Well, the school science fair looms (as school science fairs are wont to do). While the actual event isn’t until May, we have reached the point at which the science teacher is vetting the proposed projects.
Presumably the vetting is to ensure that the kids are directing their efforts toward a project that is actually do-able in the available time, and that it’s focused on a question that is “scientific” rather than a matter of opinion.
A friend on the elder Free-Ride offspring’s soccer team had a project idea rejected because it fell in the realm of opinion. I asked, “What was the project?”
The teammate replied, “I don’t really remember.”
Since the idea for the project had been rejected by the science teacher that very day, my sense is that the teammate was not terribly attached to that project.
Undoubtedly, the late-March vetting is also intended to remind the kids that there’s a science fair in May, and that, at least for the upper grades, they are on the hook to produce a project. Maybe this minimizes the number of night-before-the-fair projects.
Interestingly, the kids have been asked by the science teacher to present the questions they will try to answer with their projects orally, rather than in writing. Pedagogically, I haven’t sorted out what I think about this. On the one hand, a fourth grader’s extemporaneous speech can be pretty rambling and unfocused — plus, the idea of “preparing” for an oral report is a hard sell. (“I just have to talk! I don’t need to write anything down ahead of time.”)
On the other hand, it may be harder to tell from pieces of paper with science fair project questions written on them how much the kid understands and how much may be coming from a parent or other science advisor. The feedback you can give on written questions is delayed, and it’s generally delivered in the form of written comments that may not be read, let alone understood. If a kid is telling you about his or her science fair question orally, you can ask for clarification right then and there, not to mention offering ways to refine or broaden the question (depending on whether it’s too broad or too narrow to start with).
Then again, the kid has to be paying attention to benefit from your immediate orally delivered feedback.
I’m not sure just what the build-up to developing their science fair questions has been. I do know that somehow the elder Free-Ride offspring has been left with the impression that every good experiment includes a beaker labeled “control”.
Naturally, I asked, “What’s supposed to be in that beaker?”
The elder Free-Ride offspring responded, “I don’t know!”
“Hmmm,” I ventured, “do you think maybe you should hold off on drawing that beaker in your own project plan until you can explain what variable it’s controlling for?”
Thankfully, given the relatively scant time remaining, neither of them wants to do anything that involves growing plants (at least, not this year).
The elder Free-Ride offspring wants to grow some crystals, and so is proposing a project to examine why you can grow crystals from some solids that dissolve in water but not others.
The younger Free-Ride offspring wants to follow up on our initial attempt to dissolve an avocado. This may end up involving figuring out a way to separate different avocado components and then trying to find solubility conditions for each of the components.
I am optimistic that there is not too much overlap between the actual projects, but that they share enough relevant background (on solubility properties and phases of matter) that maybe the home chemistry tutorials can do double-duty.
Of course, we will keep you updated.