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How much do you help kids with their Science Fair Project and Displays? (Pet peeve alert)


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My kids have their homeschool Science Fair coming up.  Both of them came up with awesome ideas! And both of them are carrying it out very well, logically, and orderly and working very hard.

 

One of my pet peeves growing up, and now, as a parent, is when parents help the kids so much with their projects and/or displays.  My own mother didn't have the time but in general she really taught us independence.  She would provide the materials (to a degree- even then we mostly had to get creative with what we could get easily around the house or at the store or Home Depot.  We had to make our own lists, do our own shopping and basiclaly figure it all out.)

 

(Edited to Add: I won the Science Fair 3 times - once in middle school and twice in high school and went to county and then the state Science Fair once.  So obviously my less flashy displays and lack of money and help didn't actually get in the way.  In fact I had no idea there were library books on Science Fair Project Ideas!  I guess my originality made up for it. I must have had very fair judges.)

 

 

I remember growing up, that it was SO OBVIOUS which kids had an extraordinary amount of help with their projects or displays.  In my opinion, the parent should give directions, show examples, and proofread spelling errors.  

 

Now, I know my son's display board will look awesome because he is artistic, exact, and does all kind of computer graphics printouts.

 

I'm going to show my dd some stuff on Pinterest, offer her the computer, and remind her that everything has to be nice and neat and discuss the things that belong on the display and how to display them neatly and with large enough letters for people to read... and get out of the way.  But, I know that many of the other moms of children her age will be doing the whole thing alongside their kids, so when my dd gets there, her display board will not look as neat and crisp.  

 

I hope it doesn't bother her the way it did me at that age.  

 

How much do you get involved when your dc are registered for projects and fairs and competitions?

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I am very involved with my kids' projects- it's simply a necessity due to their ages. My oldest, of course, is much more independent, but the kindergartener still needs me by her side.

 

Just like the rest of their work, I require that their project display boards be done neatly and legibly. I don't accept sloppy and give them the age appropriate help they need to meet that requirement.

 

FWIW, we're currently working on our last project of the year. My oldest child's display is coming along quite nicely all on his own with minimal input from me. He knows how to put together a pleasing display because I took the time to work with him in prior years. I don't think that's something that many kids can do all on their own without ever having any instruction.

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I don't even do a science fair until/unless dc show an interest and will carry it through themselves. My theory is that life is too short for me to drag a kid through a science fair project or similar event. :D

 

My dd ended up competing her junior year, because she had a compelling interest in a project and wanted to get feedback and make connections (which is exactly what happened.) She found a local science fair and figured out all of the paperwork.  I knew nothing about the project itself, but I did help a lot with the display. I am some combination of mother-secretary-poorly paid assistant to her these days. ;) She came up with the material, and I cut, glued, played with fonts, researched board purchases, etc. The important part of the project was all her. The time consuming, mundane part was half and half. She won based on her passion for science and the potential impact of her work. The board just had to not distract from that. The judges were not giving prizes based on boards, though I suppose that may vary depending on the science fair (this was a regional Intel-linked fair.)

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My dd loves the science fair! I have helped less each year. And I notice that it's NOT the most flashy display that wins, so parents who focus on that are not really helping as much as they might think. The judges can totally tell when a student does his or her own work or has had "reasonable" help versus when the parents do the project!

 

I help less every year. When my dd was in 5th grade, I had her write down her report, and I typed it. I helped her know what the report should include (all the required pages by our regional science fair), and I formatted her table of contents. I asked her questions as I typed to fill in missing information, but I typed what she said--not how I would have said it. When I read it back to her, if she wanted to revise it, I retyped what she said. 

 

For the display board, I worked with her to print out headings: she told me what to type, she decided the font, the size etc..., cut them out and glued them on. I was merely computer support. She decided what went on her board and where. 

 

At times, I also help my kids locate good resources at the library and online. But I used those oportunities to walk her through how to research and how to look things up, not just me doing it for her--with the eventual goal that she could take over that part, and she has. 

 

Each year since then I've helped less and less with the report aspect. I did help her connect with a gentleman from our local children's museum to discuss an idea one year, because I couldn't get my mind around whether it would really "work" as a science fair project (She built a "Cell City" out of clay, with things like a City Hall representing the nucleus with a bank of file drawers where the "DNA" was stored...). They emailed once or twice, and she went on with her project (won Grand Champion that year!)

 

This year I helped my now 9th grader by buying materials, taking her to the library, and brainstorming search words on google (because her topic was really hard to find info on!). I haven't even seen her report this year, but will help proof it when I do. That's about it! I love the independence and the skills she has gained each year from working through this process. 

 

The other thing I do is role-play the interview. Science is not my thing, and my daughter knows that if she can make her project make sense to me, she'll likely be able to explain it thoroughly to the judges! 

