Many people have regular nightmares.
I tend to sleep like the dead and rarely dream anything I can remember at all. What I do, however, have, are very clear, almost tangible, utterly terrifying memories that accompany the dread words “Science Fair Project”.
These, of course, are my own memories of having to produce something—typically the night before—for the science fair after weeks of procrastinating to even pick a topic.
It’s not that I wanted to procrastinate like a fool, of course, it’s just that, well, picking a topic usually went something like:
I need a science fair project topic. I should do something really cool this year. I want to win! But what?
*stares off in the distance*
*tumbleweeds roll through the room*
Oh, hey, isn’t it about time to watch Tranzor Z?
*turns on TV; forgets about science fair*
Since my dream of producing something awesomely scientific always devolved into cartoons of an enormous Japanese robot, I’d find dig out the family’s stencils and aging set of scented markers—the purple was my favorite color/smell, although now that I’m an adult, I don’t really get how anything was supposed to smell like eggplant, then hastily scrawl a title across the top of a piece of $0.25 3×3 card stock. Unfortunately, because I’m about as crafty as your average garden mole, I never thought, of course, to even consider things like centering the title, nor did I bother to draw faint pencil guides to make sure all the letters came out in a line.
Meaning that in then end, my title usually looked something like:
Pretty awesome, right? The mediocrity didn’t end there, though. Oh no, that was just the beginning. I’d then proceed to “write a report” about the prescribed topic, which generally meant I’d copy two pages worth of material about electricity from the family set of Funk and Wagnalls encyclopedias**, changing it here and there to put it “in my own words”. Those two pages of hand-written “report” (which I have little doubt could only have been legible to the kind of master of handwriting analysis you see on forensics shows claiming that, obviously, John the always quiet neighbor had homicidal tendencies based on the the aggressive loop to his ‘S’s) would then get stapled to said poster stock (and usually not aligned vertically). Personally, that would have been enough for me. But somewhere along the way I’d learned that you need Visual Flair to really wow!, um, whoever it was that cared about these punitive, childhood-ruining science fair sentences, so I’d then freehand some kind of poorly drawn image between the report pages. You know, a light bulb, or something contextually appropriate.
I mean, how could a shakily-drawn, asymmetrical blob with what appeared to be either a shocked expression and/or frizzy hair not remind you of a light bulb?
So, yeah, my science fair projects were usually a travesty indicting all fields of scientific endeavor:
What brought all this to mind just now, while simultaneously giving me a case of the cold shivers, is that over the weekend, the Puddinette and I helped the puddinpop put together his own first project. Things aren’t like they used to be, though. Oh, no. The kids these days have to understand things like the scientific method—and if you don’t know what that is, you should find out before your own children come calling with their pieces of poster board and stencils—and apply it to an actual experiment using an actual hypothesis. In the end, they have to put together an actual experiment report. With data. And results. A conclusion. Perhaps even a graph or two.
You know, they have to do actual science. My science fair projects contained about as much science as your average copy of People magazine. Although, admittedly, I didn’t venture much into who got the best boob job last month.
The point, though, is that while I still get the Shudders of Epic Proportion at the mention of a science fair project, and was looking forward to assisting the puddinpop like one looks forward to the gallows, at least the project he put together this weekend, while certainly more work than the slip-shod mockery of “science” I would slap together back in the 80’s, came with a lesson. Not about the subject of his project, although that did teach us a thing or two as well, but about science, and how it was actually applied in the real world.
And in these days, where the U.S. is losing the global race for math and science, which bespeaks of grim tidings for America’s future, the more of those subjects we can teach our kids (while hopefully sparking an interest), the better our chances in the future.
Just not my future. Because I’m staring down the barrel of mandatory science fair projects for three years straight.
By the end of that, I’ll likely be hugging my knees and rocking in a dark closet while mumbling about the surprised light bulbs.
*Back in the Days of Yore, there was no Google, internet, or heaven forbid, Wikipedia, to use inappropriately as a source of data at a moment’s notice. No, no. We had to refer to books. And, generally, that kind of research was done ahead of time as part of the thoughtful consideration of your project report. Unless, of course, like me, you procrastinate with Tranzor Z until the day before the project was due. In which case, you pulled everything straight from whatever books you had lying around the house. Which is to say, I was damn lucky we had encyclopedias, otherwise I would have been using Little Gold Books. I’d have ended up fudging a project on something like locomotive regulations based research found in the perennial children’s favorite, Tootle.