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lewelma

Scientific Investigations with my 12 and 9 year old

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Ruth, thank you so much for the picture you painted regarding the non project months- you've given me a much better idea of how everything falls into place at your home!

 

I am just seeing this now- I thought I'd followed the topic, but hadn't :P

 

You mentioned you do fiction to nonfiction to textbook reading grade 4+. Your DS have done projects since the very early years, yes? Picture book or simpler reading K-3? Reading aloud? Or something else?

 

ETA: silly question, but how do you chose your textbooks? Rather, for the younger group (say, 4th grade), would you have recommendations for life science, earth science, and chemistry as well?

 

Thank you!! :)

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I'm not sure if you saw my 'developing advanced reading skills' thread earlier this year, but in it I describe in detail the steps I take to build up my kids reading skills.  It will definitely help you better understand what I do for the 7 months of reading.

 

http://forums.welltrainedmind.com/topic/467812-developing-advanced-reading-skills/

 

I'll get back to your question about picking textbooks.

 

 

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I'm not sure if you saw my 'developing advanced reading skills' thread earlier this year, but in it I describe in detail the steps I take to build up my kids reading skills. It will definitely help you better understand what I do for the 7 months of reading.

 

http://forums.welltrainedmind.com/topic/467812-developing-advanced-reading-skills/

 

I'll get back to your question about picking textbooks.

I hadn't seen that thread - thank you!

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The regional fair is next week!  My ds spent a few hours today doing some of the suggestions put forward by the judges.  Specifically he research the amount of fuel used by an idling car and then calculated the annual savings per car and for the community.  It came to $37 per car, and $420,000 for the community!!!  I checked his math, and it is right.  So then he had to change the poster and fit it all in without mucking up stuff near by. 

 

Next, he needs to practice his 2 minute talk (the one he gives to any judge that requests it), and we need to drill him with every single question we can think of.  All this is very very good practice.

 

He was supposed to get his new braces on Wednesday next week, but then I realized that it is his birthday and the day before the science fair, so we will be waiting until the following week!

 

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Today, we started reworking his presentation for the judges.  The first time he did it, it was 6 minutes! :huh: This is really unacceptable, because the judges just have so many kids to get around to.  I explained to him that the goal was just to summarize the project for the judges because they just couldn't read all of the posters in the limited time they had.  He really really did not want to cut.  "How can I explain a project that took me 2 full months to do, in 2 minutes?  I would not be doing it justice."  So we had a very long talk about creating a presentation that is appropriate to the audience.  The purpose of *this* talk is NOT to explain, not even to summarize, but just to orient the judges.  He did not buy it.

 

So my next tactic was discuss what it would be like for a judge.  What does a judge *want* to do on judging day?  What does a judge need to accomplish?  Well, it depends on the judge.  The class judges have to get around to *all* of the posters and talk to the kids.  Last year there were 180 posters for 7th grade and only 4 hours (there are multiple judges, and they do preview the projects the night before to pick the ones to focus on).  There is just not time for a 6-minute presentation.  The judges really want to ask questions -- see if the kid actually knows what they have done and can think on their feet with difficult questions.  The goal of the little short speech is to help the judges see what kind of questions to ask.  To allow each judge to focus on the area that he/she finds most interesting.  Plus, you don't want to piss off the judge by taking up too much time.  As for the topical judges, I told him that the math judge would want to talk math, but the atmospheric research judge would want to talk pollution.  He needed to keep his presentation short enough to let each judge spend time on what was most important to that specific field. DS finally started to get the picture.

 

But  how do you go from 6 minutes to 2 minutes?  That is a lot to cut!  Well, it took us 3 hours and about 25 run throughs to do it.  Yikes!

 

All of this work I really consider critical for a scientist.  You absolutely need to tailor your speech to the audience's skill and expectation.  Interestingly, this aspect of the project is really language arts, not science.  Communication is so important to learn.