 

On the Cell City project, I helped in one other important way. As I was asking questions and trying to understand how cells work, she would figure out where her analogies "worked" and where they didn't. We talked about how it's ok to say an analogy only goes so far. Also, as I asked questions, she realized what she didn't know and would go research more--and then she realized just how indepth the info on cells is, and got completely overwhelmed. So I explained that adults spend years studying a topic like this and don't know everything--it's ok to decide when you have learned as much as you want to learn and to say your project is done. And then, to just say that humbly and honestly to the judges if they ask a question that the student can't answer. (Judges also know when a student is totally trying to bluff their way through instead of admitting what they don't know!)

 

But that piece has been helpful to her in subsequent projects--its freeing to know that you get to decide what's enough and how far to pursue something. 

 

Merry :-)

 

 

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My kids recently finished their science fair projects.

Our science fair is a bit different because it is for K-12, and obviously a K'er is going to need lots of help.

 

I try to balance having my kids do as much as possible by themselves with having a

successful product in the end. When choosing between having the child do it herself,

and having a completed project, I always choose having a completed pro.

(Not "successful" is not the same as beautiful or

This year my 5th grader had to do a report for the first time. She needed a *lot* of

help on that, even though ultimately the words were hers.

 

For making the displays, my kids needed far less help than last year. My responsibility

is to ensure that the display meets all the requirements and makes sense. Making the

display "beautiful" is up to them. I do have to teach them lots of skills - how to use a

paper cutter, how to line things up with guidelines, how to format things on the computer.

Typically I do some things for them as teaching examples, then have them do the rest.

I always end up helping with last minute gluing the night before the fair.

 

Last year, my then 1st grader won the prize for "best display".

I think that she got that, despite other "prettier" displays, was because

I made her hand write all her text, and she did all the gluing herself.

It was very obvious that the child did the work herself.

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My thought is that a child cannot draw upon an empty well. Like everything, children need to be taught how to create nice, neat displays. Most wouldn't naturally understand proportion, how groups of odd numbers look better even, etc. DD is only nearly seven and hasn't done a science fair project, but she did have to create a well-thought-out poster to earn a Girl Scout Journey badge. I opted to hit up Dollar Tree and the internet to buy her some materials to help her create a more appealing project. For example, we bought punch out letters and stickers for titles and subheads since her writing would definitely look childish and unprofessional. We brainstormed together and I taught he things like how it's important to have a short, catchy title in bold letters. I sat right next to her as she prepared her poster. She arranged things and I helped her rearrange them when necessary. I made her do a lot over so things were neat and even. Most people would probably say I did her poster for her because it looked darn good, but she did 95% of it. Having this experience under her belt, I hope that there will be less redoing next time.

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Merry; Being computer support and shopping for the child seems absolutely reasonable to me, especially in 5th grade. Role playing the questions make sense too.

PitterPat- I definitely think you helped your dd so much that that badge is yours, more than hers.  But this is perhaps a way in which we as individuals differ.  I wish there were guidelines clearly laid out so that parents could understand where the boundaries are.

I would rather my dd do it almost all on her own (and then know that she actually gets the credit.)  I also feel that she will learn more by this hands on group experience this way.  


 

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I think it can be easy to confuse helping and teaching. I am involved in our 4H fair and we deal this type of thing a lot, parents being overly involved in the project.

 

I would think teaching a child how to display something would involve exposing them to displays others have made, comparing and contrasting types of displays. Maybe even making a practice display on a different type of project.

 

But when it comes to a display that the child is receiving/taking credit for, especially in a competitive situation, helping should be limited to intervention specifically requested by the child. For example, if a child asks for assistance formatting a table, it is acceptable for a parent to provide minimal assistance, but if the child makes a table and is unconcerned about it, the parent shouldn't be jumping in saying it would be better if you did it this other way. If the child seems at a passive total loss, then maybe they should withdraw from competition until they have had some time to learn how to present a project.

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I think it can be easy to confuse helping and teaching. I am involved in our 4H fair and we deal this type of thing a lot, parents being overly involved in the project.

 

I would think teaching a child how to display something would involve exposing them to displays others have made, comparing and contrasting types of displays. Maybe even making a practice display on a different type of project.

 

But when it comes to a display that the child is receiving/taking credit for, especially in a competitive situation, helping should be limited to intervention specifically requested by the child. For example, if a child asks for assistance formatting a table, it is acceptable for a parent to provide minimal assistance, but if the child makes a table and is unconcerned about it, the parent shouldn't be jumping in saying it would be better if you did it this other way. If the child seems at a passive total loss, then maybe they should withdraw from competition until they have had some time to learn how to present a project.

This was an absolutely excellent, quantifiable benchmark! It should be printed and handed to all parents. Thank you, it helped me as well.

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Another example of help I gave--though this isn't easily quantifiable, but I felt was justified...

 

My son did the science fair just two years (science isn't his favorite subject but I made him try it!). Anyway, one year (7th grade) he did collect data that should be put in a table. He really had no idea how to organize his data (a chart or table didn't occur to him, and he struggles with organization overall). So, I showed him examples in his science book of data tables, and then showed him how he should make a chart by drawing an example for him to follow. He then had to recreate the chart (with all the data--I only used one sample in my example) in his report and for his display. So in that case, I felt it was necessary for a student to learn proper scientific reporting skills. He hadn't been exposed to that a lot previously, and direct teaching methods work best for this student (rather than indirect, discovery-based methods).  

