Thursday, March 20, 2008

Science Fair

I have come to the conclusion that the school science fair project is a new torture device, intended to punish parents for sending their kids to school all year long to annoy the teachers.

When I was in school, the science fair was never mandatory. I participated one year, in middle school, for the extra credit points for my flagging science grade. It was a pathetic attempt, with virtually no display, and a poorly thought out project done in a rush the night before the fair. I had no help at all (my mother was not the help-with-homework type), and while it was obvious some kids did, it wasn't the norm. My project was on growing crystals. There were several projects on growing plants with different fertilizers/liquids/sounds/etc., projects on building bridges out of wood, projects on the amount of insulation required to drop an egg and not break it, projects on changing the colors of carnations with colored water, and other similar, simple experiments. Elementary school has changed a lot in 20 years.

First of all, for grades 3, 4, and 5, science fair participation is mandatory. It's encouraged for K-2. Second, and most alarmingly, the packet my daughter brought home explaining the rules and restrictions had the line "While genetic experiments are allowed, experimenting on live humans is against the rules." How many 4th graders do you know that are out splicing genes? I mentioned this to a co-worker, who informed me there were quite a few. The elementary school her children went to, an "ABC" school held to a much higher academic standard than your typical public school, had demonstrations at this level, starting in 2nd grade science class. WTF? I think we have officially reached the point where we are forcing entirely too much pressure on our kids. Maybe it's just me, but it scares the hell out of me knowing there are 7 year olds who know more about genetic engineering than most adults.

Anyway, her school wasn't quite so bad. Most of the experiments there were at the levels I remember from middle school. A lot of the projects were hand-written, which I thought was interesting. I honestly figured they would all be typed. Princess's project turned out really well, I think, but we shall see what the judges have to say Friday afternoon. (That would be my other big complaint - it takes 3 whole days to grade them? Is there just one person doing it, or are all the teachers participating? I'm not a teacher though, so I have no idea what all is involved in the grading, and I am probably the most impatient person I know, so teachers, please don't hate me for that comment!) I''ll update as soon as I have her grade. And, if I can ever figure out how to put in links and pictures, I'll show you what she did.

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