Copyright © 2015 Stephen Hawley, all rights reserved.
Several weeks ago, I talked about how I prepared Alice to collect data for her science fair project. Her data collection at school went great. She had a nice set of numbers that were well-recorded on her data sheets. On her last day of February break, we sat down to build some charts from that data. The thing I try to keep in mind when I’m working with Alice is “what should she get from this activity?” I could have guided her through the process of using a spreadsheet to build up the data and then let the spreadsheet build the charts. But what does she get from that? Math? Minimally. Is it authentic learning? Hardly. Might it be a good introduction for the future? Maybe. Would it hold her attention? Not at all. Instead, I went to an office supply store and bought a pack of large colored dot stickers and printed up some grids. My plan was to have Alice build up the histograms herself. We were going to do charts for girls, boys, and everyone. I let Alice pick the colors and we went over every data record and Alice told me whether it was a girl or a boy and then which column to put it in. She also picked the colors to use for each chart.
See that lovely bell curve? Not bad for a small data set. Anyhow, Alice really enjoyed the process of making the charts and we went over them and I asked her leading questions “which one is the most?” “Who was fastest, boys or girls?” “Who was slowest, boys or girls?” I wrote down her answers and those became her conclusions. I transcribed her method as she dictated. Then I helped typed some of the main work and had her type in her conclusions:
Then Alice helped glue everything down to the poster board. She helped pick the placement for the information. I put on the glue and she placed the paper and smoothed it out.
Can you guess what my intended goals were? I wanted Alice to get a fine motor workout with stickers, do eye tracking for reading data and placing stickers, to recall the process of data collection (method), to come to simple conclusions, to reinforce them by transcription, and to practice typing.
From a critical point of view, you can look at this and say, “right – but what did she learn about science?” And the answer to that is hardly anything at all, but she did enjoy the whole process. I’ve heard other parents moan about science fair. They are different people with different goals.
We ended up with another goal that I should have, but did not expect: pride. This is Alice being proud of her work. And she should be. We worked side-by-side for more than an hour on this, and Alice was actively involved the whole time. She did a fantastic job.
When we got there, she talked to a lot of her friends and then presented her work. It was loud and the “judge” had a hard time hearing her answers to the questions, but she got through eventually. Alice got a certificate for her work.
And once again, the answer is pride.
This is Alice showing her certificate to her friend, Mia, who was so happy for her that she wanted to take a picture of it.
I couldn’t make this up and the look on Alice’s face tells it all: I had fun and I did a good job. And when you think in the bigger picture of trying to get kids excited about STEM, I helped her hit that one out of the park, even though I have no doubt in my mind that she will never have a career in science, technology, engineering or math. And frankly, I don’t care.
Alice enjoyed sharing excitement with her friends. I think her favorite thing was Maeve’s gerbils:
Me? I knew it was science fair, because there was a baking soda volcano.