 

I also made him re-do his experiment. In his first experiment, his data didn't make sense, and he recognized that it didn't make sense. But when I asked him what he should do about it, he really wasn't sure. I told him that a scientist would re-do an experiment until he was convinced he had done it correctly. So, he agreed to re-do it (not happily! it was a lot of work to re-do) but wouldn't have come to that conclusion by himself. I then told him that a scientist wouldn't hide or throw out the first set of data, but would explain what happened. He figured out where he made his mistakes and how to correct them, and described that process in his report. Again, I felt it would be irresponsible not to teach my jr. high student the proper way a scientist should work.

 

Oh, and with displays--I did teach my kids not to glue ANYTHING until they had everything laid out and liked the layout! Kids always want to just start gluing stuff without thinking through the whole process! 

 

 

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MerryatHope:

 

Those are good examples of what I was trying to express.

 

Some of the key "quantifiers "

 

1. Your son recognized there was an issue that he needed help with.

 

2. In the first example you taught your ds how to make a table, but then had him actually make the the tabletop the display.

 

3. In the second example you offered a suggestion, and your ds redid the work himself.

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We haven't done projects for groups that often. But there was a couple times my oldest did projects for a co-op. I bought the supplies (obviously) and did any teaching/provided materials necessary to help him learn the topic he chose to make a display about. I helped print things from the computer. I provided some guidance and coaching about speaking to a group. I also provided coaching about getting your ideas and thoughts in order *before* writing on the display board. I think that's an excellent strategy to teach a child. To practice what they want to write/draw etc on a separate sheet until it is the way they want it, (the way *they* want it--not the way you want it!) then they have a model *they created themselves* to copy onto their finished display. It's also a good idea to coach a child in the strategy of arranging elements *before* gluing them down. It helps alleviate tears and frustration (and the need to buy more materials). 

 

But I didn't cut, paste, arrange, or write anything. Or come up with any ideas for him. Since there was a short speech with both of these projects, I did ask my ds to practice with me and helped with any grammar or spelling errors and provided coaching about eye contact and other speech topics. The whole project---from coming up with the topic, to learning it, thinking about what he wanted to say/include on the display about it...was his.

 

Obviously my cutting skills or handwriting skills may be better, but I don't help with that stuff. I would help a very young child to get started with cutting, and provide some scaffolding if they still needed help with the fine motor aspect of scissors and glue, though. But i would still let them own it.

 

ETA: I nearly forgot this. My oldest was in Cloverbuds when he was younger. It was so annoying. I remember one meeting they were to make pinwheels. Instead of giving the kids the materials and going around the room helping, the two women just pretty much let the kids run wild while they sat and gossiped and made the pinwheels and passed them out at the end of the meeting. I was so mad. I asked for the materials and sat with my ds and helped him make his. It's why I gave up being involved in the 4H here. I saw it all the time.

 

 

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This will be ds' first science fair, and it's part of the co-op we attend. The co-op is for activities after we've taught the curriculum at home. I feel that, as his teacher, I need to be heavily involved with this one. He needs to learn the scientific process. He needs to learn how to approach an experiment, collect data, etc. If he is able to participate in future science fairs, I think I would be less involved each time. 

 

I think we homeschool moms have to look at it a little differently than the parent of a child who goes to school and is getting instruction from an outside teacher. 

 

 

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This will be ds' first science fair, and it's part of the co-op we attend. The co-op is for activities after we've taught the curriculum at home. I feel that, as his teacher, I need to be heavily involved with this one. He needs to learn the scientific process. He needs to learn how to approach an experiment, collect data, etc. If he is able to participate in future science fairs, I think I would be less involved each time. 

 

I think we homeschool moms have to look at it a little differently than the parent of a child who goes to school and is getting instruction from an outside teacher. 

 I certainly agree that no one is expecting you not to teach the Scientific Method or explain proper data collection.  But as a mom,  it shouldn't be my idea.  It shouldn't be me who does the work.  It shouldn't be my hands that make or do pretty much any part of it, and in the end, I should show them displays online and explain the purpose of the display.  But then the actual display should be theirs, completely.  Aside from the type of reasonable help which I think was very eloquently explained above.

 

You can teach everything a child needs to know about Science Fairs in general and the Scientific Method in general, without actually doing any of his particular project.  

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I think it can be easy to confuse helping and teaching.

I totally agree with you on this. The line between teaching and helping is blurry.

I consciously choose to err on the side of teaching.

 

I would think teaching a child how to display something would involve ... making a practice display on a different type of project.

These projects take so much effort that I'm not going to create a *different* project just

for the sake of teaching how to do a project and make a display. The science fair also

has many aspects that I cannot create with other projects: sense of purpose, deadlines,

desire to please judges, etc.

 

But when it comes to a display that the child is receiving/taking credit for, especially in a competitive situation, helping should be limited to intervention specifically requested by the child. For example, if a child asks for assistance formatting a table, it is acceptable for a parent to provide minimal assistance, but if the child makes a table and is unconcerned about it, the parent shouldn't be jumping in saying it would be better if you did it this other way.

