Why My Son’s Science Project Was Almost My Undoing

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Ask my children about my expectations when it comes to their grades, and they’ll tell you I am a mean mom. 

I expect them to do well in school and I’m not real lenient in that department. School is their job, just like going to work is mine. 

I know they each excel differently and at different paces, but I expect them do their work and try their hardest.   Bringing home a “C” on your report card is known to get you some study time each night at the dining room table. 

But the whole “being a mean mom because you didn’t get a good grade” philosophy does go out of the window every once in a while.  And one of those reasons is a science project.  Sure, when I was in the 7th grade we had science projects.  But they were simple, basic projects with the data and research all written by hand and pasted on a piece of poster board.  Flash-forward to my son being in the 7th grade and it’s totally different. 

When he said he had to do a science project this year, I shuddered.  We have been blessed so far that each of my children has had the choice to do the class science project rather than an individual one.  Don’t get me wrong, if they wanted to do an individual project, I would be more than happy to support that decision.  But being that I am not in the least bit scientific, I am honestly happy that the class project has been an option.  Seeing the stress he was under as he started to work on it, I told him I would help him and we would work on it together. 

The first step was to come up with an idea. Here are some that were tossed around.

Mom’s idea- Spray paint some Styrofoam plates red, blue, yellow, black and green.  Place an ice cube on each one and see which one melts first.  His teacher nixed it.

Student’s idea- Build a rocket out of soda bottle and use an alka-seltzer tablet to shoot it off.  I nixed this one because I suddenly had visions of rockets with soda spraying out flying all over my house.

Teacher’s idea- Build a solar panel oven out of a pizza box.  I would have nixed it – because my reality is that at times even the microwave isn’t fast enough for cooking our food, but for the sake of just getting this science project done, I agreed.

I had no idea what I was in for with this science project.  First, my son had to sign a 50 page contract agreeing to the terms of the project.  He had to give a biography on the adult supervising the project and had to agree to do a million steps and to use all future college tuition to create a project worthy of possible going all the way to the state competition.  If that should occur, the “supervising adult” will pay all the costs for travel and stay during the competition.  I was so nervous after reading the document that I made my dad (who is an engineer and has a bit of science intelligence) take over the role of signing it. 

So the building began.  $30 of pizza had to be bought so we would have enough boxes to cover any mistakes (no, pizza joints will NOT just give you the boxes).  Then we needed the plastic wrap, the tinfoil, the food to try and cook in the solar cooker and the days on end that we had to sit outside to get the data.  We finally got it built and set out to start baking our cheese toast in our solar cooker. 

Here is what I learned after multiple attempts: On the first try we couldn’t get the lid to stay open.  We tried to use a stick to prop it up but only ended up puncturing the plastic wrap.  On the second attempt, we learned that ants really like cheese toast being baked in a solar cooker.  Even the heat in the solar cooker didn’t seem to bother them.  On the final attempt my son learned that little brothers and solar cookers are not a good match.  Little brothers like to step on whatever is in the solar cooker to see if they can squish it. 

After our trial went on for a few weeks and we tried to gather data, I have to say I gave up.  One night when my son’s stress level had reached it max and so had mine, I looked at him and said, “If you get a “C” in the class this quarter, you will not get in trouble because I KNOW you have tried and my budget is too tight for us to keep doing these experiments.”

He seemed a little relieved but I did tell him we had to complete the project.  We may not have data and much scientific research to back it, but he sure gets an “A” in my book for effort.   The pictures of his project include the one with the ants enjoying the cheese in the solar cooker and one with his brother dancing on his solar cooker.  When he told me he didn’t even know what to write for final conclusion, I exhaustedly told him to just put down “because my mother said so!” 

I sure hope his science teacher has a sense of humor. 

 

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