 

Next week we start on the hard questions.  DH and I will try to find the holes in the project and trip him up.  We will also work on using crisp, scientific language to answer questions.

 

 

 

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Just off the top of my head, what about making a rubric? Are there some videos online of projects where he can be a pretend judge and fill out his rubric?

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All of this work I really consider critical for a scientist.  You absolutely need to tailor your speech to the audience's skill and expectation.  Interestingly, this aspect of the project is really language arts, not science.  Communication is so important to learn.

 

Next week we start on the hard questions.  DH and I will try to find the holes in the project and trip him up.  We will also work on using crisp, scientific language to answer questions.

 

Another round, with this project?  Us, too!  There is an earth science fair in Sept and DD's topic qualifies.  She's been adding better statistical analysis, because she finished Passion Driven Statistics on Coursera.  I need to remember to drill her on the presentation aspect, though! 

 

If Passion Driven Statistics is offered again, I strongly recommend it.  In addition to basic statistics, the last week of class is all about effective scientific communication of statistical results.

 

--Janet

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Thanks, Loftmama, for the ideas.  Always nice to have a language arts perspective!  The rubric is a fascinating idea.

 

 

And Janet, congrats to you and your DD!  Good luck!

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We scoped out the competition during set up today, and there are quite a few good projects.  Lots of original ideas.  7th grade is the biggest class -- there are 198 entries.  His spot is in the hall behind a door, so possibly quieter as there are only 4 kids in the hall, but possibly more busy as people will be going in and out.  I was hit by the door once, so I suggested that he stands pretty close to the table!

 

As always we had the it's-not-about-winning conversation, and also discussed that there were no traffic engineers as judges.  Last year, the head judge was an oceanographer, and ds did an oceanography project -- makes you wonder just a bit.  We also discussed how it would be hard to live up to last year's results, given chance, increased competition, and the lack of a knowledgeable judge.  However, he is still hoping for the math award. 

 

He seems more nervous this year than last, which is kind of interesting.  Apparently he is particularly nervous about 1 specific judge; he decided at the last minute to put his name down for the 'futures' award, which means he has to discuss with that judge the implication of his project to the next 25 years.  He is now having second thoughts.  One thing we did realize this weekend is that ds knows our green-party city councillor by face because she walks her dogs in the park behind our house.  It is election year this year, so she was up at our house this weekend campaigning. So he decided for the 'futures' judge, he would bring up the idea of discussing with this city councillor his results, and suggesting that she push for a pilot project to evaluate the need for a traffic engineer.  Seems pretty future-orientated to me.  Plus $418,000/year and 45 tons of CO2 per year multiply up quite quickly in 25 years! 

 

Will let you know how the judging goes tomorrow.

 

 

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I hate the judging process, I really do.  But it is a part of life.  In the sciences, you are definitely judged compared to others when you go for a grant, and it is a great lesson to learn that your self esteem and feelings towards your own work cannot be negatively affected by how the judges react.  Getting a grant is not the same as peer review, however; and students really need to understand the difference.  In peer review, the reviews are experts in your exact field, take the time to really read and understand your work, and give you suggestions to improve your research.  In getting a grant, your project is judged compared to others, and the money is given to one person/group over the others for many different reasons - perhaps your project is more realistic, or has a more famous authors, hits all the right political buttons, or wins due to serendipity, who knows.  Judging at the regional fair is like judging for a grant, so young scientists really do need to understand the process and all its faults; and definitely not to take it to heart.  This is really hard.

 

Given all of the above, ds felt that the judging went pretty well, but not as well as last year.  He was *really* disappointed that the math judge did not ask him a single question.  Last year, he came back a second time and asked questions (yes, the same judge as this year), so ds figures that he did not get the only prize he really wanted.  Sigh.  The class judges were quite positive;  he got a few comments about the large scope, and comments like 'wonderfully expressed' (whatever that means), and 'excellent project'.  The futures judge seemed particularly impressed with the 10 million dollar figure.  There were 2 other judges who came by that he did not know who they were for, and he got the antarctic judge and the forestry judge who both really liked his project and were sorry that they weren't judging it.  He did get caught up on one question - what percentage did he reduce the time to drive.  He did find the answer in his notebook, but told me it took him 30 seconds and he was embarrassed.

