Personal Statement

Personal Statement

Monday, April 11, 2011

Kid Stuff: Scientific Method

By the time your child is in fifth grade, Science Fair is "been there, done that" territory. The first go-round, you're concerned about intermediate deadlines, etc.; the last go-round, you're happy if the project, and the fifth-grader, are both put to bed by 9:15.

When the weekend before the Science Fair coincides with your birthday weekend, you become even more lax, because - are we being totally candid here? - you don't want some ridiculous project to get in the way of your birthday fun. And, sorry, but I do find it ridiculous that Science Fair has gotten pushed to elementary school. It's possible that we did S.F. in elementary, but we did demonstration projects. You know, beans from seeds, baking soda volcano. These days, demonstration projects are verboten in fifth grade. You must conduct an actual experiment - with two, count 'em TWO, variables.

In related news, the kindergartener's take-home folder this week contained:

1. A drawing of Parker's interpretation of what the Very Hungry Caterpillar might like to eat. This being PARKER's interpretation, the V.H.C.'s diet consisted of a lollipop, a strawberry, an ice cream cone, a cookie, and what appears to be a slice of Black Forest cake with a cherry on top of it. In other word, what Parker's diet would be if he was left to his own devices. Hey - at least he included a strawberry.

Cute - and grade level-appropriate.

2. A drawing of a cross-section of a specimen bottle containing (he labeled them) layers of "water," "clay," "silt," "fine sand" and "coarse sand." Next to the drawing, in Parker's handwriting, is the notation, "Matter will float on top of water." Also something that looks like the word "organic."

What the what? Seriously, what do kids do when they get to middle school?

I guess we're about to find out.

So here's how Science Fair weekend went down. Disclaimer: Connor did pick his basic topic (demonstration with a crude vortex ring generator of how air resistance turns a mass of air into a ring which is given rotation, resulting in a tornado) plenty early. Also, prior to hitting the 48-hour mark, he had: researched possible "angles" for his project; arrived at his hypotheses (after selecting his two, count 'em TWO, variables); determined the best method for constructing his air cannon and submitted a supply list to his dad; attempted to get together with his "team" to conduct the actual experiment; and attempted to schedule a second get-together when no one showed up at the park on Thursday (the park being selected because, evidently, A's parents would only let him go to the park within spitting distance from their home). I use "team" in quotes, because - well, we'll get to that.

So, with no further ado, the weekend breakdown (or, I should say, "procedure," because we have to use proper S.F. terminology, don't we?):

1. Wake up ridiculously early for the members' only preview of the animatronic dinosaur exhibit at the Fort Worth Zoo. (Definitely worth a trip. The exhibit features only dinosaurs that were native to Texas. Also, someone clever and subversive oriented one of the dinos to straddle an unused section of the Zoo train track. This made me smile.)

2. Leave Zoo for Parker's soccer game. Discover that Parker, after putting on his soccer socks, shin guards and cleats and then taking off his soccer socks, shin guards and cleats when he remembered that we weren't going straight to the soccer field, made it into the car with shin guards and cleats but not soccer socks. (Why he decided that he could not wear his soccer socks with his tennis shoes surpasses understanding.) Draw short straw (because Dad had to coach) and drive to the Benbrook Wal-Mart to purchase superfluous soccer socks. Score cute Wonder Woman tote on way to checkout stand (it was on an end cap, and I made it back with the socks in plenty of time, so don't judge).

3. Rush home so that older child can hook up with his S.F. "team." Hear spouse remark, "Huh - what's TCS OFF?" as the car pulls into the driveway. Hypothesize that TCS stands for traction control system. Retrieve driver's manual from glove compartment and confirm that "TCS OFF" means the traction control system is malfunctioning and that malfunction is probably related to the "slip" light coming on when it shouldn't. Curse a blue streak, because "slip" issue was mentioned to the dealership when car was brought in for investigation of suspicious burning smell. Burning smell was written off (by dealership) as "something plastic that got stuck to your engine block and is burning off slowly." Stop cursing and, for one second, transition into smugness - of the "I was right, and the dealership was wrong, and I'm a girl and they are boys, so HA!" variety. Then drop smug act upon realizing that dealership gets the last laugh, because they had the car for several days, didn't fix the problem, and now the car has to go back in again. Resume cursing.

4. Twenty minutes later, begin to doubt the existence and/or overall level of commitment of the "team" when no one shows. Grill older child about circumstances behind formation of "team": did someone bully him into doing the project for them? Are his friends just lazy? Are their parents clueless? Did Connor tell them that their assistance wasn't needed? (That last one remains a distinct possibility.) Threaten to expose teammates to science teacher. Suffer through wailing and gnashing of teeth from fifth grader who, apparently, is a quite loyal friend. Drop subject - for now.

5. Turn wrath on spouse (as convenient substitute for Nissan repair department manager, shiftless classmates of fifth grader and/or clueless parents of shiftless classmates). The show must go on, and the dry ice (smoke from which you need in order to actually see a funnel form) isn't going to purchase itself. We're burning daylight - particularly because we have plans for the evening, plans which involve shipping the children off to Grandma's for a sleepover.