While I agree in theory, in practice it is difficult to define "minimal assistance."

 

My child didn't know at first that a table and graph would be the best

way of working with her data, so I told her. She did't know how to make

a table on the computer, so I showed her. That was the assistance she

needed to be successful. It was also a lot more assistance than

other children needed.

 

At least our science fair is set up so that the kids are graded against a standard,

not each other. It is possible for everyone to get first place, so I am not giving

my children an unfair advantage over other children.

 

If the child seems at a passive total loss, then maybe they should withdraw from competition until they have had some time to learn how to present a project.

For my family, I decided to use the science fair as as a teaching tool.

They are learning how to present a project by doing a project.

At first my children are at a total loss. They cannot do much without

lots of help; often they don't even even know what help to ask for.

Over the years I expect that my kids will need less and less help.

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Here are some examples of why I give lots of assistance with science fair projects.

 

My DH is a science fair judge. He judged one project where a young child

(K-2nd grade group) did a project on clouds. When he asked the child what

clouds are made of, the child answered "cold". He would far rather that the

parents had taught the child more about clouds, than have the child come

up with this incorrect conclusion herself, no matter how much that would

have been considered "doing the project for the child."

 

Here's another example. My dd was working on her project. Some of the

decorations for her project needed to be hot glued to the board. I chose to

do it for her, even though she has used the glue gun herself several times.

It was very late the night before the fair, and the odds of her burning herself

were higher than normal because she was tired. So, I sent her to bed and glued myself.

Was my gluing "doing the project for her" or was it "reasonable assistance"?

I could make an argument either way, but ultimately I made the call for my

child and my family.

 

One last example. At one school where DH was a judge, all students above

a certain grade were *required* to do a science fair project. Some students

were completely uninterested in the project, and had no clue what to do.

The school did not teach these children enough for them to do the projects on their own.

What's a parent to do when the kid has been setup for failure?

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Here are some examples of why I give lots of assistance with science fair projects.

 

My DH is a science fair judge. He judged one project where a young child

(K-2nd grade group) did a project on clouds. When he asked the child what

clouds are made of, the child answered "cold". He would far rather that the

parents had taught the child more about clouds, than have the child come

up with this incorrect conclusion herself, no matter how much that would

have been considered "doing the project for the child."

 

Here's another example. My dd was working on her project. Some of the

decorations for her project needed to be hot glued to the board. I chose to

do it for her, even though she has used the glue gun herself several times.

It was very late the night before the fair, and the odds of her burning herself

were higher than normal because she was tired. So, I sent her to bed and glued myself.

Was my gluing "doing the project for her" or was it "reasonable assistance"?

I could make an argument either way, but ultimately I made the call for my

child and my family.

 

One last example. At one school where DH was a judge, all students above

a certain grade were *required* to do a science fair project. Some students

were completely uninterested in the project, and had no clue what to do.

The school did not teach these children enough for them to do the projects on their own.

What's a parent to do when the kid has been setup for failure?

TO me, helping a 9 year old make a table is reasonable assistance.

 

IMO it's strange to even have a Science Fair for lower elementary aged kids.  You know 90% of the work is the parents.  Back in our day, the Science Fair didn't even start or exist until 6th or 7th grade.  

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Here are some examples of why I give lots of assistance with science fair projects.

 

My DH is a science fair judge. He judged one project where a young child

(K-2nd grade group) did a project on clouds. When he asked the child what

clouds are made of, the child answered "cold". He would far rather that the

parents had taught the child more about clouds, than have the child come

up with this incorrect conclusion herself, no matter how much that would

have been considered "doing the project for the child."

 

Here's another example. My dd was working on her project. Some of the

decorations for her project needed to be hot glued to the board. I chose to

do it for her, even though she has used the glue gun herself several times.

It was very late the night before the fair, and the odds of her burning herself

were higher than normal because she was tired. So, I sent her to bed and glued myself.

Was my gluing "doing the project for her" or was it "reasonable assistance"?

I could make an argument either way, but ultimately I made the call for my

child and my family.

 

One last example. At one school where DH was a judge, all students above

a certain grade were *required* to do a science fair project. Some students

were completely uninterested in the project, and had no clue what to do.

The school did not teach these children enough for them to do the projects on their own.

What's a parent to do when the kid has been setup for failure?

As far as the gluing, again...why was your child procrastinating?  Why was it late at night?  Why couldn't she use regular glue and take the consequence of it being lumpy? 

 

I guess we disagree to an extent....but no one is going to hang you up by your toenails and take away your child's ribbon.  Parents have to do their best to train their children in the way they see fit.  The point of a Science Fair is to learn Science and have fun.  Especially at these young ages, I hope we can all give grace for the differences.  

 

But, I would not have glued it for my child.

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IMO it's strange to even have a Science Fair for lower elementary aged kids. You know 90% of the work is the parents. Back in our day, the Science Fair didn't even start or exist until 6th or 7th grade.

