I can still recall the smell of those old encyclopedias. The set, circa 1970, had a scent I attributed to old knowledge and a long aisle of books, in a far off corner at the library. It was scent of both mustiness and a cool, pleasant corridor. It was something my mind connected to reading, learning, and work on big projects at a young age. Ahh yes, I am reliving science fair time.
At the end of the school year, my daughter’s 4th grade class has a science project due. When I attended last year, I was a little blown away by the displays and presentations. This was many moons away from my science fair and its rows of poster boards. There were laptops, power point demonstrations, and digital displays of experiments. These children seemed so wonderfully confident and ready to discuss their work. They were like sophisticated academics, in 10 year-old bodies. I was a bit awed and a bit overwhelmed. When it came to my daughter’s turn, would she be like these students? Would she pull the pieces together for such an amazing demonstration? Were parents supposed to help? Had they played a hand in these incredible displays? What learning came out of this for the students? Where do we begin?
At times, our children’s projects and work is overwhelming for both student and parent alike. Before the anxiety bus leaves, hit the pause button. Start at the beginning. For me, I soon realized that this project was going to unroll in bite size pieces. The 4th graders are devoting a portion of class time each day to planning; creating a hypothesis; experimenting; and writing up the results. Parents have been asked to guide and support, but not do the work of the child. They are walking through much of the process at school, with their classes, but will complete the report, and I imagine any display board or power point demonstration at home. I am sure they will need to dedicate time at home to discussing their work and their results, with the judges and anyone passing by. This is manageable and sensible.
When I think about it this way, I get excited for the discovery process that awaits each child. While fourth grade was a lifetime ago, I do not remember a sense of bite size pieces, just devouring or perhaps choking down a bunch of information from musty books. What a wonderful way to bring science alive to this age group! Such confidence building measures and profound learning experiences may be just the remedy for a young girl who is a budding scientist in the making, but at that age when girls often loose ground in math and science. Yes, I’ll be excited for my oldest! While I won a blue ribbon at a science fair long ago, on a project about plants, the real reward for my oldest and I will be the entire scope of the experience….