Monday, April 22, 2013

Science Fair Time

Dd8 seemed to need guidance on picking a subject, so I asked her (for my own culinary purposes) to see what effect soaking whole wheat grains in different liquids would have on their subsequent sprouting. She made observations over the course of several days (including weighing, which wasn't very informative due to the water involved in sprouting), and we found out that vinegar and salt water will pretty much kill off the sprouts. Tap water yielded good sprouts, and Brita-filtered tap water was even more productive.

Dd6 had to be dissuaded from mashing a variety of kitchen items (flour, sugar, bananas, etc.) together and "seeing what happens". She eventually came up with (on her own, bless her stubborn little heart) a project where she blew a whistle at a flag with various objects placed in front of the whistle. She learned that air flow can be hard to predict. :)

I like science fair projects. Now that we have computers, making the displays is a cinch. I type in what they tell me, and they glue the printed words and other eye-catching materials on a posterboard. Sure, sometimes my kids need more adult assistance with their projects than teachers think (or hope?) they will.* However, this annual ritual gives my children a chance to plan their own experiments and make their own observations at home where there is no "right answer". (Not that I'm above telling them if their conclusions are nonsensical....) Proper experiments can be quite difficult to plan and carry out. Just making sure that observations are accurate requires some knowledge about what can be measured and how best to do it. I think that my children's beginning efforts in doing science experiments will give them a greater knowledge of both the power and limits of scientific experiments.

* No worries, my children won't be getting awards they don't deserve due to my assistance. Their projects and posterboards aren't really competitive, based on what I've seen at their school in the past. And surely a project where Mom helped is better than a project that didn't get done at all because of a child's fears and indecision. This is just elementary school! Still, I look forward to when they can go solo on these projects.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Standardized Testing Done!

And we don't have to do it again for two more years. I finally mailed it off yesterday, and I look forward to seeing the results. I know it won't all be great news--she got 0% on one section of the CogAT because she didn't understand the directions, but we weren't required to do that test anyway--but based on what I saw, I think she probably did well on the reading and science sections of the ITBS. Both of her parents are avid readers who keep her well stocked with science books from the library, so that's not unexpected.

I'm glad I had the experience of seeing dd8 take a standardized test. I now understand better why teachers complain about high-stakes accountability tests. Kids can "have a bad day", react poorly to the pressure of being timed, or just not care how they do on a test that has little relation to their interests. That doesn't mean I'm an advocate of abolishing testing now, just that I sympathize with them about some of their concerns. In my ideal world, every child would regularly receive short, periodic assessments that would be used to tailor instruction to the child as well as to measure his/her progress. Such testing can be a useful tool for parents, teachers, and administrators, as well as give the child an incentive to do his/her best on the test so as not to be placed at an instructional level that is too low and thus "boring".