Remember your science fair days? If you did science fair as a youth, you probably remember last minute scrambling to complete the project—late night runs to the Kmart, careful calligraphy on poster boards, creating graphs and data tables. If you have experienced science fair as an adult, you probably remember last minute scrambling to complete the project—late night runs to Walmart, manipulating the printer to get the poster right, fighting Excel to create graphs from data tables. If you are an OPA 8th grader, your memories are probably really quite fresh and your experience quite good.
OH MY LANDS! The OPA 8th graders are so cute.
On the day of science fair they (many of them) came dressed up. Dan wore a suit that almost fit and Gina wore a sequined dress that fit really well. (!!!!!) Tim wore a bow tie.
They came nervous. Danielle said “Mrs. Hislop, I can’t do this” (she could!). Darin showed up almost 2 hours early then paced the halls.
And they came prepared. Many carried the cue card I’d given them. “Smile” the card advises. “Show the judge your face cheeks not your butt cheeks.” All of them brought display boards, some fancy, some not.
Judges came too—35 of them. Joe, our neighbor and good friend, brought a vendor/physicist from Portland, OR who happened to be in the area. Gilbert Green, a former Ben Lomond student, came again as did Spencer Seager, a former WSU microbiology professor. Amie, OPA principal and former chemistry teacher, spent the day with us and thoroughly enjoyed her time with the students. Tim Scalise ran registration again. I have got to figure out a way to keep his youngest child at OPA indefinitely—or at least as long as I am at OPA—so that he’ll continue running registration.
The night before science fair I made a special trip into the school to help students with last minute questions. About 4:00 I left the classroom and went to the gym to set up tables. At 5:00 I left the school and went home to fix dinner.
I was frying chicken when my cell phone rang. “Mrs. Hislop, where are you?” said the voice at the other end. WHOOPS! I’d left Alice and Yvonne working in my room when I went to the gym. I assumed they’d gone home. I assumed wrong. They were still in my room, still needing help. I talked them through making a graph in Google Sheets and it as all good.
And it was all good. Science fair was all good. I did a better job this year preparing students for science fair than I have ever done and I was more pleased with the results that I have ever been. I really emphasized student generated experiments and encouraged kids to ask questions about something in which they had personal interest. Most of the projects were unique and authentic (rather than being Internet sought and contrived) and the results were correspondingly authentic and, if you ask me, awesome.
Some of the projects:
- Which flour makes the best cupcakes? (She brought me samples. J)
- How many lbs. of pressure are ideal in a soccer ball to get the longest distance on a kick?
- Which fingernail polish lasts the longest?
- Which leavening agent makes the fluffiest pancake?
- What effect does different types of music have on dog’s obedience to spoken commands?
- Which potato chip would be best to use as a fire starter when camping?
- Does turmeric prevent bacterial growth?
- How many students use their cell phones (against the rules) in school?
- A student who has sleep paralysis wondered how many other students also experience the symptoms and created a project to find out.
- Another student made five different speakers from household materials.
- Two boys experimented to find out which gun was most effective in the video game Black Ops 3.
- One boy had people play a Mario Cart driving game, texting and not texting, and recorded the difference in their scores.
- A student assessed the effectiveness of Super Bowl commercials by asked students to identify their favorite commercial and the product it advertised. (Only about half could identify the advertised product.)
- A budding artist experimented with different paper types to learn which made the best Paper Mache statues.
- A budding track star did time trials on multiple running surfaces to find out which yielded the fast time.
- A budding genius wrote a computer program to determine the influence of Charon on Pluto.
- A budding veterinarian sorted through weeks of horse manure to find out if Sand Clear, a product designed to prevent colic, really did clear sand from horse intestines.
Seeing the projects, watching the kids present to the judges, interacting with the judges myself, experiencing how the OPA family (particularly Gin, the Head Secretary) all pitched together to make the day a success, having wonderful parent volunteers—it was all a HUGE pay day, an absolutely great experience.
I guess I’ll do it again next year…!!!!
POST NOTE: I tell the kids that science fair is required for all 8th graders but, sadly, that does not mean that all 8th graders will do a science fair project. Some would much rather fail the entire class than subject themselves to science fair.
In an effort to maximize participation—because I truly believe creating one’s own experiment AND presenting one’s project to attentive adults is a PRICELESS education experience—I offer a carrot as well as a club.
The club is the grade. The carrot is a field trip. The Friday after the science fair, I take all 8th grade science fair participants (and ONLY 8th grade science fair participants) on an all-day field trip to the Museum of Natural Curiosity at Thanksgiving Point. We ride the FrontRunner (train) to the museum, spend several hours exploring and playing, and ride the train home. Students who would NEVER do a science fair project for me will willingly do a project for a chance to ride the train and play in the museum with their friends.