 

Because he was in the hall on the way into the physical sciences department, he had quite a few of the chemistry and physics department grad students and postdocs stop by and talk to him.  One of them said that he read ds's entire log book last night and was really impressed and wished he could be a judge.  He invited ds up to show him around, but ds did not catch his name.  DS also had quite a few kids (as in 20) come talk to him.  He had a few friends from other schools around that kept checking on him, so he definitely felt well loved.  ...... But he was still really bummed about the math judge -- he was really going for that award. 

 

Now we wait.  They post results in 24 hours.

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Well, we went into the Physical sciences website for the university, and it appears that the person who read his entire log book last night is the head of the department!?!?!?!  (DS recognized his photo.) DH is going to e-mail him tomorrow and see if we can set up an interview or a tour or something.

 

 

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The results are out!  He did well.

 

3rd in class (out of 198)

1st in Sociology (for the entire fair - grades 6 to 12)

1st in Measurement (for the entire fair)

 

:party:

 

We kind of went :blink: about the Sociology and Measurement until we read about them and they are perfect.  The Sociology prize was for the best project "exploring important social, practical, or policy considerations for individuals, communities, and society."  Yes, this is exactly what he did.  Basically we are hearing that his project has the greatest policy implications and practical importance to society.  This is great!

 

As for Measurement, this prize is for the most difficult measurement situation and creative solution.  Once again, yes, yes, yes! Figuring out *how* to actually get enough information to solve this problem was incredibly difficult and time consuming.

 

We also found out that he lost the math award to a 12th grader, which made him feel better.

 

Overall, great showing by ds!  Thanks for everyone's support! :hurray:

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Wow!  That's so awesome!  It seems like just yesterday you were agonizing about scrapping his old project and starting all over again!  Wow! Nice job!  Congratulations to both of you! :hurray:

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Congratulations to your DS, and to you all!! Well done (obviously ;) )

 

:hurray:

:D

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Congratulations to you and your ds. That is awesome work. It is so encouraging to read through the whole post and see how everything finally come together.

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Congratulations to your DS, and to you, too!  Yes, it's "their" project, but we moms have a big role, too!

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Wish I had more thumbs to thumbs up with lol. :thumbup: Simply awesome and very proud of your DS.

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DH is on to it.  He wrote an e-mail to the department head this morning, and here is his response...

 

"We'd be delighted to have you son visit the department and see the magnetic resonance imaging equipment we have. I wasn't the person interacting with Kxxxx, therefore do not know the timeframe that was discussed. Because next week is still a teaching break, our staff may still be more flexible to meet with Kxxxx then but, in principle, we could arrange his visit for anytime. Also, I would be more than happy to chat with Kxxxx about study options in his areas of interest."

 

So a tour and an interview with the head of the department - a pretty big perk for being stuck in the hall where lots of faculty were walking by!

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 It seems like just yesterday you were agonizing about scrapping his old project and starting all over again!

 

It is so encouraging to read through the whole post and see how everything finally come together.

 

I really love that there are people out there that have seen the whole process as it unfolded.  I am always nervous when I start posting about the projects, because who knows where the research could lead; it could be a complete dead end which I have displayed to the world.  But of course that happens in science -- more than most people know.  So it is good to get out there and expose all the troubles, setbacks, and uncertainty.

 

Thanks, everyone, for the kind words.

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Before the award's ceremony, we went and looked at all the winning posters to get some ideas for next year. We learned quite a few interesting things.

