Getting Smart (Finally!) for the Annual Science Fair

Scientist at work. “Don’t get my dorky shoes in the photo, Mom.”

It’s that time of year again, when the makers of trifold boards once again rack up enough dollars to fund their annual cruises to the Bahamas. What a scam. Our underfunded schools must be in cahoots with the manufacturers and receive a kickback for every board sold. Try as I might, I couldn’t get last year’s trifold exhibit returned in order to reuse it for this year’s project. Of course, it’s entirely possible that the Little Man never remembered to bring it home despite my nagging. (You think?)

Last year’s trifold board. Gosh darn it, I had to leave town before this year’s was completed, so I don’t have a photo and I’ll never see the board again.
Last year’s trifold board. I had to leave town the day before this year’s was due (shucks!), so I have no photo and I’ll never see the board again.

Last year the Little Man’s science project involved different dilutions of sugar water for hummingbirds and observing which the little buggers preferred. The problems with this project were twofold: it involved my kitchen and my front yard. Only the ants were happy.

The year before, my kitchen also took months to recover from an experiment comparing pizza dough made with and without yeast. I’m surprised we didn’t require a plumber afterward.

Got yeast?
Got yeast?

This year I got smart. Inspired by our participation in the Annual Christmas Bird Count, the longest running citizen science survey in North America (in which I mostly followed the half dozen volunteers–who covered a mile in five hours in below-freezing temperatures–in my car with the heater blasting), I suggested prodded forced the Little Man to compile his own bird count a few weeks later. He spent an hour at a nearby pond recording all avian visitors. Pretty impressive that he could identify every species that crossed his path. No other eighth grader in his class of 500 could do that.

Having him out of the house for an hour was so successful that I suggested he not only compile data, but do another count a week later to compare data.

Cold birders.
Cold Christmas birders.

Having him out of the house on yet another weekend morning was again so successful that I then thought, why not make the count weekly? This would give him a good handle on bird migration. That kid would get a good grade on the effing science project if I had to stay in my nightie and sleep in every Saturday morning for the entire winter in order for him to do it. I am such a selfless mom.

I am so altruistic, in fact, that this year I decided to do what most other parents have known to do since kindergarten: complete the project themselves.

On Science Fair night, it’s obvious which few trifold exhibits were done by the kids (handwritten, crooked, incomplete, nonsensical, and awfully cute) and the overwhelming professional-looking exhibits in the school cafeteria that were completed by exhausted parents—those sharp cookies who understood that throwing the damn thing together themselves would be much easier than the tantrums, scenes, and extortions involved in getting the kids to do their own work.

Strike the post.
Strike the pose.

I figured the Little Man had collected the data and that was good enough for his learning curve and my sanity. I could slap together a spreadsheet in the time it would take him to come up with his first excuse for not being able to do it.

I left a few blanks for him to fill in, so that he could learn to look up tide charts, sunrise and sunset times, and weather history for his observation days. He needed to compute length of daylight hours, at my suggestion, because why not throw in a little math in order to rev up emotion in the house? Our roof is in great need of repair, so why not just blow it off with some hollering about calculating length of daylight, which is such a handy skill to carry into adulthood?

It’s a darn good thing I left those fields blank, because they remained blank on his final project, despite my daily “reminders” to him to finish, for weeks on end. As every artist knows, white space is an important aspect of any creation.

Next year’s project is going to be comparing next year’s bird count to this year’s. Every single week of it, with perhaps more of a buffer on either end. In fact, perhaps he’ll start collecting data in September.

I’ll know exactly where to locate this year’s spreadsheet for the comparison. I’m just that kind of helpful, supportive mom.

Different bird species all seem to get along. Why can't people do the same? The Little Man was not interested in Mom's suggestions for such profound questions.
Different bird species all seem to get along. Why can’t people do the same? The Little Man was not interested in Mom’s suggestions for such profound questions. “Just let me count, Mom. Just let me count.” You count to me, kiddo. You always will.


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Image Credits:

All photos by Jennifer D. Munro.


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