I hate the science fair. My oldest is now in middle school in the 6th grade, where it is required. Last year, in 5th grade, they did experiments (with partners if they wanted to) and wrote them up on posters. However, it was for a rather "trial run" just so they would have context and experience when they get to it as a graded middle school requirement. That 5th grade experience contained a number of important lessons:
- Having a partner doesn't mean half the work. It means twice the work and aggravation. Always.
- Having a clever idea is of no value if you can't figure out how to experiment on it effectively.
- Trying to measure something with change so miniscule that you have a hard time finding an instrument that can detect it is a bad idea. Worse yet, if your samples are to be weighed and are sometimes wet.
- Photography done by kids, except for artistic expression, is always a bad idea.
- Coming up with new ideas/variables/parameters when your experiment is half over is not the way it is done. Ever.
- "Data" is not just anything I am thinking at any moment which I write down while working on the science fair project - relevant or not. Numbers -- pffft!
- The conclusion should describe what your data told you and what you learned. Wait, what is "data"?
Sadly, while the previous experience contained valuable lessons, clearly none of them were learned. Furthermore, the key lesson that was NOT a part of last year's experience was that using pets as research subjects is usually a bad idea. Significant additional loss of merit -- choosing a cat. I really wanted to suggest the title of the project to be "Cat Don't Give-A-Shit" but I restrained myself.
So, take two middle school boys and insert college-educated parents to the rescue in order to manage the rainbows and unicorns down into boring-but-scientific nuts and bolts. Hours and hours they spent at the computer and three sentences got written, probably in part due to watching YouTube videos of cats (scientific research!). Every step was painful. Somehow it got done, with the one educational perk being that I taught them how to use a spreadsheet and make charts (but don't quiz them because I think they already forgot). I only had to make three trips to the store to buy (and re-buy because what I bought was wrong) all the poster materials. And I think they will get a good grade because my pride is on the line as the buoy that kept them from sinking.
I tell myself this was the last time. Next year, I am doing nothing. Yeah, right...