 

1) The first and second place winner's for ds's year had contacted the community.  They had corresponded or visited multiple (as in 5) different people/organizations to get ideas.  DS did none of this even though our homeschool judges suggested he do this.  DS had not wanted to because he wanted to figure out *how* to do the work on his own and did not want advice (plus he was a bit nervous about it); however, I think it really represents the equilivanent of a literature review (learning from previous work). Plus, science is never done in isolation.  The goal of a scientific investigation is to gain a complete understanding of the scientific process, and this includes colloboration.  We will remember this for next year.

 

2) Comparison of winning projects:

 

a)One of the other homeschooling families did a *massive* project that was very very complex, and they only got 'highly commended' (meaning top 10 in the class, but not #s 1-4).  I was curious about this, and gave it some serious thought.  They analyzed how rumor (as in bulling) propogates, and did computer simmulations and statistical analysis (real statistical analysis with t-tests and stadard deviations).  The kids were 9 and 11, the dad is a computer scientist.

 

b.)The winner of my son's class studied what was the best method to remove moss from paths (baking soda, bleach, 3 different commercial products).  This project was absolutely beautifully documented with photos, written descriptions, replications, analysis with ordinal scale rankings, etc.  It could defintely be published.

 

c) In contrast, my son studied a very complex issue, but without access to current traffic timings or to a computer program, designed his own methods to approximate the ideal methods.

 

So what does the difference between these three tell us? My dh came up with a classification system. 

 

1) Questions can either be simple (as in a child's question) or complicated (as in a real adult question),

 

2) and methods used to analyze it can either be a child's methods (as in adult researchers would never use those methods) or an adult's methods (meaning that the work used scientific method to a high enough standard to be publishable.)

 

Here is how we classified the above projects:

Rumor propogation: Adult question answered with adult methods

Traffic light coordination: Adult question answered with a child's methods (meaning he did not have a computer programme or use traffic engineering methods from a textbook)

Killing moss on paths: Child's question answered with adult methods (her question was simple, but the results were publishable).

 

Rankings of these projects:

highly commended

3rd

1st

 

Obviously this is a sample size of 1, but it did get us thinking about what is most important for the students to learn.  The judges of *this* science fair want the kids to come up with the methods on their own.  Either very thorough methods for a simple question (moss), or very complicated (but childlish) methods for a very complicated question.  They did not want adults to tell the students *how* to answer a very complicated question with complex techniques.  Of this I am very glad!

 

3) We also went looking at the physics projects, because dc will be doing a physics projects next year.  We follow the WTM science rotation, which has worked well for us especially because it forces this biology mama to stretch out into a diverse range of projects (from oceanography to traffic engineering to art chemistry).  I need to really study the photos I took, but there was definitely a lot to be learned about *how* to go about a physics project. My dc and I will be studying these photos in the next few weeks. 

 

For the next 8 months, we will be on the hunt for new projects.... Will let you know what we consider as we consider them.

 

 

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Congratulations!

 

I was reading about the worldwide Google science fair finalists the other day and thought of your son. I don't know what the eligibility requirements are, but thought you might want to look into it for future years.

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Congratulations to both your sons for doing such a great job! Your posts on this topic have been so helpful. This is the first year we will live in a region with a science fair so I'm using your notes to help us plan for a project.

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Congratulations to your DS!

 

Adding my thanks for posting all of this! We'll be starting science fair work soon, so it's great to keep all of this in mind.

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1) Questions can either be simple (as in a child's question) or complicated (as in a real adult question),

 

2) and methods used to analyze it can either be a child's methods (as in adult researchers would never use those methods) or an adult's methods (meaning that the work used scientific method to a high enough standard to be publishable.)

 

Here is how we classified the above projects:

Rumor propogation: Adult question answered with adult methods

Traffic light coordination: Adult question answered with a child's methods (meaning he did not have a computer programme or use traffic engineering methods from a textbook)

Killing moss on paths: Child's question answered with adult methods (her question was simple, but the results were publishable).

