Friday, February 13, 2009

I'm not sure what to think about this.

At Link's school, everyone in the third grade or higher is required to participate in the science fair. Link is in the third grade this year, so he had to come up with a science project. The school gave some helpful, specific instructions for the projects:

  • Come up with a question. This should be a question that can be answered with an experiment. For example: Do cookies taste better with or without salt?
  • Plan an experiment to answer your question. The above question would be easily answered by making the same recipe with and without salt and then having several people "taste-test" them without knowing which ones are which.
  • State your hypothesis. We’ve talked about how a hypothesis is an educated guess. "I think that the cookies will taste better without salt."
  • Do your experiment. It's best to do an experiment where only ONE thing is changed, so that there is a "control" for the student to compare with.
  • While doing the experiment take data. There needs to be something that can be measured.
  • Come up with a conclusion based on the results of your experiment.
Of course I very much want Link to do well in school, but I am not one of those parents who wants so badly for her child to succeed that she plans an elaborate project for him and ends up assembling an entire Volkswagen Beetle from its component parts so that her child will look like a genius. In fact, Link came up with his project all on his own. He already knew that although a balloon filled with air will pop if you hold a flame under it, a balloon filled with water will not. So his question was which would pop sooner when exposed to heat - a balloon filled with water or a balloon filled with ice?

He also planned the experiment himself. His idea was to use string to suspend an ice-filled balloon and a water-filled balloon over a pair of candles, and wait to see which one popped first. Glen helped build the, uh, suspension device, but the idea was all Link.

Link's hypothesis was that the water balloon would pop first, which it sort of did - after a while it sprang a leak at the bottom and put out the candle. The ice balloon lasted another eight minutes before breaking. We printed some pictures of the experiment, and Link wrote some text to go with the pictures, based on the guidelines supplied by the school. Then we had to make a display for him to put up at the science fair.

So here's the thing: Link is a fairly bright child, and he did the work for the project himself, but graphic design is maybe a tad beyond his abilities, and I felt like it was reasonable for us to help him create the display. (Admittedly, I may also have been influenced by the fact that by the time he had done the experiment and finished his write-up, it was 10:00 p.m. and he really needed to go to bed.) So we printed his text, mounted it on some colored paper, and glued it to the display board along with some clip art drawings of balloons and water.

OK, no, this is not what Link would have come up with on his own if you handed him five pictures and five pieces of text and said, "Glue this stuff on this cardboard and make it look nice." For one thing, he's a very non-linear thinker; he probably would have ended up with his conclusion in the middle, his hypothesis at the end, and the description of his experiment on the back of the display board. For another thing, he's in the third grade. He would have somehow managed to get glue in his hair and, like, pancake syrup on the display. Anyway, long story short, I did the layout. I didn't feel like I was doing anything unethical. It's not like I'm a graphic designer; in fact, I kind of suck at visual arts, and I didn't think the finished product was anything amazing.

Imagine my surprise when Link came home from school with an award for "best display" in the first-through-third-grade division. Awkward! I can only assume that everyone else showed up with pancake syrup on their displays. I feel bad, but I don't know what I should have done differently - turn him loose with the glue and wish him good luck? Make him hand-write the text instead of printing it? I didn't even know they were giving an award for the display.


Sherise said...

I hate science fairs. Haaaaaate. My kid's project--the one obviously done by the kid himself (although we do usually help him wipe off the pancake syrup)--always ends up being displayed next to the second grader's with computer-generated, full-color pie charts and bar graphs. The second grader whose mom just happens to be a statistics professor. Uh huh. I'm sure your 7-year-old did that all by himself.

I'm not saying you shouldn't have helped Link with his display. (I just forced/helped my 6th grader to redo his crookedly glued on stuff for a history fair project.) I just get really bugged when parents do the project for their kid, and I get sick of seeing it year after year.

And I think Link's experiment looks pretty cool. We might have to steal that idea next year! (If you're looking for another idea in 4th grade, ask me about the spaghetti-and-marshmallow structures C. tested a couple of years ago.)

prism said...

I wouldn't worry about it overly much... the kids need the parents' help anyway - and the point is to not do it for them, and you didn't. Mostly, it is probably because it is clear, organized and to the point. Most kids wouldn't do that on their own and need guidance. It's ok.

Hana won her science fair for her grade in 1st grade, and we didn't do it all for her either.. we only helped a bit. (Then, when we got to district, well, let's just say we didn't have a chance.) :-) I personally enjoy the science fair. It's fun to see what kids come up with.