Saturday, February 05, 2011

Really Bad Science Projects - For Kids

Anna is equal parts princess and mad scientist. Her school's Science Day was fast approaching and we had to think of an experiment for her to present to her classmates. She had to come up with a hypothesis, and then produce a poster board of her expectations and findings. Is it just me, or does there seem to be a greater expectation of parent involvement in the States? Maybe things have changed in the UK, but I know that when I was growing up I didn't have to 'present my findings', do homework, or even do show and tell. Sometimes I wonder who is really going through Kindergarten.

Back to Anna the Scientist. My Mum and Dad recently bought Anna a National Trust 'bug hunting kit' - perfect for a junior entomologist, but on reflection, not quite so perfect for California even though she absolutely loves it. For a start, we have to use it under heavy supervision, as there's more than just lowly Mr. Woodlouse scuttling around in our back yard. A few months ago I spotted a giant black widow spider having a casual stroll towards our laundry room. Then, when Anna did manage to collect a fierce but harmless looking centipede, she accidentally left him in full sun in her magnifying tube - a tube that now has a perfect blackened centipede shape seared into its base.

We were casting around for something to display, something age-appropriate that didn't involve death or maiming to either us or a poor harmless creature. We were greatly helped in our quest for the perfect 5-year old science experiment by this book from my brother and sister-in-law.

Big Book of Science Things to Make and Do (Usborne Activities)

Anna obviously wants to do ALL the experiments, *right now*, but the one she picked for the Science Fair had the perfect combination of 5-year old girl science, and dramatic show-and-tell effect. 'Magic Flowers', or basically - when you add food dye to the water of white flowers, they will change colour.

We documented the full scientific process, LK decided they should dress appropriately:

Anna wrote 'Magic Flowers' in giant coloured letters, and carefully copied out her 'hypothesis'. It was going to be genius.

Except, when we all woke up the next morning, the flowers were still pristine and snowy white. Epic fail. We considered dunking them in the dye so Anna had at least something to show. In the end we decided that would be cheating, even though when LK arrived at Anna's school and saw 5 year olds introducing Powerbook presentations on how they split they atom at home using some safety scissors and sticky back plastic he was a tad pissed off. Or rather, he thought 'shit, my wife is going to kill me'.

He later said that he was proud that Anna's project was all her own work. So what if the flowers we'd used had failed to suck up any water. I must have accidentally bought dead or irradiated flowers - who knows. He said that the kids all had a wonderful time, and had some brilliant ideas to showcase. Like the kid standing next to Anna whose hypothesis was 'does a nail rust faster in water, salty water or air?'. I said that sounded like a great idea. He said yes, if you don't use galvanized nails that is. Anna, with her pristine white flowers was standing next to a boy with pristine unrusted nails. Perfect.


Arlene Wise said...

Anna's experiment didn't fail. She disproved her hypothesis--something real scientists do regularly.

Nonetheless, the result was unexpected. Two things to consider if she should want to try it again.

(1) Make sure and cut off the ends of the stem before she puts them in the dye--otherwise the stems will close off.

(2) That dye looks seriously blue. I'm wondering is this created an osmotic effect where water would go from the plant to the dyed water rather than from the other way around. Maybe try a much more dilute solution of dye. Also, make sure the dye is not toxic to the plant.

And yes schools expect a lot of parental involvement these days. I don't think it's a UK vs US thing--just a sign of the overly competitive world we live in today.

Daffodilly said...

A real scientist does not have success every time. I do think that schools over here expect way too much from parents.......hmmm hello we do work & try to have lives too!

Anonymous said...

I was just involved in a conversation this past weekend with several friends and family members who are teachers and every single one of them said they would MUCH rather have projects that the students did as opposed to the parent’s going all Martha Stewart on them. And they all said “And you better believe we can always tell the difference.”
Kudos to you for letting her do her own project and letting it turn out differently than expected/planned!

seadragon said...

The scientist in me loves this story.

Rachel said...

It's a present day thing rather than a US thing. When I was a kid expectations at this age were not that high, but they were much higher in high school than they are now. I can't speak for any other state but California's education system is basically a disaster.

Good for you for having Anna do the project, parent made projects completely defeat the learning process.

If it were me I think I'd take Anna to the florist to see if they had any insight as to why it didn't work and to retry the experiment. Troubleshooting is a great skill to start learning at her age and you might end up with some remarkably colored flowers to bring to her teacher.

Billy said...

Great work! I find the best way to keep the kids interested in science is for them to perform some experiments and try to understand them. I found an incredibly useful site for that to be

Science Experiments for Kids

Cheers, have a good one!

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Science Projects For Kids said...

science project is an educational activity for students involving experiments or construction of models in one of the science disciplines. Students may present their science project at a science fair, so they may also call it a science fair project. Thanks.....

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