Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Science Fair Project: How Much Help to Give

When Jared brought home a note from his teacher last month about the upcoming science fair, I sighed a motherly sigh. Because you know what I thought: Oh great, a project for ME to do. One more thing on MY list. 
But then as Jared and I spent time talking about the project, I began to reshape my thinking. This was HIS project, not mine. It did not need to become a big chore for me; instead, it should be a learning experience for him. 
I think many of us parents have fallen victim to this issue: we want our children to do well in all things, and if the project is going to be publicly displayed, we REALLY want our children to do well. So, we help them study for tests and we help them with their homework and we help them with  their science fair projects. But when does helping become doing? Where do we draw the line? When does it become the parent's project instead of the child's project? 
Clint and I usually gave Lauren and Jonah broad strokes sorts of help when they did their science fair projects in grade school, but neither of them had to do one when they were this young. Second grade...it's a young age to tackle something this large.
So finally, after much discussion and a false start (you can't wait till the week before to plant your seeds if you want to measure whether a seed can grow in a sideways or upside down pot), Jared settled on his project: Which Brand of Bubble Gum Has the Longest-lasting Flavor? A project perfectly suited to a seven year old.
Jonah generously volunteered to be Jared's "fact checker|" by chewing a piece of gum too while Jared performed each of his gum trials --to ensure complete scientific accuracy--and helping Jared with the timer. After a two days of assiduous chewing (they took lots of breaks to rest their tongues and jaws), the results were tallied and it was time to start on the display board.
To save on printing costs, I drew block letters for the categories, and we had Jared color them. Then, he had to write out his explanations (with a bit of coaching). 


When we got done writing all the important information, Jared thought the board looked a little boring. So, he decided to add bubbles made of colorful paper. I suggested using my circle punch and handed him a pile of gum-colored scrap paper. He added a little touch with marker to each one to make it look like a true bubble.


We talked about how he should make his chart to show the data. (He noticed how much data sounds like dada and repeated the word over and over as he worked on this section.) He decided a bar graph would be best, so I drew the lines and labelled it. He filled in the information.


He did a great job on much of the poster, but the "Conclusion" portion of the project was difficult for him: WHY did some gum flavors last longer--and why were all of the longer-lasting gum brands packaged in such "boring" packages? We broke it down on a table like this and talked for a long time. He got frustrated. He looked off into space. I asked leading questions. I called in reinforcements (Clint). Finally, Jared was able to state this:


Which basically sums it all up, doesn't it?
And here's the finished poster. I will be the first to admit it will probably not be the most beautiful poster at the science fair, but you know what? Jared did most of the work, and because of that, I think it's pretty close to perfect. When I asked him what he learned from this experience, he said these wise words: "I learned about gum." Exactly.








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