Thursday, March 11, 2010

Fun at the Fair. An American Tradition

Around this time of year us "American" parents are plagued involved with their children's Science Fair. The idea is that the children pick a science-based topic and then put together a presentation, demonstration, or experiement to share with everyone else on the planet at school. My teens both did it and their projects ran the gamut from fingerprints, and rainbows, to how a violin works. At our school it is completely voluntary, and indeed, some kids don't participate. They don't get "extra marks" for it or any other accolades so - no pressure. Except someone needs to tell the parents.

The Science teachers sent our the annual memo gently explaining that this is a KIDS' PROJECT, ie. parents, leave them alone to do their own bloody science project. Every year we get at least one project that has blatantly not had an ounce of child participation. For starters, the child is nowhere to be seen at the booth, or can't explain a thing about it to anyone interested, because it wasn't their idea and they played no part in its development. Last year it was a ten foot papier mache mammoth tusk, reinforced on the inside with chicken wire. The children responsible for this museum-quality exhibit were 6 and 8. This year we had the entire solar system hanging from a coat-hanger creation. Each planet was in perfect proportion to the sun, and circumnavigated another planet, sun or star as it was supposed to. SOme of the planets looked lilke they were illuminated from the inside but I might have been imaginging that in my fury. The child involved couldn't even  name the planets let alone impart any information about them.

Anyhoo, since the age gap between the Little Guy and his sibs is rather large, it's been a while since I've had to do been involved in a Science Fair. I spent weeks trying to persuade him that at 6, perhaps he was a bit too young, but in vain. His chosen topic was amphibians and let me tell you, there's quite a lot you can do on amphibians. (Frogs and toads are amphibians. "Amphibian" means double life. They start off in water, with gills, and then come onto land and breathe through lungs.)

Poor kid didn't realise quite what he'd taken on with a mother who was determined he do 99% of it. I made sure he understood all about them and chose the bits of information to go up on the board. He typed everything himself (which took about three consecutive days), glued on most of the bits and pieces, and even made clay models. (See below). Since they were doing an in-class presentation the next day, I also made sure that he could talk intelligently about his topic.

My, did I create a monster. He knew his topic inside out and gave everyone who even looked in our direction a five minnute talk about the three groups of amphibians, complete with plastic ruler as a pointer and introductory phrases such as "Well, you may not know that...", and "Of course not all amphibians....".
At one point he turned to me and said "This is great" and I know he wasn't talking about the science part. There's a reason we call him Broadway Joe in our house.

This is him telling one of the science teachers all about poison dart frogs, complete with plastic ruler for emphasis. (They sweat poison when they get scared and they get their name because Native American hunters used to put the poison on the end of their spears and darts.)

The Display is called "Amphibians - Double Agents", by the way. Always a touch of drama.

These are the models made from non-hardening clay. We probably should have used-hardening clay because the legs fell off the frog (scary looking yellow thing in the middle) if you so much as touched it.

I'm going to start whispering in his ear at night, in a bid to get out of it next year. Bad mother!



  1. Sorry about the speeling mistakes in the middle but I can't be bothered to take the post down, correct it and re-post. I assumed they didn't get in the way of the general meaning.

  2. Wow! He did a great job. Mind you, I can REALLY sympathise with the amount of work involved for you and the fact that it probably took over the entire life of your household during the prep time!

  3. I am so impressed. I haven't heard any noise about a science fair at the British School. Thank god.

  4. I am very impressed, his display looks wonderful and his knowledge sounds most impressive. Having met him and been kept entertained, I can well imagine he was a little chatty star of the show!

  5. The Science Fair folder has just come home with all the deadlines and contracts. Last year I pleaded complete ignorance, stamped my foot and declared that, as I wasn't American, hadn't attended American school, there was absolutely no way could I help. Amazingly it worked and I got out of it. I've applied the same technique this year.

    That is a very cool amphibian project, we may have to use that next year.

  6. Those models are outstanding. I think we SHOULD have something similar in the UK. No 1 Son goes to a school where they still teach the separate sciences, but I know so many that don't and I think it's a shame.

    Broadway Joe - I love it!

  7. Wow, he's amazing. And he did most of it himself - so much better than the solar system lit up from inside.

    Broadway Joe, brilliant!

  8. Lorna - hmmm. Why didn't I think of that? Oh wait, I've been here too long now.
    Liz - don't wish it on yourself, it's a lot of work. At least at our school though it's very low key and voluntary. Some of my friends are up till the wee hours getting their display boards together.

    The funny thing is it came home from school yesterday and was immediately stripped, covered in red, white and blue fabric and turned into the Queenager's photographic display.

  9. This is amazing, I really hope he'll be interested in doing this next year as well. I am a scientist, so I may be a bit biased... I met many college students who are not that good and happy about presenting their knowledge.

    As for the perfectionists, maybe the parents who do the projects for their children feel like they missed out on it when they were little ? I'd have a hard time not "taking over" (I do not have children yet), but your approach to it works great.

  10. Their school has them presenting from a very early age so they're pretty comfortable with it. This kid however, has to be reined in a bit. No idea where he gets it from!!!

  11. That is too cute. I've never experienced a science fair, didn't have them when I was in school. We do have a school Summer Fete here and there is always a competition such as a medievel mask or something or other ... and I have to say the parents are just as involved!

  12. On a different subject, has something happened to Pond Parleys or is it just my computer playing up? I just get a blank page when I click on it. Don't think I've changed any settings or anything...

  13. No - I just got to it from here and from a Google search.

  14. He did a great job, right now I'm helping my little brother put together his science project and you've given me some great ideas ;) thanks!

  15. Nope, PP still doesn't work for me. Weird. I'll have to investigate my settings and try from the gym computer.

  16. AS a scientist I say awesome, and I love your son's project. Pre kids I used to judge a local middle school fair and I would have given him lots of points!

    It will be so hard for me not to interfere with my own kids when they get to this age, so thanks for the warning! I totally love this stuff. I can kind of relate to the parent who made the solar system model,she or he probably just got too excited!

    Maybe we need adult hobbyist science fairs for parents like me to express our geekiness?!

  17. This was such an awesome (and amusing post!).

    I grew up in Singapore and went to a British school (and then American school later on); and these science fair projects definitely bring back memories slaving away at styrofoam models.

    Anyhow- I'm now in Beijing and was looking up some blogs about expat life. I'm looking forward to reading more about expat life in the US!

  18. Love it. Can't wait to see more.


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