 

 

I also don't understand why science fairs for elementary kids are common now,

and even required at some schools. On the other hand, based on his experience

as a science fair judge, DH would say that for the majority of projects, the parents

do *not* do 90% of the work. A lot of the work? Yes. 90%? No.

 

I guess we disagree to an extent....but no one is going to hang you up by your toenails and take away your child's ribbon. Parents have to do their best to train their children in the way they see fit.

I really respect your ideas, and I'm glad we can agree to disagree on some points.

 

The point of a Science Fair is to learn Science and have fun. Especially at these young ages, I hope we can all give grace for the differences.

I have a slightly different perspective. Based on my experience, learning

science is actually a very small part of participating in a science fair.

If I based my decision whether to do science fair solely on the amount

of science learned, I wouldn't do it.

 

As far as the gluing, again...why was your child procrastinating? Why was it late at night? Why couldn't she use regular glue and take the consequence of it being lumpy? ... I would not have glued it for my child.

Fair enough. I can totally see why some consider gluing for my child

"doing the project for my child".

 

It was late at night because we procrastinated. We procrastinated because

we were trying to juggle several different activities. Scheduling everything

and pacing out all the work is a skill that she doesn't have yet, and obviously

a skill that I failed on as well.

 

In this case we used hot glue because regular glue would not have held.

The purpose was not to avoid a lumpy product. (And to avoid burning

DD's fingers. Burnt fingers bother me far less than DD.)

 

At that point, if I hadn't helped glue, she would not have had a completed

project. I chose a completed project. Other parents would have chosen differently.

 

TO me, helping a 9 year old make a table is reasonable assistance.

 

Strangely enough, I see helping my child make a table is far closer to "doing the

project for her" than doing some of the gluing. DD knows how to glue. I'm just helping

get through a long mindless activity that requires no skill or thought. Making a table is

harder for her. Helping her make a table is producing an end product that she could

not have done completely by herself. Helping the child do something that

she could *not* do on her own is closer to pretending that the child is more

capable than she really is.

 

In the end the distinction didn't really matter for us. I helped with both.

 

A research scientist has mentors and lab assistants. Mentors guide him

and help point out things he doesn't know. Lab assistants take over the grunt work.

Neither take away from him as a scientist. For the science fair, DD is the

research scientist. I acted as her mentor and lab assistant.

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Just for contrast my discussion of gluing for my child ...

 

Last year my first grader won "best display" for her age group. There were better looking

displays out there. All the writing was in DD's messy (but legible) handwriting. The shaped

headings were lopsided and had ragged edges. The papers were glued onto the board

crooked. The judges obviously gave her that award because the display was clearly her work.

 

This year, I decided that I wanted my kids to learn how to make a more attractive display.

I gave them a lot more assistance in making the display. I showed them how to use the

paper cutter. I showed them how to line things up. I let them type everything. I even

did some of the gluing for them. Their displays looked much better than last year.

Neither won best display. I have no regrets.

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If displays are going to be a part of your child's schooling, I think designing a clear and concise one takes some guidance in the early years. When presenting bullet lists, for instance, would a child automatically know that a listing of points on white computer paper glued onto a white tri -fold board is basically invisible?  Suggesting a piece of colorful paper under it makes sense to me. lol  What about the all-important font discussion?  ;)   Information about techniques of design : photos of people looking to the left go on the right)?   What about the child who isn't 'into' 'making things look eye-catching but wants to do the research? I'd help.

 

I think teachings the basics of searching and research,recording of information, basic graphs and graphing skills, understanding the color wheel ;)  are helpful in the early years.

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MerryatHope:

 

Those are good examples of what I was trying to express.

 

Some of the key "quantifiers "

 

1. Your son recognized there was an issue that he needed help with.

 

 

I agree to a point, but the point I was trying to make is that students don't always recognize when they need help. He didn't know he had an issue with how the data was presented, and he never would have asked. This is a student I have spent much time with, showing how to organize in many subjects. It does not come naturally to him at all, and he would never see it as an issue or need--he'd just get things wrong and be discouraged. 

 

So I think a wise parent has to know when to step in, whether or not a child 'asks' for help--in neither example that I gave did he ask or recognize the need.

 

 

I totally agree with you on this. The line between teaching and helping is blurry.

I consciously choose to err on the side of teaching.

 

 

These projects take so much effort that I'm not going to create a *different* project just

for the sake of teaching how to do a project and make a display. The science fair also

has many aspects that I cannot create with other projects: sense of purpose, deadlines,

desire to please judges, etc.

 

 

While I agree in theory, in practice it is difficult to define "minimal assistance."

 

My child didn't know at first that a table and graph would be the best

way of working with her data, so I told her. She did't know how to make

a table on the computer, so I showed her. That was the assistance she

needed to be successful. It was also a lot more assistance than

other children needed.

 

At least our science fair is set up so that the kids are graded against a standard,

not each other. It is possible for everyone to get first place, so I am not giving

my children an unfair advantage over other children.

 

 

For my family, I decided to use the science fair as as a teaching tool.

They are learning how to present a project by doing a project.

At first my children are at a total loss. They cannot do much without

lots of help; often they don't even even know what help to ask for.

Over the years I expect that my kids will need less and less help.

