Saturday, May 08, 2010

The Science Fair and my bucket list

When I was in about 5th or 6th grade, I decided to try and enter my schools science fair.

To be very frank, the fact that I was encouraged to try something like what happens to carnation in colored water seemed fruitless and uninteresting. I knew what would happen and I knew why. I wanted to be challenged.

Perhaps it was a clue about my strong interest in biology and social sciences, but, what I chose was to investigate survivability... specifically desert survival.

My hypothesis was: Armed with the right tools and or knowledge a human being is capable of surviving in the desert for a reasonable period of time.

No, this is not a test tube or physics project... but I was interested in what mechanisms would help prolong a person's survival should they be lost in the climate in which I lived.

I have a family that will not take even a small road trip with out provisions in place to help provide water and sustenance should there be a horrible circumstance and we do, indeed, get stuck in the desert.

So, I employed the scientific method as I went about my project.

  • First, I set up my hypothesis.
  • Second, I formed a conjecture. I stated what I knew to do (make sure you have water when being placed in a position that you could become stuck in a desert) and thought about what other things needed to be in place for survivability to occur. those, in general, were: how to procure more water (you can't carry a city water plant with you), how to identify and find nourishment in the harsh clime (what was available to eat so that calorically we could sustain our bodies), how to devise an action plan for getting to safety.
  • Thirdly,  I deduced my predictions; namely that there were means to get water from a desert, there was readily available nutrition and that we could indeed devise a plan of action to get our bodies to safety.
  • Lastly I tested this. 
    • I researched condensation to identify a way to procure water and came up with a plan to help use the available resources to help provide more dihydrogen monoxide. ;-)
    • I researched desert flora and fauna to identify possible food stuffs, and set out to see how easy these items were to identify
    • I looked at what the research said about traveling to safety and had to come to conclusion of developing an action plan.
    • I built a miniature condensation trapping mechanism that one could employ and measure what water amounts it was able to get.
    • I cited all of my sources.
This kind of project was outside the norm of what any of these folks had ever seen or even expected to see at a science fair. To be very frank, at that time, I was told that this was not a science fair project, but was a research project (I really want to know however, what the difference was in the case for a 5th or 6th grade science fair project). I was devastated. I could see how there was real science in there, why couldn't these adults see it? I knew there was academic rigor that was sustained through out my entire experience with the project. I was curious, I did not know something, I set out to identify what the research said and to see how it applied to those of us living in Arizona. The failure to see through the lack of carnations in colored water was somewhat devastating at that age. I felt like a failure, and decided that maybe women are just supposed to play stupid. What a sad thing.

Thankfully, I got over it. I suppose I have to thank my slightly odd high school science teacher who let me play dumb when he knew I was more aware of what was going on. Really, in hindsight, no teacher would get away with what I could get away with in his class;
I sat ON the tables, not the chairs
I got to draw pictures instead of working on experiments if I could deduct the result correctly.
I got to play my Depeche Mode tape in the film projector they had (you know the one that has a tape player and you turned to the next slide when it went "beep".

I was his teachers pet, I got away with everything in that class, and I actually had this teacher for two straight years. But the key was that even if I acted like a doofus in class, he and I would actually have some interesting discussions outside of class. And sadly, it was through that bizarre experience that I was able to allow myself to think of science as something I enjoyed. Though yes, I was and still am somewhat haunted by that first science fair experience.

So, I have always had a secret desire to be a judge at a science fair. Interestingly enough, a friend that I went to high school with is an 8th grade science teacher. And offered me the opportunity to be a judge at her second Science Fair. Finally a place to put my Biology and Anthropology college degree as well as my years as a medical student to good work. I got to be that judge. So, I went into this experience wanting to recognize rigor, scientific and academic rigor. I strongly believe I did that. I LOVED the process. I loved being able to talk to the kids and ask them questions to see if I could find out how much their curiosity was at work here.

And best of all, I got to cross that item "Judge an Elementary School Science Fair" off of my bucket list.

Thank you Miss Dayna, it was truly an honor.

2 comments:

The Ancestress Hypothesis said...

You are very polite in not referring to the early science fair judges by names they property deserve -- anti science, Christian fundamentalists. What a curiosity that your project was the very type of science project they should have adored. They, had they been consistent in their faith and humanly affairs, would have hated most science experiments -- (1) proof of descent with modification in the fossil record (2) you cannot change the color of a flower -- only God can do that __ and loved your science experiment that one could say supported the human ability to show God's glory by keeping ourselves alive during our 40 days in the desert.

Patricia Tryon said...

Carnations. My least favorite flower, in service of the utterly banal. How infuriatingly appropriate.

I'm sad at this. It is exactly the kind of wing-clipping that I thought MY generation of women was the last to endure -- but it wasn't.

You provided the engineering piece that should have satisfied their need for something to put their hands on, and something ingenious, besides. One would think that they would have been happy to bask in the reflected glory of such a project.

"Anti-science" and "anti-woman": two of the things that cause me most to despair of religion.