It is Science Fair season, also known in our house as the Season of Maternal Distress. It is also February vacation*. I could just scream. I supposes I should be ok with the way things lined up, really. Our Man Cub has a whole week to just work on his experiment, right? But it’s not that simple.

See, for one thing, Man Cub has known about this project for two months, and simply chosen not to do anything about it. He knew that the project was optional in middle school, and so figured that he just wouldn’t do it. But, you see, he also knows that he really should do it. Why? Because his science teacher has invested in him above and beyond – she’s made sure that he’s been involved in special science field trips,** and even invited him to a conference*** next month. She has seen him in her classroom as a curious, intuitive, and actively interested, smart kid, and she’s giving him opportunities. Which is to say, he really needs to get an entry together for the Science Fair.

With that in mind, February vacation is for science. Yes, Skipper Jane, FOR SCIENCE!

The project itself really isn’t the issue. The deadline, even, isn’t so terrible – we’re looking at one intensive week (this week), and then a few after school days of making the project board look good. The problem is the scientific method. Most specifically, that for some reason, the kids, despite years of annual science projects, don’t freaking know it. I have to tell you, I loved loved LOVED Man Cub’s elementary school – an arts-based curriculum in which he really blossomed. But the one failing of that school was in the science department – instead of experiments, the science fairs were more about research projects than they were about quantifiable experiments. And now here these students are in seventh grade, lost in the scientific woods.

Not that we haven’t encouraged Man Cub to do projects in the past that are actual experiments – we have. The year before last he did a really cool experiment about artificial light – for a month we went to three different places after nightfall and took light meter readings and counted visible stars. He kept data and explained it, and built an osm light box with glow-in-the-dark paint stars inside to illustrate what was going on. Last year? How Does a CD Work? He could not be persuaded into anything but a research project. And while I’m delighted that he dug into something that he was interested in,**** it still didn’t give him any experience in doing a quantifiable experiment.

Zoe’s household is also in the throes of this business, and we commiserated last night over writing group. She believes it would make more sense to have the kids recreate other peoples’ experiments for a while, so that they can learn the process. I have to agree with her, really – I have vague memories of doing science labs in seventh and eighth grade, myself, and I think most of my learning in science happened then. But I also remember Mr. Milligan in fifth or sixth grade, drilling the freaking scientific method into our little heads. Really, I think I expected that by sixth grade these kids would have an idea what they’re looking at, yanno?

Poor kid doesn’t even really understand how to put together a question to ask for his experiment. It has to have quantifiable data, and that screwballs him. It screwballed him when we did the ambient light project too – he never really got it, I think. He’s never had to do an abstract, either. So we’re going through it all together. Day two, and he’s still doing the research.

I’m being patient as I can be. The most frustrating part of this business is getting Man Cub to staple his ass to the chair and get the research done, in order to formulate the experiment – everything’s very vague and wobbly, still. Day two and he’s only got a page and a quarter of report done. We haven’t even gotten to the part where he’s figuring stuff out, much less the part where we get to fold and throw paper airplanes (or how to get a non-skewed data set for our troubles). It’s aggravating. He doesn’t want to sit there and do this, and I don’t want to keep telling him he needs to sit put and get it done. And the knowledge that it’s only going to happen again when he has to turn around after the experiment and add his findings to the paper just makes my head hurt in advance. Screaming. Screaming now.

I do know that this can be accomplished. I do. And he will get it done in the end. I know that I’ll have to redirect him  zillion times between now and then, too, and I’m being strong. Just know that if you hear shrieking in the street along the way, don’t be surprised.

***

*Will looked at me aghast when I told him that February vacation is a New England thing – it hurt his hear that in other parts of the country people save up their vacation time to have two weeks for spring vacation. At first he didn’t even believe me.
**Nono, nothing that would make a meteor freak. There was a limited attendance (there was only room for 20) series of trips to the farm at Tufts vet school, in which they got to talk to vet students and check out the animals. Very very cool.
***Before you get your hackles up about this being a boys-only event (as I initially did), what you need to know is that a)there’s a sister conference for girls, and b)it’s pretty rare that there are actually boys’ events in science and tech, with all the push to get girls involved in science and tech. Which is to say, it’s kind of a big deal that Man Cub was invited – especially since there were only two spots available for the boys in his whole school.
****Many many many conversations about the difference between analog and digital. The Cub comes from parents who have twiddled knobs on a sound board and tweaked mixes. People who approached the digital age with cautious optimism, unafraid of the new bright sound, but not willing to burn the 2″ tape. I’m not surprised he wanted to do this project. He probably wanted to know what the hell his mother is talking about when she says things like, “I don’t like the ironic hipster aspect of lo-fi. I mean, for fuck’s sake, analog has a rich, warm sound all on its own – I don’t know why we were so invested in making it sound sloppy in the 90s.”

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