 

Yes, I agree, great post. 

 

TO me, helping a 9 year old make a table is reasonable assistance.

 

IMO it's strange to even have a Science Fair for lower elementary aged kids.  You know 90% of the work is the parents.  Back in our day, the Science Fair didn't even start or exist until 6th or 7th grade.  

 

Actually, our science fair is also K-12, and I love to see the little kids' projects! They have such cute ideas, and often their hypotheses make me smile, and it's so fun to see their genuine surprise at how things turned out, or to show a collection. We have even had an occasional K-3rd grader win "best in show," because a student and his or her work was so exemplary. And, while there is the occasional parent who doesn't get it and does most of the work, most of these you can tell the student did the bulk of it, because they are excited to tell you all about it and know their stuff! I think it's pretty easy to tell, when the judge talks with the student, whether they did their project or not. Most readily admit which parts they had help with (we actually encourage students to share this info in the workshops before the fair), and you can tell by how they answer questions what they understand, and if they are interested and excited about their project. 

 

 They are  capable of observing tables in other displays at museums etc and in their math class,  and deciding whether they want to use one in their project presentation.

 

This assumes every student is a "discovery-oriented" learner. Many students don't learn that way, and learn best from direct, incremental teaching methods or other styles. Some need to be shown methods repeatedly before they assimilate that information and can make a judgement like you describe. This is what I was trying to get at before when saying that some students are not going to recognize issues, ask for help, know what questions to ask, and so on.

 

A way to directly teach this is to show a student specifically how scientists represent information--show them various chart and graph styles, and then ask a question such as, "Which one would make your information the most clear to others?" Then see how much help the student needs in designing it--don't step in and make the table or graph, but you can walk the student through the process: "What columns do you plan to use?" "Do you want this information across the top or down the side?" "How many rows and columns will you need?" and so on can be questions that would walk a student through until you see it "click" for them--when they've got it they'll tell mom to back off! 

 

So...there are ways for parents to use the science fair project as a teaching opportunity without doing the work for the student, but which may involve more leading and direction.

 

Also, I find my kids need obvious instruction such as, "Use a ruler when you draw the lines for your table/graph." This did not naturally occur to them in elementary school or junior high (or for that matter, high school--I sent my oldest back to re-draw some of his graphing in geometry last year!) 

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Hah, hah! I think you would be surprised. I do have a bit of a frustrating parenting style in this regard. I don't like having to do things for DD, so I will show her how to do something in a nice way and then "trash it" and make her do it. Sometimes, she'll have to do something several times before I deem it good enough. It makes her angry sometimes, but hey, she's getting used to it. I believe in the do your best work always motto. At her age, best takes a lot of practice. But, this only applies to things that are important or for public consumption. During her free time and free crafting, I don't care what it looks like.

 

Also, there are so many materials and tools available these days, why should a child's project have to be completed with markers and crayons? Why should a child have to draw and write everything out when there is clip art available for her to choose from? Why does it have to look like child art? I don't think that just because a child does everything "by hand" makes the project better or more authentic or more worthy of award. If a child is learning and using skills of today and his/her project looks better doesn't mean he/she didn't put just as much work into that project. It was also created "by hand," just in a different way. Also, good design does not necessarily equate to more money. You just have to know where and how to shop.

 

I'm a designer by education and trade, so my perspective may be a little different than those who aren't into such things.

 

By the way, DD worked no less than five hours on her poster over several days. She more than earned her badge.

 

 

Merry; Being computer support and shopping for the child seems absolutely reasonable to me, especially in 5th grade. Role playing the questions make sense too.

PitterPat- I definitely think you helped your dd so much that that badge is yours, more than hers.  But this is perhaps a way in which we as individuals differ.  I wish there were guidelines clearly laid out so that parents could understand where the boundaries are.

I would rather my dd do it almost all on her own (and then know that she actually gets the credit.)  I also feel that she will learn more by this hands on group experience this way.  


 

 

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I made the following cartoon after seeing the "Science fair" at my DD's former school. Which is why, in the one science fair my DD has done, she had a display board that looked like a 2nd grader had done it, and a project which, while well thought out, had a conclusion that didn't quite match what should have happened, because I let her make her own mistakes (she'd built a catapult and shot different weight projectiles of the same size, and found a difference in distance-which was almost certainly due to materials fatigue in the catapult, not the weight itself-but she didn't realize it, so she wrote it up as a conclusion). She could explain exactly how she'd come up with the project, how she'd tested it and her results-they just didn't quite match what SHOULD have happened.  It wasn't until this year's physical science that she realized what she'd done wrong.  At least it was obvious she did her own work :)

 

 

 

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My thought is that a child cannot draw upon an empty well.

Very wise words, both for this and many other aspects of homeschooling. :)

 

Fair enough. I can totally see why some consider gluing for my child

"doing the project for my child".

 

It was late at night because we procrastinated. We procrastinated because

we were trying to juggle several different activities. Scheduling everything

and pacing out all the work is a skill that she doesn't have yet, and obviously

a skill that I failed on as well.

 

In this case we used hot glue because regular glue would not have held.

