Thursday, May 8, 2008

Thoughts of an elementary school science judge:

Today I judged my very first science fair. My chest swelled to see all of the cute pint-sized project boards with the cosseted data and apparatuses. I took copious notes. The process took all day, but I am 100% sure I understood what everyone did for their projects - well, the ones I could read anyway - and that I had correctly assigned awards. Everyone placed in that science fair, so I didn't really have much to worry about. We have to encourage the scientists of tomorrow. A few things worried me, however, and they were all symptoms of our society and how it treats children.

An attitude that runs rampant in that school, speaking from experience built from my lengthy association with it, both as a student and as a volunteer, is summarized by the statement, "I pay them, so they should have to raise my kids for me." I assume that this happens everywhere. Some parents just plain probably shouldn't have had children. They do not pay attention to them. They drop them off at activity after activity, and their work and development suffer. I was able to see this to varying degrees in their projects. Children need afternoons at home. They need time to think and teach themselves about the world, which leads to another problem I have noticed.

Sorry for the corn, but I'm going to quote Train on this one. "When children have to play inside so they don't disappear..." It is a genuine fear in these troubled times. It was when I was growing up as well. I still sometimes worry about it. You are just plain not safe anymore. The only reason why I had such a privileged childhood with so much time outside to explore is because we had first a Doberman and then a Doberman/Rottweiler mix. They were both great big dumb puppies, but totally terrifying for those who didn't know them. We also played inside a six foot tall chain link fence. A lot of the children nowadays don't have that, and it shows. Some of the projects showed a distinct lack of understanding of fundamental physical concepts, stuff that you learn by making messes when you are a tot. I pitied those kids because of what that told me: that they did not have a free childhood. Theirs was one without mud and caterpillars and worms and dogs and extracting the dye out of flower petals and doing "chemistry" with rocks and a cup of water and coming in covered with mud after making pinch pots with your aunts. Pray for the children of today and even more for the children of tomorrow. It can only get worse.


MO said...

Sounds like you have good insite with students. I am sure that your judging was accurate and helpful to some science educator.
Often times children can be funny, engaging an smart. Their gifts are appreciated by the people who work with them.
Isn't it a shame that when they are the cutest, often the parents miss it?
Don't forget to dig in the dirt, too. Especially in Italy. You are on your way...

swamp mom said...

I am a scientist who never had the opportunity to participate in a science fair until high school. I think the younger you are when you begin thinking scientifically the better. What you have to learn to do is to ask a question and then think up a way to get the answer. Problem solving is a natural tendency but has to be fostered. I learned to solve problems by doing - yes, with mud (have you ever tasted it?)and sticks and flowers. Then, when we grow-up we apply these skills to everything from work problems to new experiences - like going overseas by ourselves for the first time. We learn to see our successes as answers to problems and then we can take on bigger and more difficult ones without giving them a lot of thought. Ciao!