Writing Center
Spring 2009 Edition

Science Fair

Erin Teuscher
Expressive 2010 2nd Place

Anne Frank once wrote, “Parents can only give good advice or put children on the right paths, but the final forming lies in their own hands.” On the other hand, Maridawn Wadsworth said, “Students who have parents to guide and lead them on the path to education have a much smoother road.” Where do we draw the line in what is actually just helping with homework versus doing all the work for them? What should the compromise be? Today, it seems like parents are doing much more than just “guiding” students; they are in fact doing the work for them. Term papers, math homework, science labs, nothing seems out of bounds to today’s parents. We are raising children who do not have to be responsible for their own work. One of the key ways I saw this most demonstrated was at my own middle school science fair.

I started to feel the first tingling of nervousness flutter in my stomach as I carried my colorful poster board full of scientific graphs and charts in the school’s gymnasium. I had spent weeks working to make sure all of the figures were correct and met my hypothesis. The night before had been a long one as I cut out lively photos and pasted them to my otherwise boring presentation board. There was little time for sleep! However, it was worth the little less sleep I had received the last few weeks while I had been completing this project. I remembered how bummed out I had been the first day of the quarter when my science teacher began explaining how we would have to do a science project to be presented at our school science fair. I had never been the greatest scientist. In fact, science was always my worst subject. I stressed for weeks about what to do it on. Even after I finally chose my topic, "What materials glow under black light and why", it took a lot of effort and time to accomplish exactly what I had hypothesized would happen.

I had kind of started to enjoy working on my project and was a little sad to see it end. I knew that my work was not apt to win a Nobel Prize. Nonetheless, I could not help but be proud of my eighth-grade work.

As I found my name and started setting up my 4x4 spot, I suddenly noticed the other students’ projects. Jim Nelson, the dumbest kid in the grade, was positioned immediately next to me. I was completely dumbfounded as I read his report topic—The Effect of Pollutants on Light Bioluminescent Bacteria. Light bioluminescent what? How in the heck did he come up with that? Overwhelmed by the caliber of Jim’s project, I walked around, looking at the other students’ projects, and my shock intensified: Weak Lensing Mass Estimates of Low Redshift Clusters of Galaxies. Microfluidic Image Cytometry To Detect PI3K Pathway Markers in Brain Cancer. Even my best friend Michelle prominently displayed How to Build a Homemade Magnetometer to Study How the Earth’s Magnetic Fields Are Affected By Solar Storms. How could she prepare such an advanced project? She hated science.

Almost in tears by the triteness of my own project, I began to interrogate Michelle. I asked her how she came up with such a brilliant project. She whispered that she had not done anything to prepare for her project, but her Dad, who was a meteorologist, had all of this material prepared and even put it together for her. She told me that she had memorized some answers that would make her look smart if a teacher asked a question, but that she really had no clue what her project was about. Remembering how my own father had only shook his head and told me I would figure it out when I had asked for help made me have to ask her, “How did you get your dad to do this all for you?”

“It was so easy,” she said. “All I had to do was tell him how we had to come up with a project for the school science fair and that I wanted to do a project on something to do with meteorology since it was such a cool subject.” I had to roll my eyes at this point I knew she thought what her dad did was boring. Then from that, he just did the whole thing for you? "Well", she looked a little embarrassed as she lowered her eyes, “Not exactly,” she stammered. “I did have to cry a few times whenever he started trying to make me get involved my dad is a huge sucker for tears, especially if it’s a girl.” Now I was the one in tears. I had spent so much time on my project and it looked like a Sesame Street cutout compared to these professional, scientifically prepared projects.

Regaining control of myself, trying desperately not to make a scene, I went from booth to booth asking the same questions and getting the same cheery answers. Amber’s mom spent weeks on her project, Johnny had his grandpa piece something together, and Jim had his dad’s entire lab put together his project. As I reflected on the injustice of this science fair, I could not understand why a parent would do all the work for them. What was the point? They had already passed science and had probably participated in science fairs themselves. Did every student have parents do their projects for them? Why had I been so naïve? Just 15 minutes earlier, I was feeling good about my project and myself and now I knew I had the most amateurish project the school had ever seen. I cursed myself for not having my parents prepare my project for me. I should have known that when the instruction said to “make sure that your parents or older siblings do NOT do the majority of the work for you,” it was simply a cruel inside joke that everyone was in on but my parents and me. As the day dragged on and I watched the parents be more interested in who had won than what the student had really learned, I knew that something was wrong with this system. I left with a participant ribbon, vowing never to put my own time into a science fair again.

Later in the week, after my teenage pride had cooled off from what I considered to be a quite embarrassing moment in my life, I reflected over this whole experience. This is not how a science fair should be or, really, how any school functions should be, but what can we really do to change it? I thought the point of a science fair was to allow kids to look at science in a fun different light. A way that science is used in his or her everyday life. It should never be just a homework assignment for someone else. As a society, we have the wrong mind set regarding education. We are more concerned about a grade than what the student has learned. Parents want their kids to get into the right college or get the right grade more than they want their child to learn. We now have parents competing against each other rather than the students. I feel sad for those students who are going to go out and face the real world without their parents help.

I recalled a story a student once told me about how her dad taught her to learn. She used to hate having to ask her dad for help with math because he would always make her pull out a piece of scratch paper and explain how the equation was to be solved. As she went to high school and had a lot more time in class to finish homework, she was able to figure it out on her own instead of having to go home and have him help her so much. Her dad was not the smartest guy when it came to math, but he taught her how to learn on her own. So, yes, at the end of my 8th grade science fair I did not win any prizes or have the most advanced of projects, but I did do the work myself, and I did learn a lot. In addition, the lesson I learned far outweighed the blue ribbons of my classmates who got the glory for someone else’s work. Subsequently, who really won more, the student who got first prize and learned nothing or the student who did it themselves and will forever hold the knowledge of what they learned? I, for one, think it is the latter.