The annual science fair at my son’s school has come and gone. It’s always a wonderful ritual of independent study, scientific method, and teamwork between parents and their kid. Of course, sometimes the fair is more challenging for the parents to decide what parts of the project should be self-discovery, and what we can do to chip in and make it less frustrating. Much has been written about navigating these balances during the science fair prep, and I use advice like this and tend to let him make mistakes and learn from them – but is that enough? How can I make a kid who would rather be collecting XP in Minecraft care about the quality of his hypothesis in a PowerPoint presentation?
After our last experience with the science fair, I have a hypothesis of my own: I think it has so much to do with the experience base from which my child is working, learning, and discovering. How well does he “feel” science? How passionate is he about finding the answer to scientific questions? How many “Science Experience Points” does he have to draw from?
Science fairs have a structured and very deliberate tie to the scientific method. This is a good thing. However, the scientific method only has an implied tie to scientific experience. If you have a lot of experience, you can come up with a good guess at what causes something to happen, and then create an experiment to prove or disprove it. I think there is literally a universe of opportunities to give my son more Science XP – which he can use to come up with compelling and downright exciting projects to research, report, and present during science fair week.
In the coming year my son and I are both resolving to gain more Science XP, by experimenting in the creative sense as well as the scientific, by imitating planned experiments that expose us to new properties of matter and energy, and by being more “playful” with science. In this way we’ll both have more of a “feel” for the real-world effect of scientific principles. I’m confident it will help us come up with really compelling hypotheses when the annual science fair rolls around and we get much more formal with our science projects.