Tips for Parents to Avoid Taking Over Science Fair Projects (page 2)
Parents today are bombarded by diametrically opposing advice: get involved in your child’s education to ensure their success in life, but don’t hover and rob your child of independence and resilience. When it comes to academic projects, teachers say that regardless of contemporary warnings about letting children be responsible for their own educations, the most common transgressions at science fairs are the adult-level displays that children obviously did not create. As well-intentioned parents, how can we support creative inquiries but not cheat our children out of the discovery experience?
Teachers provide students with the structure of the Scientific Method to guide their inquiries, and keeping those stages in mind—posted in public—is a first step to awareness of the project’s goals. At each stage students must demonstrate that they have mastered a critical educational skill, and parents should recognize this journey and its milestones to better understand their roles along the way. Below is the basic outline of the Scientific Method and suggested questions you can rely on to elicit answers from your child:
- Ask a question: What sounds fun to experiment with? What topic in your book seemed interesting? Are you curious about anything specific? Encourage your child to browse widely before choosing an idea.
- Do background research: Who might help you find relevant materials? Where might sources be found? What keywords might generate the most useful results? Which sites would a teacher deem “appropriate” and “credible”?
- Construct a hypothesis: What is the goal of the experiment? How can you phrase that as a possibility or a prediction? Are the goals and the statement related to each other? Let the student make the final decision and allow room for the teacher to modify or correct.
- Test the hypothesis: What will you need to perform this experiment? Where can you find those items? What safety precautions should you be aware of? Caution: Holding a dowel while a child tapes is different than handling the power screwdriver to build a stable pyramid.
- Analyze data and draw a conclusion: What format will best represent your results? What do you think it all means? How would you sum up the experiment?
- Communicate your results: What was the assigned display format? What are you suppose to be able to explain? Be the audience.
The best way to avoid crossing the “whose work is it” boundary is to develop obvious physical cues that remind you to step back. Here are a few concrete and simple suggestions:
- Hang a large self-adhesive sheet of poster paper on a wall in the work area with words or images that keep you and your child aware of the danger. You can have fun with the reminder. For example, draw a fence and symbols on each side for your roles in the project. Stock icons work well, too: stop sign, red light and the hand of a traffic cop work well.
- Lay down a strip of blue painter’s tape or another surface safe adhesive in the middle of the normal work surface. You can write a fun motto or message across the tape or simply leave it blank and let the color be your cue. Tapes that already say, “Danger” and “Toxic” or other phrases are particularly useful.
- Place stickies in “danger” spots around the workspace—those that a parent may frequent during episodes of intense inspiration or pique passion. For example, if dad tends to reach for the coffee when he gets that wild look in his eyes, stickie the cabinet of mugs and the pot. Likewise, if mom races to the computer every time she utters, “Oh, I know what we can do,” affix stickies on the screen and the keyoard to harness her inquisitive impulses.
The ideal environment to maximize the effectiveness of these suggestions is a safe and nurturing one. Children need to know that pointing to the colored tape or nodding at the giant stop sign is encouraged. Keeping a light tone and attitude helps produce a comfortable space for everyone involved in one of education’s most common rituals. `
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