For Parents Who Aren't Rocket Scientists
by Kayla Fay
Thirty five years ago, when I was in elementary school, it was easy to do a science project. You made a trip-tik science board out of a cardboard box, hand wrote your topic and procedure, then made a model of a volcano or made an egg squeeze into a bottle. Your teacher had never heard of the scientific method, and your mother never even knew your science project was due.
Those were the good old days. Now, children are expected to choose a science project that topic, submit a proposal, form a hypothesis, perform an experiment with three trials, graph and chart the results, develop and present an abstract, give an oral report, and pretend they did all this without help from parents. They must think all kids have rocket scientists for parents.
The truth is that most families struggle to produce a science project. We have four sons, and science projects used to drive me insane. Over the years, however, we've learned to translate some of the scientific jargon into words that our kids - and we - can actually understand.
Take, for example, the scientific method...Observation, Questions, Hypotheses, Experimentation, and Results. Trying to explain this to a child can be daunting. Instead, use this example...
Suppose you OBSERVE that your Game Boy isn't working. You'll ask yourself the QUESTION "What's wrong with my Game Boy!?" Then you'll come up with a couple of ideas, or HYPOTHESES: "The battery could be dead, the game could be dirty, or maybe the baby dropped it into the toilet." So you'll EXPERIMENT - you check the battery, take out the game and blow out the dust, then check for signs of dried Cheerios and wet spots. These experiments will hopefully lead you to the RESULT, and you'll know why your Game Boy wasn't working."
When you put it this way, it really isn't very complicated. A science project doesn't have to be complicated, either. The hard part about doing a good project is actually finding a good project. As you search, here are some things to keep in mind:
1. Is the project is the right type? Make sure you understand which kind your science teacher or science fair requires - - investigative, demonstration, research, model, or collection.
2. Can your child do most of the project, or will your child watch while you do it? Find a project that your child can do with you serving only as an assistant. Hands on experience is the best teacher - and it's a lot more fun to do.
3. Will the project actually work? We've tried several projects in our time that simply wouldn't. For example, we've yet to make a functioning battery out of a lemon.
4. Are the project supplies easy to find - and easy to afford? This is especially important if your child (or your child's parent) has waited until the last minute.
5. Will your child learn from the project? The final result of a science fair experiment is supposed to be that your child learns more about science. As you and your child work together, both of you should gain new appreciation and knowledge about the wonders of science. And who knows - this year's science fair project may be the first step toward your child actually becoming the rocket scientist that you aren't!