[time-nuts] science projects

Jim Lux jimlux at earthlink.net
Fri Feb 10 16:33:26 UTC 2012

On 2/10/12 1:37 AM, Hal Murray wrote:
>> It's the "international science and engineering fair", so both kinds  show
>> up.
>> The line between applied science and engineering is pretty fuzzy.
> There is another category.  I'm not sure what the right term is.  How about
> "just having fun"?

Most definitely..

> I think it's neat to see an experiment or demo that is well done.  I expect a
> kid will have fun and learn a lot setting one up.   With luck, some of both
> the fun and learning will rub off on other kids.

yes, and that is something to be encouraged.  However, science fairs ARE 
competitive, so what you want is "original" and "fun".  Entrants who had 
fun working on their project ALWAYS place better than those slogging it 
out because they think it will burnish their college app or because it's 
an assignment.  (My worst performance in 6 years of competition was when 
the other ideas for that year didn't pan out, and I had to put something 
together in a hurry.)

The best entrants are the ones who are curious about everything, found 
something they wanted to investigate, know an amazing amount of obscure 
background information, and went about it in a competent way.

It's the classic "that's funny" or "I wish it would do X" thing.

> I use demo to refer to an experiment that doesn't involve taking data.  You
> just observe that if I do X, Y happens.  Or if I make X bigger, Y gets bigger.

Or qualitative vs quantitative.

this is a good distinction.  What wins (leaving aside the pedagogical 
value aspect) is quantitative.   "Are redheads taller than blondes?" can 
be done both ways. If the question is reformulated as "Are redheads 
*significantly* taller than blondes? and is my school different from the 
population at large?" you've got the beginnings of a good project.

> I'm probably biased.  A friend works at the Exploratorium.  For those of you
> who don't know about it, it's the great grandaddy of the hands-on science
> museums.  They have hundreds of exhibits.  It's highly recommended if you
> ever get to San Francisco.

Frank Oppenheimer had a real vision to get that going.  It's a wonderful 

> Paul teaches science to high-school science teachers.  A lot of that involves
> showing them low cost experiments/demos.  The teachers are always finding
> new/neat ways to do things.

Yes.. and that's ever more important.  My daughter's 8th grade physical 
sciences teacher was far better at imparting the fundamentals of 
chemistry than her 10th grade Chemistry teacher. That's something that 
comes with experience and enthusiasm and confidence, I think.

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