I have a fondness for fairs — especially a good science fair. I loved them as a student, and I love them now! There’s something about all that genius in one room that invigorates my senses! I’m not much of a physicist, so life science projects float my boat, but a good model is always an eye-catcher. Even if it is made of cardboard toilet paper rolls and scotch tape. Recently, two of the younger folks at our house participated in their respected school’s science fairs. Here’s my little muse about the results.
I don’t know about yours, but my kids are kinda the last-minute-mom-it’s-due-tomorrow students. Many a times I am running to the 24 hour Wal-Mart in search of bristle board! So, I have a book called “Help! My Science Project is Due Tomorrow” for just such an occasion. It is great for some simple, yet thought-provoking projects for the kids. This and Pinterest are my best friends. The youngest, strong-willed one, decided she was doing a project on Chromatography. She liked the fact that she could play with markers and colour. Chromatography is “…the separation of parts of a mixture…” in its simplest terms, and this particular fun project is to see what colours are separated out of single coloured markers. She decided to tackle her discoveries with a friend and the results were super! The write up was complete; now to put together the display board. Did I mention she was the strong-willed one? Those glue stick wielding kids slapped those print outs on the board so fast they forgot to pay attention to the scientific order of such project. *sigh* My “slightly-controlling-freak-out-science-fair-project-junkie-self” took over for just a moment but — I smiled — breathed — and suggested we carefully peel off the print outs and start again. Maybe with some pretty coloured matting this time?! And a title!? Her grade level doesn’t move on at her school, but her and her partner proudly displayed their (slightly gluey) board in the gym and nobly collected their participation ribbons.
Her slightly quieter and more methodical older brother, proceeded to complete his project at a friend’s house with ne’er a notice to his science fair loving mom. The nerve! They completed a wonderful prototype model of a Concussion Measuring Helmet. (Coming soon for a $499.99 price tag). Did I mention he’s into sports?! His school chose to organize their fair under the premise of “product pitches”. Despite the fact that they had no parental influences, I am pleased to say that the two sports buddies were asked to display their project at a local university’s “Innovation Science Fair for Young Inventors”. My son pleaded with his mom not to go. Ahem.
One of the super things I love about science — especially kids and students doing science — is it is just magical enough to ignite that love of learning. Why are erupting volcanoes so popular at science fairs? Duh… it’s because volcanoes EXPLODE and you get to make a huge mess in your mom’s kitchen because it is “for school”. It’s hands on and it’s investigative and bonus: it teaches you something! What could be cooler than that?! Another thing about the great discipline of science in our world is that it is so diverse. We have life science, engineering, micro, macro, space, technology, math… and the list goes on. Just about any topic you choose can somehow be related back to science. One of the top projects at our school this year was about bananas. Bananas! Did you know there are a variety of ways to store different types of bananas?! This is science fair at its greatest, my friends!
Besides the spark of ingenuity and diversity of the great competition, science fairs often spark connections. Parents often work together with their children on projects. As much as I have heard complaints of “that so and so parent did that child’s project” (which I certainly don’t condone!) it is usually a project that needs to be completed with some guidance and over time at home. A perfect excuse to be involved in your child’s education! These connections sometimes put children on a career path that they may never have thought of before doing their research. Could a visit from a real scientist encourage a child to become the next great surgeon or astronaut? Could they be the one to embark on an epic journey or discover a new cure for the world at large? Absolutely. Even if they are not the next Albert Einstein, some kids will become part of a great team of professionals and bring their expertise to their work. I love how the Bible’s description of Ezra’s journey in Ezra chapter 8 includes “learned men“. This was an epic journey to fulfill a religious duty, and yet Ezra brings learned men (I am sure a scientist or two!) to round out the collection of priests, musicians, scribes etc. Even the Magi of the Christmas story were astronomers! Despite our backgrounds and diverse beliefs, science often rounds out our discussions and strengthens our faith through discovery and collaboration.
Alas, maybe you are not like me. Maybe you dread the science fair and all it brings. No worries, my dearest reader, here are five fun resources to make connections with, to learn from, and to make your next science fair project the best one ever! (oh… but don’t forget to use pretty matting and put it in the right order!)
- Your local library or college/university fair. These are great places to start. Visit a competition and see what makes the grade and impresses the judges. Find books — there are a tonne out there– that give you step by step instructions on completing a great project!
- Television. Call me old school, but I love Bill Nye the Science Guy. Cable Channels like Discovery have shows like Myth Busters and Shark Week. Our local Public Broadcasting System (PBS) have great shows that spark imagination in kids. Talk and news specials too. Just remember to watch with your kids. Make appropriate connections.
- Professionals. Do you know a doctor, astronaut, engineer? Take a kid to work day may be a great option. Ask the teacher! They know! Get those high schoolers ready for the real world and workplaces. Participate in a live project!
- Charities. I love Scientists in School. Often they are the first exposure to a real scientist that kids have. Their workshops provide lots of resources to ignite that creativity in the little ones! Edutopia also seems like a really great resource in collaboration with the George Lucas Educational Foundation… and who knows science better than the Star Wars guy?!
- The great internet! I would have loved access to the internet back in the days when I had to create my projects. Homeschooling moms, true scientists, educators and authors have lots to share on Pinterest and other places. Don’t worry, your kids already have googled ” super gross experiments” and have their top 5 list for you. Word to the wise though… filter filter filter!