The purpose was not to avoid a lumpy product. (And to avoid burning

DD's fingers. Burnt fingers bother me far less than DD.)

 

At that point, if I hadn't helped glue, she would not have had a completed

project. I chose a completed project. Other parents would have chosen differently.

 

Strangely enough, I see helping my child make a table is far closer to "doing the

project for her" than doing some of the gluing. DD knows how to glue. I'm just helping

get through a long mindless activity that requires no skill or thought. Making a table is

harder for her. Helping her make a table is producing an end product that she could

not have done completely by herself. Helping the child do something that

she could *not* do on her own is closer to pretending that the child is more

capable than she really is.

 

In the end the distinction didn't really matter for us. I helped with both.

 

A research scientist has mentors and lab assistants. Mentors guide him

and help point out things he doesn't know. Lab assistants take over the grunt work.

Neither take away from him as a scientist. For the science fair, DD is the

research scientist. I acted as her mentor and lab assistant.

 

I have raised a child who was still cutting things out as we were heading out to the airport for the Intel ISEF (there is a great TSA and scissors story there,) and it was because she was juggling several activities. :) I did about half of the board, as I said before. I didn't understand many of the words on it, but I can help cut and glue. We adore each other, and I think much of it comes from late nights spent giggling over various projects she needed to complete. :) She turned out just fine, headed off to be a computer engineer with a nice scholarship soon, and I helped many times with her work. I simply found it more efficient to have her concentrate her time on skills she still needs to learn (higher level research, for example) and not on things she already mastered (cut and paste.)

 

Ironically, she is a paid research assistant in a university lab this year. She does some awesome stuff, but she also prints out signs and tapes them up, cleans up, etc. :) But at home, I am her research assistant, so that she can concentrate on the science.

 

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We haven't made a science fair project for competition, but my son makes his own science experiments all the time at home. I don't see helping him much besides trying to help him figure out what he's doing (narrowing it down), checking his work, and buying supplies.  They had to build bridges in CC the past 2 weeks and we weren't allowed to help at all. I think it's great because so often we hover and micromanage and they don't really learn why it did work- his bridge was a total failure and he was of course upset, but he also knows how not to build it next time… 

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It assumes the student has at least Kindergarten math according to the nclb standards. They've made graphs and charts at school in the months prior to the science fair, and are expected to be at grade level in using them.

Kindergarteners making graphs? I must be misunderstanding you.

There is no way my kids could have made a graph in kinder.

Read a graphs? Okay, but making a graph from scratch is far harder.

 

I've been to enough science and history fairs to see that many of the students were walked thru by a parent. There is a huge difference in what they learned vs what a child who was allowed to think for himself and use his resources was able to learn...but it takes time to allow the latter to happen, and many families don't want to put in that time or be embarrassed that their child skipped a part.

As Merry noted, some students are "discovery oriented" learners, and others are not.

My DD is not discovery oriented. She absolutely flounders without direct instruction

in excruciating detail. It is painful to watch. She is also not the type to learn skills from

failure. When she fails, she gives up and has no interest in trying harder.

I've seen it time and time again.

 

Even if she could complete a science fair project with as little input as you describe,

not only would it take an insane lenght of time, why would I subject her to such torture?

 

DD still learns a lot, even being guided and helped. She doesn't learn as much

as the other kids who can figure things out by herself, but she never would have anyway.

She isn't as bright or motivated as them.

 

I do not help my DD in ways that some consider "doing it for her" in order to

avoid embarrassement, or to show off. I do it because she needs it to be successful,

and the skills she learns through that success will help her do more later, in ways

that failure would not.

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Which is why, IMO, if there were going to be Science Fairs for K-2 grade students, it should be labelled "Family Science Fair" Or "Parent Participation Science Fair" and  maybe they could have guidelines for parents about how to help kids along.  

 

I bet those little ones are so cute!  I can see why it would be so fun and such a great into to making Science fun.  

 

 

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Here is an x-post I wrote last year which might be helpful:

 

These are the guidelines that I give myself:

You need to act as a teacher, not as a parent -- that is think about what a teacher in a classroom with 25 kids would/could do. Imagine what material would have to be taught, how much organizing the teacher would do, and how much personalized attention each student would get. All this depends completely upon the age of the student. The classroom situation that I imagine is where a teacher uses the science fair as a type of unit study and incorporates scientific method, research skills, writing, math, layout, and presentation skills. The class would work on their project for about 2 hours per day for about a month. The teacher would lecture to the class about how to do things, but would also walk around the room and give personalized suggestions as the students worked independently.