 

Rankings of these projects:

highly commended

3rd

1st

 

Obviously this is a sample size of 1, but it did get us thinking about what is most important for the students to learn.  The judges of *this* science fair want the kids to come up with the methods on their own.  Either very thorough methods for a simple question (moss), or very complicated (but childlish) methods for a very complicated question.  They did not want adults to tell the students *how* to answer a very complicated question with complex techniques.  Of this I am very glad!

 

Very interesting.  My DD is revising her science fair project, and is using much more "adult" methods than her entry had last spring -- ANOVA test, with post hoc Bonferroni test.  This is because she finished a statistics class on Coursera.  Since the judges are completely different, there will be no way to compare the results.  (But, if anybody asks her what a Bonferroni adjustment is, she will know it cold!)

 

I think I would classify hers as "adult-looking questions" -- they are trivial to real Mars scientists but look very intimidating to others -- and "best attempt at adult methods while falling somewhat short."  I agree that students who do a good job with documenting their methods (like the moss one) can do very well even with simpler questions.  Kids who reach higher and fall short like my DD are harder to judge.  They give credit for what you produce--and she is reaching beyond her grasp. 

 

Fortunately, she has a very good attitude and doesn't get hurt when she doesn't win!   (Mom on the other hand, would be running around trying to study the winners and find patterns like you did.  I send DH with her to the science fair because it should be about learning, not about winning, and he's much more mellow about it.)

 

She is also an 8th grader -- by high school, most winners are doing "adult questions with adult methods."  So, it's good practice for what is to come.  So, she's building skills that will serve her well in the future.

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Janet, your DD sounds like she is doing a great job! 

 

I am guessing that the concern over the adult methods used by the rumor propogation project was that they were not of the student's design (whether simple or complex).  At our fair (and obviously it depends on the fair) the goal is for the *students* to come up with the methods to answer their questions -- not be told what to do by an adult.  Obviously, it is very tricky for judges to identify the difference if the students are very advanced like your dd.  The kids with the rumor project could explain what they had done, but somehow it appeared to the judges that they were *told* or *taught* how to do the work.  Personally, I believe that they did a Unit Study rather than a Scientific Investigation.  A unit study is teacher driven both in question and in methods -- the teacher is teaching and the student is learning.  When told *how* to do a project, there is none of the confusion, uncertainty, backtracking, redoing, and frustration that you see when you are actually investigating (which is what you saw with my dc's project and which was documented in his logbook).  Instead, the adult simply shows you how to do the work and you do it. 

 

So if I were the judge, I would like to see your dd's lab book show where she went wrong and how she handled it. And many things should go wrong in all aspects of the project -- question development, methods development, data collection, analysis, assumptions, conclusions, and even presentation. If she has a clean, linear progression from question to answer, then she must have been shown how to do it, because science is *never* so clean.  Does that make sense?

 

So an adult questions with an adult answer is fine as long as it is an actual investigation, with all the problems inherant in such.

 

 

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We got a tour with the postdoc and an interview with head of the department for Friday! DS is supposed to bring a lemon to image. 

 

It is clear from the communication that I am not invited.  :001_smile:

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I forgot to mention that the head judge asked me to be a judge next year. :001_smile:   They are very short on biology folks.  To avoid any conflict of interest, she would just make me a class judge for a different class than my son.

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Continuing our discussion of judging, I actually got to talk to a state science fair judge at DD's earth science fair today. The advice he gave was:

 

1. Emphasize "why" questions when prepping. Everybody seems to know what they did and how they did it, not everybody can explain why this was the way to go about solving the problem, why they picked a particular method or value, why this or that was important, etc.

 

2. Your presentation should emphasize the child's strengths and natural enthusiasms. What about the subject drove the student? When I described my daughter as stubborn and tenacious, he said her presentation should emphasize how she stuck with her project despite obstacles and show off her stubbornness.

