Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Getting What We Wanted

The school year is almost upon us and I've yet to write about my very proud dad moments of the spring. The 2008 Science Fair was a grand day, indeed, for me.

After last year, when Mister won the humongous 4th-Grade trophy, Lamb informed me that she wanted one, too. Oh boy. I had to come up with a 5th-grade project and a kindergarten project.

So this spring I had to face the pressure. Mister had won in third grade and in fourth grade. He'd surely like another win. And Lamb had trophy fever.

For Mister, we made an experiment that did not involve glue drying. Last year, that really slowed us down in repeating the experiment. We did it, but boy was that tense with the deadline looming. So this year we did an experiment with friction. Mister dragged a wood object across various surfaces using a pulley and string, measuring how many pennies it took to get the object to move across the same length of different surfaces.

Mister could do it all. This year my support was limited to the idea, building the actual display, and formatting what Mister typed. And I probed him with questions about the experiment to get fuller statements on the results.

Mister worked very hard on his project and he maxed out on the points. But after three years, other students learned to max out as well. Apparently, the judging went back and forth between his project and another boy's project. The other boy won. Mister was a friend of that boy and wasn't disappointed too much. I told him I was very proud of how well he did. He won a first prize ribbon but no trophy this time, which only went to the top project in each grade. The project that won was certainly very good and it really was a toss-up as to which one was better. What I'm glad about is that projects obviously done by parents were not rewarded with prizes.

For Lamb, this was the first time I had to make an experiment that a 5-year-old could understand. It worked out well, with Lamb's kindergarten teacher complimenting me for making an experiment that she could understand. What we did was take 3 different types of balls (a super ball, a soft rubber ball, and a hard plastic ball, all about the same size) and tested to see which one would bounce the highest. Lamb predicted the order of "bouncy-ness" and I built a tower with an adjustable ramp and gate to hold the balls plus another tower, both using cardboard wrapping paper tubes, with three Styrofoam cups embedded in it. Lamb color coded the three cups and I made a simple data sheet for each ball with boxes color coded to match the cups.

The idea was to adjust the tower ramp height so that all three balls would bounce into one of the three cups (high, medium, and low). I thought this would be a problem but actually it worked quite well. After I showed Lamb how to do the experiment, Lamb ran each ball three times and each time the super ball went high, the rubber ball went medium, and the plastic ball went low. Lamb was even able to translate the experiment results to the data sheets and understand what that meant about how high the balls bounced. At one point I thought she didn't quite get the experiment when she ran over to look at the tower to double check the cup colors, but when I noticed the tower was actually upside down, I felt better. I flipped the tower and she clearly got it.

Lamb also wanted me to include the towers in the display, which I hadn't planned to do, but in the end her idea was good. The display looked much better with the two towers on either side. I used pink poster board for background and I had to type the display of course. But I used a question and answer format where I asked Lamb about the various stages of the experiment and recorded Lamb's answers. I wanted to make sure she understood what we were doing and I wanted her to do as much as possible. I did not want to be one of those parents who just does the experiment while their child is off playing video games. But as a kindergarten student, she just couldn't do a lot of the work on her own. So I had to balance what she could do and what I needed to do.

Two days before the projects were due, when I brought both projects to heir mom's house, Lamb's mom gave me some heartburn by worrying that writing about what I did in the text minimized Lamb's role. I worried all the next day and night. I did replace the computer-made graph with one that Lamb had to hand make, in response to her worries.

The night before turning the projects in, Mister touched me by telling me that he sure hoped Lamb would win the trophy. No mention of his desire to win. He was concerned for his little sister. He is such a good boy. That made me more proud than all his hard work on the science project.

As luck would have it, I took the kids in to school the day of the science fair and stuck around for the award ceremony early in the day, before going to work. The principal saw me and told me it was a good day for me to stick around. I wandered the halls and found Mister's project with a maximum score and blue ribbon. Cool! And then I found Lamb's project on the stage. She won the class trophy! I was so pleased for Lamb.

I was a bit disappointed for Mister, realizing that since his project was not on the stage he did not win a trophy. But he did so well that I made sure I hugged him and commended him for his ribbon when he came into the auditorium.

I had only a moment of worry for Lamb when the students were called up to get their trophies and to explain something about the project. Uh oh! I hadn't prepared Lamb for this. I feared she'd be lost and make it seem like I did the project! That would be so unfair, I thought. And with Lamb going first, she wouldn't have the chance to hear the older students talk to get an idea.

After waving to me when the teacher pointed me out in the back, the teacher gave her the trophy and asked the question. My heart stopped at that moment, even as my eyes brimmed with tears of pride. She should have a future with no boundaries to what she can achieve and this recognition of her abilities was important to me--especially since she is the youngest in her class.

I needn't have worried. Lamb started out, "Well" and paused in thought. My worry broke. No shyness at all there. Then she explained that when she rolled the colorful rubber ball down the ramp to bounce into the cup, she was surprised that it didn't bounce higher.

She nailed it! And nobody in that auditorium could have any doubt that Lamb conducted the experiment and understood it completely.

The scoring sheet itself said that the project had all the elements of a prize-winning effort and that the student was obviously involved in conducting the experiment. Darn straight.

Lamb displays her trophy after the awards presentation:

In the end, we all got what we wanted. I wanted my kids to work hard on their projects. I explained to Lamb that I was happy she won but that I was proud of how hard she worked.

Lamb won her trophy just like her brother had.

Mister got his wish for his sister and won a prize himself.

And I was so pleased that Mister put his sister first in his expressed wishes. More parental pride. I have good children.

Of course, the pressure is still on for new projects in the new year.