23 February 2011

To give those moments back

Science fair.

No plants this year. Which is good. But other projects that I've judged year after year, no changes, interchangeable, tear-inducing (because I'm trying not to yawn).

I am a good judge, or so I am told. I am consistent and fair; I offer encouragement and suggestions. For this reason, I think, I get some of the best (suggestions) and some of the worst (encouragement) projects to judge.

Some kids are hopeless. They are disinterested and disengaged. I had one of those today. Some are terrified. One year, I had a boy who was so nervous that I told him, "I am going to leave now. You are going to take a deep breath. Then I will come back, and we will start over." And we did, down to me introducing myself a second time and offering him my hand. Things went ok after that. Sometimes, you get a do-over.

Some kids need direction. I had one of those today. Great project, original and interesting, but the student didn't know how to effectively present it. I offered some ideas for selling the project to county judges should it move forward, and then I went to the science teacher, and told him what I'd told the student. This one could go far, and I'd love to see that happen.

I've been doing this for a long time, and I've learned a few things from the experience. I take a proprietary interest in the projects I see that are done by the most motivated students, and occasionally I hear from those students (and sometimes their parents) that something I said really helped. I've been doing this for a long time, but I'm not so jaded by the plants and the hot dogs wearing sunscreen that I don't get a thrill from knowing that someone listened and that I made a tiny difference.

If nothing else, I want to see these kids learn something from the agony that is science fair. I talk to them about how their projects fit into the realm of experimentation, how their project fits into the scheme of Science. I want them to learn how to be good consumers of science, to see the larger picture and to understand how to ask the big questions.

I feel quite certain that those who are willing to question are less likely to fall for the glamour of the emperor's new clothes.

Go listen to some good music: "Moments of Pleasure" from the album The Red Shoes by Kate Bush.

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