Who’s Science Fair Project is this?

Photo Credit: George Hodan

Photo Credit: George Hodan

I take full blame for asking her how the Science Fair went before she had eaten an after-school snack. She’s been going to school for several years now and I obviously should remember that those four minutes between the front door and complete banana consumption are fragile ones. But I did it, mainly because I was excited to hear the update, “How was the Science Fair?”

And then the tears came flooding out, “I didn’t win.”

Oh nuts, was this a competition? I didn’t remember anything about prizes in the instructions that were sent home. So we had the pep talk (post banana when she was able to listen) about how there are lots of kinds of competitions while we’re growing up and some people are good at spelling, some are good at soccer, some are good at singing… but we always do our best and we can try again next year and didn’t you have fun and learn something while working on your project? Blah, blah.

“Yes,” she admitted and added, “We got to go to the gym to see them all, and some of them were so pretty.”

“Yours was pretty too, because you added the flower border and all the polka-dots at the last minute,” I reminded her. “Remember how I had to get the hair dryer out in the morning because it was almost time to go to school and the paint was still wet.”

“No, the other ones were pretty in a different kind of way.” Obviously to me, she was searching for a word that she didn’t know in order to describe the other projects.

When we went to the Science Fair open house that evening there were pretty obvious differences in the projects and I then understood what my 2nd grader was trying to tell me. So here’s the word I’ve come up with to fill in her blank: parent-created-parent-typed-parent-hypothesized-parent-cutout-parent-completed. (Do you think I spelled that correctly?)

Whoa, I tell you, with the complexity of some of these projects, NASA should be recruiting at this elementary school Science Fair. And graphic design firms could take lessons on making readable billboards. And academic publishers could find their next science textbooks here. And I could go on forever regarding the perfection of these projects.

My best gal - who loves art so much that the Science Fair project was not complete without polka-dots and a flower border.

My best gal – who loves art so much that the Science Fair project was not complete without polka-dots and a flower border.

Our project (oops, her project) was simple. ‘Which liquid will clean a penny the best?’ was her question. She picked six different liquids and soaked pennies in them, then took them out to examine them. Of course we had scientific flaws in our method. The pennies were not all the same level of dirty – they came straight from her piggy bank. We used the same tweezers to pull the pennies out and contaminated every single sample multiple times as we looked at them over the week. Additionally, a little brother may have ‘disturbed’ a sample one day while she was at school and maybe a mother had to ‘fix’ it before the bus arrived.

But, it was her own. Her own idea, her own work, her own project.

She was really proud of her experiment, what she had learned about the scientific process and the backboard she decorated with flowers and polka-dots – until she saw the other projects at school.

I’m conflicted here. Honestly, it is really hard to step back when she was working on the project and not do it ‘my’ way. She didn’t win a prize and she was disappointed about that, but I really think (post banana consumption discussion) long-term she learned so much. I’ll be the first to admit that finding the balance between parent involvement, competition, failure, success, support and self-directed-learning is near impossible.

Probably the only thing more difficult is carrying a Science Fair backboard to school on a windy day in Colorado.


10 thoughts on “Who’s Science Fair Project is this?

  1. Pingback: Who’s Science Fair Project is this? | isiakayusuf2010blog

  2. I think the hardest part is not stepping in; not because you want to, but because you feel bad sending your kids to compete with adults. It gets worse the older they get, but I always take pride in the fact that my kids’ projects look like they were kid-created. And then I hope the teachers are wise enough (and most are) to honor that.


  3. Great topic Holly. I recall a specific school project my son Liam did for his 4th grade English class. He was to choose a famous figure (living or dead), read about his/her life and then turn in a 2 page report and diorama (three dimensional model) representing the person’s achievements. He chose Leonardo da Vinci. As we poured through the many books detailing the artist’s life, I was enraptured. But more so, once my son started putting the diorama together I excitedly kept offering idea after idea to enhance the model. I even visited a local art store and purchased a tiny figurine of Leonardo complete with easel, and holding a paintbrush which I imagined would be the focal point of the diorama. My son upon seeing the figurine was horrified. ” That is so embarrassing mom. I’m not using that.” In short, my son’s project was entirely his own. The tiny figurine keepsake of Leonardo stands prominently on my night table – a gentle reminder that sometimes mother does not know best.

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  4. Dear Holly, Enjoyed your blog about science fair projects. Reminds me of the days you were creating science fair projects in Dillingham, Alaska. I am glad you allowed Teresa to create her own project. Here’s a favorite quote from my days as a kindergarten teacher, “What greater opportunity could we give children entering school than to provide them learning experiences at the level where they will succeed.” Love, Mom


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