Here is how this translates into my homeschool environment:
1) You are allowed to teach your student about the scientific method, about making effective tables, about layout, about how to design and give a good presentation, about how to use the computer graphing package, etc
2) You are allowed to give your student general guidelines like your poster must be tidy so you must use a ruler. Or you need to add some glitz like glitter or colors. Or the paragraphs on the poster cannot be more than 3 sentences long, etc
3) You are allowed to give personalized suggestions. So you can teach them about controls, have them go think about it, and then discuss their ideas and make suggestions for improvement. This is how student learn. It is no different than doing multiple revisions of an essay with teacher comments guiding each change. When they are designing a table for their data, let them try a few ways on their own, but then meet with them to discuss their ideas and make suggestions. If they don't know how to make a certain type of graph, this falls under "you are allowed to teach your student new material." So you show them how to do one on different data, but make them do their own.
4) You are allowed to set a schedule for them. Teachers would definitely do this. You must have xxx done by this date, and yyy done by this date. "Today, in class, children, we will be working on xxx. You have 1 hour to accomplish yyy."

What you are NOT allowed to do:
1) You are not allowed to design their experiment completely for them and hand it to them on a silver platter. You must make them THINK to learn. And then you can make suggestions in a reiterative process.
2) You are not allowed to collect the data for your student.
3) You are not allowed to write up their analysis and discussion, although you can type it while they dictate if this is required.
4) You are not allowed to make any parts of the poster. This must be completely their work. You can guide them and make suggestions, but the ultimate decisions are theirs.

What you should always TRY to do:
1) Try to make them spend some time figuring things out on their own. Like 15-30 minutes for each issue that arises.
2) Try to step back and see how much they can do before you step in with suggestions.

Also, just an FYI, we do not judge the kids at our homeschoolers' science fair. This way there is no reason for the parents to over help. We do run the older kids through a judging process, but there is not a winner. We just require them to talk to the "judge" and explain their work (good practice). And then our "judge" writes up comments about what is really good and what could be changed to make it better.

 

Ruth in NZ

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Here's another x-post
 

I'm interested in the background research part of the process. Is your older one just reading materials you have found for him? At what age should a science fair student do all their own research, with what tools, and how do you teach those skills?


This is a great question. I will first address scientific research as a whole and then discuss the background research part specifically.

Scientific research is learned through mentoring - you have a grad student and an advisor. Just like in a residency after med school, some things cannot be learned on your own through book study. The research advisor responds to the constantly evolving situation at hand, and if the advisor is any good, he/she will guide the student to find his own answers. But he/she is still providing guidance. Guidance includes questioning, suggesting, refocusing, reducing scope, problem solving, and discussion. It occasionally involves very specific direction, but not normally. IMHO middle school and high school students doing scientific research should *always* have a mentor. These students should NEVER do a science fair project completely on their own. Grad students have advisors, and professors have collaborators. Science is simply not done in a vacuum.

The problem is that science fairs are competitive with the prizes being both monetary and prestige. This makes the situation very very difficult. Obviously a student who has more help will do better research. Somewhere I have posted my thoughts on how much help is appropriate, and I will try find my post.

As for the background research part, in my personal experience having had 2 different advisors, they always gave me general background reading on a new topic to get me started. They knew of the best overview articles. Once I had read them, then it was up to me to find the more detailed material as my question narrowed. I am taking this approach with my older ds. Having read the material I found for him, and having narrowed down his research question through this reading and discussion, we made a list today of the questions he needs to find answers to. So starting tomorrow he is going to try to find answers. I will pay attention to how I teach him to do this and what kind of issues arise, and will post later in the project.

HTH,

Ruth in NZ

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The big thing my DD's mentor has done for background information is to direct DD to reliable sources, as far as specific journals, certain publishing houses, and, in general,  more professional resources, and in teaching her to use search tools to narrow what she wants.  One thing I'd consider seriously for a science-interested kid who is ready to go beyond the "Scientific American" level is to get a subscription to a journal search service online. My state has some of this available for free for state residents, sometimes local colleges/universities let community members get cards for free or at very low cost, and professional associations often will let pre-college students join at the student rate, which is often very, very low. The difference between most websites, popular science articles, and professional journals is dramatic, and really helps to outline what is expected in science research.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We haven't been in any science fairs yet, so I am not sure how much I will help.  If it's graded (for school), I will give each child the support she needs to get the grade reflecting her knowledge and effort.  For example, I will make sure they have appropriate books / internet resources to get the information.  I'll make sure they have a workable concept for how to physically put it together, and materials as needed.  If past projects are any indication, this will mean making sure they understand the instructions and asking them how they envision it physically, and if their vision isn't feasible, making minor suggestions.  Physically they will do whatever they are capable of doing, and if the project requires more, I'll help.  (If the teacher is requiring something a kid can't do, that means the teacher is expecting parental help.)  I'll look it over before they turn it in and give them feedback so they can revisit and correct mistakes etc. This assumes they are still in elementary school.  Older than that, I will probably only participate if they ask me to, and then only to the extent it seems necessary and fair.

 

If a science fair is a non-graded optional competition, I don't plan on doing anything other than responding to my kids' questions/requests.  If they choose not to participate, that is fine with me.  My schools never had a science fair and I managed to survive.  We had several independent projects in Biology, and my parents were 100% hands-off.  We had to use our wits to figure out how to recycle junk around the house to make stuff.  I remember using Lincoln Logs and yarn to make the DNA molecule.  I cut up coffee can lids to make phylogenetic trees.

 

The teachers / judges can tell from a mile away who had too much help.  I wouldn't worry about it.

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