6. Attempt to weasel way out of the actual "experimenting." Watching my husband and son conduct experiments makes me squeamish. They have yet to conduct one that doesn't involve fire, or dry ice, or something that could cause physical harm. And the way that they handle said materials - like I said, SQUEAMISH. I'd rather retreat one room away and wait for the screams of pain and request for chauffeur service to the emergency room.

I'm much better at gluing title strips to the backboard.

However, Dad and Son had a little trouble getting the smoke from the dry ice funneled into the air cannon.

Dad ended up having to hold the saucepan filled with water and dry ice while Son held the air cannon, meaning Mom had to take the pictures. Of course, we did this indoors - Dad said, for atmospheric reasons, but I think it was all just designed to MAKE ME SQUEAMISH.

We did see smoke rings, though, which we expected, along with actual rotation, which the research said we shouldn't expect. In case you're curious: the lightest tap on the diaphagm at one end of the bucket (said diaphragm being constructed out of a shower cap and duct tape - it's a boy project, so you have to have duct tape) creates a powerful burst of air (seriously, you can feel it across the room) that comes out as a sphere. The air resistance on the edges of the sphere are stronger than the resistance in the middle, so the edges are forced towards the middle, creating a donut shape or torus.

Never let it be said that this blog isn't educational.

7. Oversee eleven year-old's preparation of the text for all of his backboard sections, save for the chart summarizing his results and the "conclusions" section. Send photos of experiment to Super Target, via Shutterfly, while he works.

8. Ship children to Grandma's with multiple changes of clothing (in case they hike down to the river and/or accompany her to church). Request that spouse leave his car at his mom's and return with the ranch truck - oh, and if he wants to stop and pick up potting soil, organic mulch and cottonseed meal while he is in said truck, he can consider it part of my birthday. (He also sprung for mulch.)

9. Attend "adults-only" night at Museum of Science and History with spouse and Friend Robyn, consume adult beverages, photograph spouse sitting in a dinosaur footprint holding an adult beverage, and chuckle at the accidental porn in the petroleum drilling wing (bottom right image below).

I have always wanted to go to one of the adults-only shindigs, and this one did not disappoint. The lawyer in me has always wanted to know if patrons are permitted to drink and then ride the "stand-and-spin" thing (upper right corner above). Answer (as shown in upper right corner above): yes. Wondering what kind of insurance rider they get - and whether the janitorial staff has buckets of sawdust on standby, in case there's throw-up.

10. Ponder the irony when the Mister Wizard dude (pictured below making mass quantities of green foamy stuff) casually mentions that the best way to generate smoke from dry ice is to drop a small chunk of the stuff into a bottle of drinking water. Yup, just drop a small chunk into your Ozarka, and the smoke comes POURING OUT, and if you want to funnel the smoke into a confined area - say, LIKE A FIFTH-GRADER'S HOMEMADE AIR CANNON - you simply point the bottle towards the target area, and you've created a smoke chamber with pinpoint accuracy.

Not shown: me asking Mister Wizard, "Where the hell were you five hours ago?"

11. Eat sushi. Really yummy sushi. Washed down with sake.

12. Enjoy a child-free evening, and a child-free morning. Sleep in, skip church, and shop the local plant store with just the spouse in tow. Score an amazing ceramic pot for the herb garden for $6.99. (The next size up was marked at $49.99, so 99.9% sure that the one I got was a mismark. But they sold it to me for that price without batting an eye, so, yay, the birthday celebration continues. Mismarked pot not shown here - these are old ones, plus the rose pot - with rose bush - that I got from Mom and Dad for my birthday.)

13. Spend four hours pruning, amending soil and planting in the front yard. (I'm particularly proud of the amending. I almost never take the time to do that. Took all of the old soil out of my pots, sprinkled in those water-absorbent crystals near the bottom, mixed the old soil with compost and new potting soil, re-filled the pots, planted, and then worked in cottonseed meal and finished with some compost tea. Did the same thing in the flower beds.)

14. Start to wonder when the spouse might be returning from the ranch with the kids. Become aware of the fact that it is almost 4 pm. On Sunday. Being the day before the S.F. project is due. Oh, and we have dinner plans at 5:30.

15. Take a shower while the now-present eleven year-old shouts questions about scientific method through the shower curtain.

16. Arrive at Chuy's to secure table while spouse and eleven year-old drive across the street to retrieve Shutterfly photos. Enjoy birthday dinner with good friends Larry, Melanie and L.G. Visit the Trinity Park duck pond after dinner.

By now, it's after 7.

17. Admire new Peeps-themed Chuy's tee while S.F. child completes conclusion section.

18. Nudge "Max Backboard" off of the bed that has been designated for project assembly.

19. Enjoy a slice of birthday cheesecake (courtesy of brother- and sister-in-law - and the pastry chef at Central Market) while S.F. glues data to the now Max-free backboard.

20. Pat self on back when S.F. child - showered, teeth brushed, pajamas on - finishes backboard and heads off to bed by 9:17 - just a couple of minutes off-target.

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