Thursday, June 02, 2011

Beats A Zero

We have a science fair at our school.
For years I wrestled with the whole concept of the science fair. There are some pretty clear fairness issues that revolve around your family finances, Mom and Dad's education level, and this year, a tanking economy.

If Tamika's uncle is in the microbiology department at the local University and Evonne's parents are unemployed migrant workers, ... these two ladies are not playing on an even field.

That becomes an issue when there are awards and competition.

(Calm down, I'm not against competition, I'm just sensitive to unfair starting gates)

The thought of parental involvement has never bothered me. Parent's actually involved in their student's learning?
What a concept!

Bring it on.

Heck, I don't care if some Dad think's the Improved Bread Slicing Machine is his baby.
 If he spent time with his kid working together and they both learned something about each other and maybe a little science, then color me happy.

We have a shortage of parental involvement here in anything but sports ... you feel me?

Maybe if we had a Football Fair ...

So, where am I going with all this Fairy Angst.

A few years ago, I pushed to restart the Science Fair here at our school.  My reasoning was based on two things:

1) Doing an actual experiment is the best way to grasp what science is all about.

2) Standardized testing rules the lives of kids, teachers, and administrators. Florida's science FCAT is an all encompassing science test that most of you could not pass ... and I am talking about the 8th grade version.  It covers every branch of science so you had better be a decent biologist, chemist, physicist, astronomer, geologist, researcher, etc before you take it.

Scientific thinking is about 1/4 of the test and there is no better way to get a grip on the scientific method than by doing it. Even if our kids did poorly on ... say , space, if they were strong in scientific thinking, they could still improve their scores.

Almost every strategy decision we make these days is testing related.
Not by choice.

And that is where the Science Fair comes in.

Since January, we worked up through the method, coming up with a project idea, planning the experiment, setting up the display board.
This was not all we did, but it was a theme running through our other science topics.

The school bought display boards at a discount and sold them at cost so kids could afford them.
We provided free printed headings for their boards.

The fair was actually back in April.
Even with all the help, some kids did not bother to do a project.

I was not sympathetic after 4 months of assistance and some very flexible bending over (thank you P90X) backwards on my part.

"If you failed to turn in a science fair project, you now have a huge zero which wll devour your GPA like a Florida sinkhole in a Winter Park auto dealership".

"You had better come up with a plan to fill it in."

Weeks passed with no movement to fix things by the handful of kids that dropped the science fair ball.

And then, while teaching a high school lesson on renewable energy sources, specifically, wind power, I made a statement I often make to my students.

The statement, which I make more and more these days, was ...
"You don't need me, Google it"

We were talking about small scale wind power and I mentioned that a lot of people build their own out of old washer mowers, pipe, and some odds and ends.

"You guys don't need me, you just need to use the internet for something besides Facebook. Google it. Go on Youtube and search "windpower". There are videos of people building their own wind turbines to power their homes and farms

And then something really cool happened. At the end of the period, the quiet, smart kid who only does work that interests him and therefore has a string of zeroes scattered among A test scores, came up to my desk.

"Could I make one of those wind turbines to make up for having no science fair project."
I pulled up a short youtube video of some Homer in his back yard showing how he made his wind powered generator. We watched it and I pointed out all the other related videos stacked up to the right, just waiting to be viewed.

Then the bell rang.

The next day he started on the project in his shop class.

Every day he raced through his work and then asked to go down to the shop class to work on his wind turbine.

 Most days, I let him.

If he goofed off on what we were doing in class, I did not let him. Along the way, we talked about issues, supply parts, and his progress.

In the end, he produced a wind powered turbine that actually generates electricity from some old pvc pipe, a washer motor, some sheet metal,  and scrap bits of this and that.

They hooked it up to a meter down at the shop class and it was generating electricity, but I did not get the actual measurement ...yet.

You can watch his project spinning in the Florida breeze below.


kathy a. said...

that's great!

Sayre said...

Cool! The mark of a great teacher - they want you to succeed! Even if by somewhat unorthodox means. I guess that's what makes you great.

robin andrea said...

Success in every way! What a great project.

roger said...

nicely done. both student and teacher.

threecollie said...

Congratulations. I admire the way you think...and do...

Thunder Dave said...

Good Job FC! You were able to rant about the ridiculous required testing and motivating students at the same time! ;-)
If you ever want a celebrity science judge for the fair we can can work something out. (ok not celebrity in the classic sense, but in the field of industrial science anyway)

Also good job on the repairs to the grill!

Island Rider said...

You are such a good teacher for so many reasons. What you said about Science Fair goes for History Fair, too. Reasons to participate, parental overload, economic concerns. Our county is sending three students to National History Day this year. We're pretty proud of ourselves. Oh, and the students, too.

Deb said...

Yay for motivating that kid who only does things that interest him. It seems I have one of those...

Ericka said...

i would imagine that seeing that light is what gets you out of bed in the morning.

well, that and bear. :-)

nicely done, both of you.

Miz S said...

A teacher after my own heart.

My own science education was spotty, at best. I am quite certain that I would not be able to pass that 8th grade test that you mentioned.

Floridacracker said...

Thanks y'all for the support and insight.
Nothing here is unique, teachers, public and private, do this sort of every day, mostly anonymously behind that classroom door.

Even though we seem to have replaced lawyers and used car salesmen as America's most hated profession ...

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