Science Fairs and Wind Chill

The DPS District Science Fair was a lot of fun, as usual. We had a kind of ridiculous number of judges this year – not that a large number of volunteers is a bad thing – so we did most of the fair in teams. I actually rather like team judging, since it means that the kids tend to be more thoroughly questioned about their project. Judges seem to have a couple favorite lines of questioning, and as long as they don’t overlap that means we’re generally more thorough.

Of course, my own favorite sorts of questions are:
– Now that you’ve done your whole project, if you could change one or more things about your experiment design or your hypothesis, what would you do? (I like this question, since it shows if they’ve really thought about what they did and picked out sources of error.)
– Can you explain [insert basic scientific principle behind the experiment here] to me? (Which shows if they actually understood any of the research they did.)

This time I got a boot up into middle school, looking at eighth grade projects. To be honest, the three my team looked at didn’t really wow me… they all had some serious design issues, and in one case the student couldn’t explain the basic scientific concept behind their experiment. Which was sad, since the experiment itself would have been a good one if there’d been some deeper understanding there. Also, as usual everyone had “literature” cited on their boards, but very few students incorporated it into their discussion or conclusion.

So parents, if you’re reading this – make sure your kid actually incorporates their research into their experiment and understand it! Otherwise, it really gives the impression that they looked up a bunch of sources and just stuck them on the board because they had to, without actually reading and understanding anything.

Which, I suppose, really prepares them to be freshmen in college, huh.

The thing that set all of the grade winners out this year was definitely use of research – the first place in each grade actually did additional research after their project was done, so they could discuss their possible sources of error or reasons for unexpected results. Which is quite charming. And the winner for all of middle school was a sixth grader, which was pretty surprising. He did a model rocket project which involved testing different design elements, predicting how they would affect the flight of the rocket, and then figuring out why things didn’t go the way he predicted when they inevitably didn’t. It was pretty impressive.

Anyway, for a bit of excitement, I realized that the Colorado State Science and Engineering Fair has its judging on a Thursday. Now that I’ve dropped a class, I’m free that day, so I can participate in that one! And it’s even more exciting because this year, I can be sure I won’t come down with mono again. Wahoo.

It’s cold as hell here right now, and only going to get colder. I’m doing an experiment of my own – I pinned blankets over the patio door, since that seems to turn into a little wind tunnel at times, and I’m going to see if the house stays a little warmer. Tengu is already mad as all get out because he was content to stay away from the patio door until the blankets went up, and then he had to OMG LOOK OUT THERE RIGHT NOW. Except I won’t let him, since he might pull the blankets down. Yay for cat drama.

Really, I’m just looking forward to making like The Day After Tomorrow and running away from the cold air. It’s something to do, since in a moment of brilliance I left my homework at school, where it’s going to do me a lot of good. I’m really not looking forward to trying to get to school tomorrow morning, considering this morning it took about two hours each way.

Also, I’ve added some amazing entries to my “Undergrads say the darndest things” file, but I feel like I shouldn’t share them until after the semester is done.

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