Mad Scientist

science projectMy son signed up to do an unrequired, ungraded, extra science fair project this month.

He’s in the fourth grade. Fourth graders aren’t required to do a project. They save that special experience for the fifth and sixth graders. But they can sign up to do a project if they want.

So why…did…my…son…sign…up?

He’s a really smart kid and loves science, but sometimes he gets bored doing projects. He doesn’t like doing homework (what kid does?) and I have to keep on him to get his reading time in.

So when I found out he signed up to do something extra, something that would be incredibly time intensive, I was frustrated.

Not a great motherly response, I’ll admit, but it’s the truth. His father was thrilled and excited that his oldest wanted to learn more. I knew that this “science project” would be a hands-on mother-and-son project. And I don’t even really like science.

I helped him brainstorm projects that related to his fishing passion. He decided to test different fishhooks to see if they would dissolve.

He loved picking out different hooks at the store and concocting different liquids for them to sit in. We set up a tray and let them soak for several weeks.

That was the fun part.

Four weeks later it was time for the not-so-fun part. And I suddenly turned into a mad scientist.

There ended up being a mix-up with the project’s due date. I had a paper saying that the projects were due on Jan. 20. He had a paper that said Jan. 14. I thought we had plenty of time to work but then he came to me really late one night after I thought he was sleeping. He was stressed and anxious that he wasn’t going to be able to get everything done in time.

That’s when I reminded him that this project was his choice. (After reassuring him I’d help him get it done. That we were in this together.)

Of course he was right and we were out of time this week. We had to hustle and pull the project together last minute.

So we spent the better part of a Saturday afternoon and evening typing up his results. If you’ve ever seen my 9-year-old type, you would know that it is a difficult task. You would know that he absolutely hates it.

I took pity on him and helped him type. We had a bargain. I’d type a sentence then he’d type one. Then I’d type one, then he’d type one, etc. But it still took forever.

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I was frustrated with him. I was frustrated that it was taking so long. And I was frustrated that elementary school science projects had to be so scientific.

I think elementary school science fair projects are a joke. I think that they were created by teachers who don’t think moms have enough on their plate.

Because there is absolutely NO way that a traditional fourth grader could do all that is required of them for the project on their own. They are judged on typed reports, charts, graphs, illustrations, presentation boards, etc.

They haven’t ever typed a report that long. They haven’t ever set up a colorful giant tri-fold poster board. They haven’t ever set up a table in a word document. They haven’t created a bibliography. And this is just the paper portion.

Let’s talk about the experiment itself. They don’t know how to measure based on the metric system. They don’t know how to create things like “salt water.” They don’t know how to measure results.

It’s not their fault. They are just too young. They haven’t experienced any of this yet.

So let’s have them dive in and figure it all out while playing scientist and crafting an interesting experiment that they have to parade around the elementary school gym while answering difficult questions about their methods – all while in competition with one another.

Sounds fun to me.

I don’t know why teachers don’t let the kids dream up different experiments that they can perform together in class. Wouldn’t it be more fun for them to get to do the projects together? Who needs the detailed reports and tri-fold posters? Hands-on learning together sounds more ideal to me.

I should have taken the time to teach my son as we went. I should have calmly explained how to gather and type up his data. It would have been the perfect situation to nicely show him how a project is done.

But I was a crazy person. I was stressed that he wasn’t helping. I was stressed that he didn’t know what to do. And I was stressed that his three siblings were making a giant mess all over the place while I was working on the project with him.

There was weeping and wailing and some major complaining – by my son and myself. I am ashamed to say that it has not been one of my best parenting weeks.

Of course our printer didn’t have any ink (it never has ink when we need it) so we typed up all that we needed to print off, loaded it to my thumb drive, and made it to the copy store five minutes before it closed.

We cut out and glued on our illustrations, charts and results. And it turned out amazing.

It was frustrating, it was hard and I yelled at my son way more than I should have. But in the end we did it together. I told him that I was proud of his hard work. I told him I was sorry for losing my patience with him. I told him that I blew it and that I should have used this as a teaching opportunity, not a let’s-hurry-and-get-this-done activity.

Then I made sure to follow up by telling him that I’m OK with him not signing up for any extra projects … at least not for a while.

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