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A day at the science fair

January 29, 2009 - Deb Gau
I was never one of the kids who went out for the science fair when I was in school. Something about coming up with my own science experiment, testing it out and then pitting it against other people’s research just seemed scary. The fact that you had to do the project in your free time wasn’t much of an incentive, either. C’mon - Saturdays goofing off versus Saturdays doing schoolwork isn’t really a choice. Is it? All of that combined to make me a little bit nervous when I was invited to judge at Lynd’s science fair last Friday. I had been to the Lynd fair last year, but that time I was an observer, free to wander from table to table behind my camera. This time, I’d actually have to pass judgement on kids’ projects. I wasn’t sure where to start. I honestly shouldn’t have worried. I showed up Friday morning with nine or 10 other people, the Lynd teachers handed us clipboards and pointed us toward the coffee dispenser. Armed with a handy grading checklist, I checked out the displays. I was impressed by what I saw. Lynd works the science fair into its 5-8th grade curriculum, so there were at least 30 or 40 displays lined up for us in the gym. In a school Lynd’s size, that’s a great turnout. Just as in any school competition, there were a lot of different ability levels represented, but there really was a lot of talent on display. Just talking with some of the kids was a lot of fun. What struck me the most was how many of their projects came from asking questions based on their everyday lives. Students wanted to know whether certain brands of batteries lived up to their claims of lasting longer, or if toothpaste really can remove grape juice stains from tile like it does on T.V. commercials. One student I spoke to said she got the idea for her experiment - testing if certain chemicals can stop fungus from growing - because mushrooms are one of her favorite foods. Another put the anti-soda fliers from the dentist’s office to the test. (I now know what a tooth looks like after it’s been soaked in Coca-Cola for a week. It’s not pretty.) That kind of curiosity is really what’s at the heart of science: you have a question about the world, and you develop a methodical way to try to find the answer. Seeing curiosity is still alive and well for kids, and that they can be pretty creative in answering their questions, is a hopeful sign for the future.


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