fair projects to go.


  1. This is where my eyes bug out.

    We had science fair projects in elementary, but not after. I think I had to participate from fourth through sixth. We had an optional media fair during another time of the year, but I wasn't into that.

    Of course, I went to a little podunk country school in Indiana, so maybe that's the difference.

  2. "Actually, I think the species most likely to suffer torture from the science fair are parents, but there is no special form to protect us."

    Awesome. And amen, sister.

    My oldest is in 7th grade and we have yet to do a "science fair". He did have to make a Rube Goldberg machine in 5th grade. His was made out of tinker toys, matchbox car track and some other odds and ends he found around the house. When we took it to display at the school that night, there were all manner of mechanical contraptions with switches and gears, many of which obviously involved the use of power tools and parental "involvement". My son's teacher made a special point of saying how impressed he was with the simplicity of my son's design. I appreciated that.

    P.S. Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. I feel thankful right now that my kids go to a school that doesn't do a lot of projects. Poor little girl.

  4. Angst has been doing an in depth study of Mentos in soda for the past three years worth of science fairs. I'm so proud. At least I haven't had to do anything.