 

3. Anything that was creative and original should be emphasized. The original thinking behind her hypothesis, for example. The hypothesis was not supported by her data, but it was her own, so she should spend time describing how she came up with it before going into the statistics part.

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How do you convey the uncertainty and backtracking in the science fair?  Does that come out at all in your board?  Or just during discussion.  Unfortunately I think this can sometimes sidetrack the discussion so I don't know how to advise my child.  Last year my son's procedure was heavily influenced by unexpected challenges and he did not do particularly well.

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How do you convey the uncertainty and backtracking in the science fair?  Does that come out at all in your board?  Or just during discussion.  Unfortunately I think this can sometimes sidetrack the discussion so I don't know how to advise my child.  Last year my son's procedure was heavily influenced by unexpected challenges and he did not do particularly well.

 

 

For the most part, it doesn't show up on the board.  However, there are a few place where it may be appropriate:  You might discuss why you did this and not that in the methods section, or discuss levels of standard error in your analysis section and how you might overcome that next time.  It may or may not come up in the judge's questions.

 

This is why journals like this post are so useful.  Your board goes logically from hypothesis to procedure to analysis to conclusion.  However, the real project (everybody's) wanders and struggles to get there.

 

I actually think it's easier to build next year's project when the previous year's didn't go well.  You've got real lessons that you can apply.  I think DD's success with her project last year is proving to be a "tough act to follow" compared to years where she came home knowing for sure "THIS is what I want to do better on next year."

 

I am very lucky to have a process-oriented scientist, rather than a prize-oriented one.  As a mom, though, it's hard when they put in a ton of work that the judges do not recognize.

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Thank you.  I need to be more process oriented instead of assuming that a prize is the objective!  I have been very stressed this week because I think ds's plan is vague and wandering, he may be on the wrong track, and he may have bit off more than he can chew.  I told dh...do I encourage him to give up? choose another project? or stick it out? and he said stick it out.  He is learning isn't he?  He's right.  You're right.  I need to be OK with it not going well.  More importantly, problems now could help him to be more successful years down the road, which is more important. 

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How do you convey the uncertainty and backtracking in the science fair?  Does that come out at all in your board?  Or just during discussion.  Unfortunately I think this can sometimes sidetrack the discussion so I don't know how to advise my child.  Last year my son's procedure was heavily influenced by unexpected challenges and he did not do particularly well.

 

Our science fair requires a log book, and in it my son had quite a number of pages called "revised methods."  He would describe why the original idea did not work, and how he had to change the methods to accommodate his new understanding or data.  In addition, I also had him write up a table called "Problems and Solutions" where he listed each problem he encountered, and then how he fixed it.  In his project last year on longshore transport of sand, the problems were things like:

 

Sand kept floating away before I emptied the bucket on the sea floor

ruler kept floating away

too much buoyancy due to wearing 2 wetsuits so I could not sink to read the ruler

wind created turbidity so I could not see the ruler

etc

 

Then he would write up his solutions.  These were not really changing of the methods, more like slight changes in technique due to the different circumstances that he encountered.

 

The idea is to convey to judges (and remind the student) that there will *always* be problems, and sometimes really big problems.  So document them!

 

This year his entire first approach to coordinating the traffic lights was not possible.  So not only did he write down his first methods, he did not erase them or cross them out, just noted in a box on the side - see page xxx for revised methods.  He also tried a completely different way to collect data for a couple of different lights because he realised that he did not have enough information to coordinate them.  So there were quite a few pages on this additional data collection.  Basically, he had boxes on most pages describing what problems he encountered, how he fixed them, and referring the reader to other pages if major changes needed to be made.

 

The log book is supposed to be a *complete* documentation of the project, the poster is the summary.

 

HTH

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that's a great idea.  Kind of like lessons learned.  We do this for robotics and it is an educational exercise for the child to realize all the challenges overcome and knowledge gained even if the judge doesn't see it.

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