Science fair blues

(6 Posts)

Not really any questions as it is too late now, it is finished and handing in tomorrow, but tomorrow is my daughter's 3rd grade science fair (We live in the States and it is obligatory). We had never had to work on one before, being British, so had no idea what was expected. It said to find an experiment in whichever area that your child was interested in and do that.

She wanted to do a DNA experiment as her Dad is a Geneticist so she has always found it interesting going to his lab. We only had 3 weeks to do it so didn't really research the guidelines well beforehand, and my husband just took her into the lab and worked with her every night. My kids are G & T, but not exceptionally so, she is 99th percentile, but her spelling is atrocious... her gifts seem to be maths and science. So my husband asked me if I thought it might be beyond her level, and I said "take her in, give it a go, if it is too hard then we'll think of something easier".

She did great. Really, she impressed us a lot with her grasp of everything - considering this was not only her first science fair, but also her first scientific experiment ever, and she went right in at the deep end so had to learn basically a whole under grad semester of genetics course to do her experiment. She did every stage herself with him watching. Her question was "Can I test my blood type without taking my blood?" and she DNA tested her saliva to find blood type.

Tonight I found information about what the judges look for and a tick box section of what a project has to have. She is going to get 0 for several categories as her project doesn't fit a traditional 3rd grade project level :-(

It kept saying things like "state of the art equipment, laboratory use and complex projects should not be favored over simple ones" and lots of bit about a kid not doing anything complicated, not following scientific journal protocols etc. It seems a bit unfair that even though she understood and can explain every stage she did, and doesn't need to refer to her notes at all to go through each step (it seems like she has memorized everything she did, so knows all the temperatures and quantities off by heart, which my husband doesn't even though he has performed the lab a number of times) and can give metaphors to explain it more simply, she will be marked down for doing a project that doesn't fall into her age category. It also seems somewhat unfair that there isn't any allowance for this - like a Gifted and Talented section of science fair, where she could compete at a more even level.

I know losing will be a great life lesson for her, as she has not yet experienced failure, but I feel like this one is partly our fault and partly the system's fault, she did nothing wrong, except work 80+ hours on a project that apparently should have been nothing more exciting than "which materials float".

Sorry for the long post. Any other G&T parents found this kind of problem with age specific school competitions?

onesandwichshort Tue 22-Jan-13 09:10:10

I'm not in the States so can't help, but you have my sympathy.

It's so difficult isn't it, because on the one hand she has done an amazing thing (and you have discovered something about her gifts too). In this situation, I think I'd give her a lot of praise for how well she tried and the hours she put in and how she's really learnt some new stuff, but mixed in with a bit of a forewarning that it might not be exactly what the competition is after. I'd probably blame that on being British and not knowing the deal. But I'd really emphasise that it's the learning and the work which matter most.

Is there anything else you could enter it for so that her work gets appreciated? Something like Davidson Young Scholar?

iseenodust Tue 22-Jan-13 10:27:52

In harsh terms the lesson learned is read the requirements of the task before you start. I agree with OneS that taking some of the responsibility as 'the British parent' who hasn't yet got to know the system is reasonable. Clearly the no need for a lab stuff is to make sure everyone can participate without cost/access to resources issues.

Your DD has done a great and enthusiastic job. Tell her so and let her know recognition by others isn't the be all.

lljkk Tue 22-Jan-13 10:41:45

80 hours! I mean it's great that she wanted to put 80 hours into it, but surely you must have suspected that was a bit OTT? And of course most kids don't have scientist parents so judges are looking for something kids can do mostly off their own initiative with only a layperson adult's support.

Write it up for your FB account and share it with all who know & love her that way.

ReallyTired Tue 22-Jan-13 10:53:35

Its hard position to be in. I suppose the bitter lesson is to read the rules. Inevitably in a competition most kids are going to lose. I am sure that other children have worked hard as well.

I agree with lljkk that the organisers are looking for project that is actually done by the child with no help. Actually it a good lesson to realise that you need to be able to explain science in language that your peers (classmates) understand.

Prehaps these fairs should be seen about having fun rather than actually winning.

Innat Wed 30-Jan-13 22:40:38

The Steve Spangler website has lots of good ideas for science fair experiments. Might be useful for next time!

I'm not in the US so might be wrong but I think it is more about the process of developing a null hypothesis that you can prove or disprove rather than answer a specific question. Then designing the experiments to do this - it's not necessarily about the scientific knowledge that you gain (so all the stuff she learned wouldn't have counted for much).

Sorry she didn't do very well, try and gloss over it and tell her how proud you are of her and that she will get another chance next year (assuming that she will)...

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