Friday, November 27, 2009

The Chaos, I mean the Science Fair

The Chaos, I mean the Science Fair

I knew it was going to be a long day, but I didn’t exactly know what was planned for the Science Fair. As you’d expect, kids brought their projects and displays, set them up, and there were judges. What you might not expect is that it was second through twelfth grade and it was from 7:00 – 2:30. What were the students supposed to do? Sit with their display for 7 1/2 hours with nothing to do! Really? You expect a 7 year-old to sit and do nothing for 7 1/2 hours? I’d like to see that. Unfortunately, I didn’t.

I was one of 4 people on duty (read: crowd control) for the room designated for the second – sixth graders.

Did kids run around, misbehave, and fight? Of course they did. Did students listen to anything I had to say? Oh no they did not. I’m continually amazed by the lack of tears at my school. At the Science Fair I saw 5 different kids crying. There was blood, broken glass, experiments ruined, kids running around with dry ice (I actually saw one girl drop it in her mouth), yes, it was complete chaos.

That’s when I realized the actual genius of the whole day – the whole thing was a science experiment! An experiment in human behavior! Truly, this was an amazing idea.

Since I realized that the day itself was an experiment, I decided that I would write it out in the scientific method.

Problem Question: What will happen if you put about 250 seven – twelve year olds in a room with nothing to do but sit with a science experiment for 7 1/2 hours?

Objective: To understand human nature.

Hypothesis: It will take less than one hour for several kids to start behaving very badly.

Materials: Students, too few teachers, and science projects.

Data Collection:
• Some amazing displays and experiments quite obviously done with an incredible amount of parental help and money.
• No consequences for actions
• Lack of chairs. Many students who were repeatedly told to sit down, had to share a seat. When the extra chairs did finally arrive about 3 hours in, it was a frenzy. Seats disappeared as fast as they would for a sold out rock concert.
• There were actually a few engaging experiments: plants removing petroleum from water, which generation has the best memory, green roofs, and apparently warm whole milk is a stain remover.
• Getting bumped and run into multiple times, never with an apology.
• Ants taken from experiments were everywhere they shouldn’t be.
• Lots of falls, fights, and hurt feelings
• No positive behaviors rewarded (although I tried with little success)
• Pink hands
• Running with dry ice
• Cornstarch head to toe
• Me being overjoyed with the two students who were smart enough to bring 'Uno' and a 'Gameboy' to play. Never had there been a better time for video games.
• I asked a responsible 6th grader if it was like this last year, she said, “It’s been like this every year.” Unbelievable, yet true.

Results: ¡Qué desorden!

Conclusion: My hypothesis proved to be more than accurate. This could have been a great day where students learned about science, with activities and problems to solve. Instead it was a free-for-all. Students could have had breaks and seen a science show. They could have been led in science experiments. To save money and coordination, they could have just had a screen and played videos of ‘Bill Nye, The Science Guy’.

There were some fabulous student experiments. I wish kids could have had a bit more time actually engaging with these projects. With a little organization, other kids might have even gained some scientific knowledge from their fellow students. Kids could have been doing something, anything, but alas they did, and as far as I could see, learned nothing. I'm sure they learned something while doing their projects (although it appeared that many of the projects were mainly done by parents), but the disorganization of the day was too much. Ultimately, for me on crowd control duty, it was an exercise in frustration. I think some of the kids enjoyed the day, but I do hope for next year that they can do more than just sit for so long. More adult supervision and a schedule of activities to follow would really help the event in the future.

Based on her experience of the day, a high school student volunteer said, “I could never be teacher.”
I said nothing. I was thinking, “Honey, if this was teaching, I wouldn’t be one either.”

I need to thank God for my ability to see humor in chaos.

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