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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Science Fairs: Celebrations of Creation

by Kathleen Blease

All ye Creation rejoice! It's science fair time of year! And what is science? It's the study of our Heavenly Father's creation, of course!

At this very moment, I can hear a whirring sound coming from the classroom.  It's my son's newly homemade electromagnetic generator. My other son is still collecting samples for his microscope slides, of which he now has seventeen. Today I helped him collect some cheek cells from our cat, Honey Bun. (She didn't like that too much.) The science fair is taking over the house...and the curriculum.

Taking the advice of Andrew A. Campbell, author of The Latin Centered Curriculum, up until now (8th and 6th grade) I had always let my children learn science through their own curiosity, experiments, discoveries, and readings. This gave me the opportunity to instill in the boys solid elementary skills, such as math facts, spelling, penmanship, and basic Latin, which, when put together, took quite a bit of time everyday.

Still, I included bios of scientists and explorers in their reading requirements, and in that way we covered quite a bit. Last year, I made of list of my son's favorite books about nature, flight, and science, and it filled an entire page. Coupled that with his science fair project, along with some photos of his masterpiece, and that section of his annual portfolio was well presented. 

Science fairs are a great way for the kids to learn solidly a specific scientific principle, as well as how to present a project in oral, graphic, and written forms. Both boys have done well in the fairs throughout the years, bringing home awards such as Best of the Fair, Brainiest Entry, and Best in Science. Their projects had names such as:

Father's Fingerprints in the Family
Colored Roofs, Comfortable Homes 
Extra-ordinary Things from Ordinary Life : A Nature Collection With Shark Teeth and Bat Skeleton
Are Plant Cells Shaped to Match their Jobs?
The Science Behind Pinewood Derbies
Alley Oop! The Upside Downs of Pinhole Cameras
A Radio that Requires No Power

If you'd like basic instructions to any of these projects, leave a comment and let me know! I would be happy to share with you!

In the meantime, I thought I'd direct you to some science fair resources. I have to say that these have been extremely helpful. Many of our science projects we concocted ourselves (such as Colored Roofs, Comfortable Houses); others came from science fair experts, such as Janice VanCleave.

Check these out:

Discovery Channel's Science Fair Central
This website will help you design a presentation with your child. When we first started attending science fairs, I was clueless about how to help my children present their projects in the standard science fair format. In fact, I didn't even know that there was a standard! A sound presentation includes a display board, abstract, observation notebook, and an official experiment report. Here's a great opportunity to help kids learn a bit about graphic design, note taking, and composition. It's well worth the effort.

Even if you think your child is too young to write a report, it can still be done! And with a benefit to your little one. Design a few questions about the project, and then ask your child to answer them in a interview fashion. Type out his answers. Keep them simple, but do clean up the grammar and sentence structure. This will do two things: First, it will give your child confidence that a report is done and bearing his name. Second, it makes a solid impression on him and helps him see exactly what he learned from the experience. Some science fairs require an interview with your child, sans the parents. So this will give him ample practice in explaining his work. And if the science fair doesn't include an interview, the report will present your child beautifully.

Science Toys You and Your Kids Can Make.
Younger children, grades K-5 will need parental assistance. Older children, grades 6-8, would need only minimal assistance. My younger son really enjoys this site. Last year, he made a crystal radio from a cardboard box, copper wire, a crystal and an ear piece. It required no power. I'll warn you, though, you will need to live very close to civilization or a radio tower. We found it worked only when we were right across the street from a tower, but it was very exciting! This year, he learned how to make a homemade Van deGraaff generator and a homopolar motor. The motor took only a few minutes and was crafted from magnets, a D battery, and copper wire. Very exciting to watch it do its magic.

Janice VanCleave has been a big help to me. She has two books specfically about science fair projects, in which she covers how to proceed using the scientific method...very important to science fair judges.

Janice VanCleave's A+ Science Fair Projects

Janice VanCleave's Guide to More of the Best Science Fair Projects

If you have any science fair stories, projects, or proud-parent moments, please share! And good luck at the fairs! God bless.

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