M. Giant's
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Wednesday, March 16, 2011  

It's Science but It's Not Fair

I remember my first science fair project, in fourth grade. I had looked forward to being able to participate for years. When I was finally old enough, my dad and I made a miniature steam turbine out of a lubricant can with a pen barrel poked through the screw-on lid, heated by a blowtorch, pointing the steam at a turbine wheel made out of the top of a soup can. I got the idea from a book whose author had clearly never tried the experiment himself, and never expected anyone else to because we had to make modifications for weeks to get the damn thing to work. I think back to being one of the winners at that year's district science fair and I think to myself, "Why the hell did those teachers let a fourth-grader into a crowded gymnasium with a blowtorch?"

I look forward to helping M. Edium with his fourth-grade science project. But I just can't seem to get excited about his kindergarten science project.

Yes, they seem to have done away with the age requirement since my day. I remember spending so much time neatly handwriting my written report, and now they've opened it up to people who don't know how to write yet.

M. Edium was, I think, more excited about the idea of the science fair itself than about any particular science project. But even when we explained to him that no, your Star Wars Lego spaceships are not considered science, he was still down with participating.

For a while, Trash and I were at a loss as to how to get him started. After all, part of the advantage of making kids wait until fourth grade to put something together for a science fair is that it's a good bet that by that time, they've at least been to a science fair.

But as so often happens, the key ended up being something we just had lying around the house. Sometimes it can be something as simple as an old electronic component or some Alka-Seltzer or whatever, that can serve as the jumping-off point for something that becomes bigger. Such was the case here. Our breakthrough came when we realized we had something in our house that might just help him brainstorm ideas. And that is the approximately two dozen different kinds of do-it-yourself, at-home science kits that he likes to experiment with.

Sometimes it's just all about the intuitive leap.

He ended up going with the avalanche kit. That's pretty fertile territory. He can learn all about what causes avalanches (snow), the different kinds of avalanches (deadly and deadlier) and how to survive them (don't be in one), among other things. I spent a little time showing him some avalanche videos on YouTube, but it's hard to stay away from the amateur videos. I've learned that there are three types of avalanches based on their morphological characteristics: dry snow, wet snow, and slab. By the same token, there are three types of amateur avalanche videos, broken down by what the camera operator says: Holy Shit, Jesus Christ, and Oh, Fuck.

The other problem is that he wants to spend all his time on the project "practicing," like it's all about the performance. He might be thinking about a science circus rather than a science fair. I would totally go to a science circus. Unless of course it was being put on by kindergartners.

Luckily, Trash hit on the idea of having him partner up with one of the other kids in his kindergarten class. She's been over to our house before when we dug out a science kit, so she thinks of Trash as the "science mom." Between Trash, and M. Edium, and the other kid, and her mom, there might not even be anything left for me to do.

I consider that experiment a success.

posted by M. Giant 9:02 AM 2 comments


Man I thought this was going to be another animal disection with what you had leftover in your freezer :(

By Anonymous Anonymous, at March 17, 2011 at 11:19 AM  

Remember, we're going to the home school whack-job christian science fair this year at Har Mar Mall. I have it on the calendar to remind me in January. I can't wait for you to see why God thinks it is ok to combine a live sheep brain with loudspeaker wiring while subsequently plastering bible verses to poster board like a crazy-prophet-cat-lady. Be there.

By Blogger Chao, at March 30, 2011 at 10:24 AM  

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