Science Fair! (without the fair)

One of the final things we did in the spring before the kids headed off in their summer directions, was science fair style projects. And they were excellent. We didn’t have a science fair to take them to (though there are a few homeschool science fairs around here during the school year, so I’ll save them and maybe we’ll attend one). But that was no big deal. We could still do a project as if it was for one.

We’ve never done a science project like this. We’ve done loads of experiments over the years and of course I’ve taught the scientific method. However, doing a kid-chosen project like this was definitely a super valuable experience that emphasized the scientific method in a new way. I’m glad we waited until middle school because I’m not totally sure if they’d have gotten as much out of it at a younger age. However, this was so good that I think we’ll do it again next year.

Mushroom was doing a study of cells for school. Then I had him read through Ellen McHenry’s Protozoa and he did some of the worksheets and activities. When it came time to do a project, I suggested he do something with the topic he’d been studying already and he came up with a project comparing two different infusions of stream water. He hypothesized based on his research that they would cultivate different types of protists.

That hypothesis turned out to be wrong. However, they did have different effects (hay is better than rice, at least with Rock Creek stream water). He took photos using a microscope camera. He then made an amazing board and wrote a really solid science report about his method. Overall, he worked really hard and breezed through.

BalletBoy had a longer trek to figuring something out. He’d been studying meteorology for school and I suggested he find a project that would go with that. He initially wanted to try a project having to do with charting the temperature. But that fizzled. Then he decided to try this project where you test the humidity by making your own hygrometer. If you don’t know the website Science Buddies, it’s a great search tool for finding science fair project ideas. Unfortunately, after two attempts at making the hygrometer, he couldn’t get it to do a thing.

Frustrated, he asked if he could poke around and do something else entirely. He found a project making bath bombs and decided to try that. He altered the project from the website, doing some research and coming up with his own recipe. Then, while it turned out to be a pretty grueling day of messing up and not measuring properly, he made and then tested the bombs. His hypothesis was also disproven. The recipe he invented wasn’t the fizziest. But that was fine. He had some data to show for his project. And while he didn’t quite have the graphic design flair that Mushroom did and I ended up having to direct his report and project board more, he felt really good about what he’d done in the end.

This is one of those “school” experiences that I think it’s worth trying to provide for homeschoolers but that it’s easy to forget about in the rush to finish a curriculum. It can also be a messy endeavor for families (we had large tupperwares of stream water growing small beasties on the mantle for weeks) and I know that some families recoil just thinking about managing it. But it was very worth it here, even if there wasn’t a fair and blue ribbons at the end of the process. It was great for learning organization, writing, and presentation skills, not to mention really emphasizing the scientific method.


3 thoughts on “Science Fair! (without the fair)

  1. How are do structuring their science studies and what are you using, if you don’t mind sharing? Thanks.

    1. “Structuring” is probably too strong a term for us these days. For K-4th, we did an organized approach to science, slowly covering the sciences in a classical-like cycle approach (though we did not use the order laid out in The Well-Trained Mind or done by publishers like RSO). I DIY’ed what we did and you can get a taste of what it was like back then in my Science Without a Net posts – there’s a tab at the top of the blog. Lots of hands on stuff, lots of living books. Since about 5th grade, we’ve moved to being more interest led. Mushroom used that Ellen McHenry program, but he also just used a number of living books, videos, the Biology Coloring Book, and projects I came up with myself (though most of them were time honored, like making a cake with all the parts of a cell represented in candy and looking at prepared slides on onion cells and cheek swabs and the like). And it’s unusual for us to do anything as laid out as the Ellen McHenry program, though we’ve used some of her materials before during “middle school” as well as Middle School Chemistry from ACS and some TOPS Science materials. But mostly, we’re just winging it. The kids propose a topic and I get books, videos, and experiments. Some other things we’ve done in the last few years has included evolution, dinosaurs, extinction, meteorology, theoretical physics (stuff like time travel and quantum mechanics), flight, and rocketry. Next year, BalletBoy wants to study chemistry again as well as dance anatomy.

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