jade in the parke

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Story behind the Fake Science Fair Board

If you saw the "Everyone Hates the Science Fair!" board that was floating around on the blogosphere last month 
The Poster that started a revolution.

or you read my take on it HERE
My friends, you are in for a treat as I am pleased to introduce to you the full story written by the author herself. 
How often do you find out the story behind a viral meme? 
Let's engage on this worthy issue, shall we? 

The Story behind the Fake Science Fair Board
By Susan Messina

Chances are, if you are the parent of a school-age child and you were on the Internet at all the week of February 17, 2014, you saw the bright yellow fake science board with the provocative question, “How Much Turmoil Does the Science Fair Cause Families?” The finding? Of course, “Everyone HATES the science fair!”

A lot of people, and I mean a whole lot of people, thought this was pretty darn funny. The photo of the board went viral, spinning through the Internet through a variety of social media and landing on Facebook pages and in Twitter feeds and inboxes across the world.  Without a doubt, it struck a nerve. The comments revealed the deep loathing felt by many parents about this educational rite of passage. Millions of people saw, shared, and “liked” it on Facebook and other platforms.

Perhaps you thought it was a real project, done by a real (smart-aleck) child. Perhaps you thought it was done by a parent who is against science education. Maybe you were offended because you or your child loves the science fair. So here’s the truth.

I’m a 50-year-old mother of one who created the board as an inside joke three years ago when my daughter was a fifth grader at a public school and she was completing her fifth science fair project, amidst tears and anger. (The tears were hers, the anger mine.)

It was never submitted for a grade (although a lot of people have told me I got an A!).  It has never even left my house; I certainly didn’t bring it to the actual science fair—tempted though I was—because it would have hurt the feelings of all the kids who had worked hard on their projects. 

I’m definitely not anti-science or anti-intellectual in any way. I graduated from Bryn Mawr College and I hold three master’s degrees. I believe that STEM (science, technology, math and engineering) fields are crucial and that, in fact, more women should enter them. Rock on, young scientists and engineers!

However, given the level of rage I have felt during the completion of my daughter’s science fair projects—and the overwhelmingly positive response my fake board has received, there is something wrong with competitive, elementary school science fairs.  So, here’s what I think.

First, any elementary school project that requires a lot of parental time, energy, resources, support, cajoling, and financial investment is just BAD. Such projects privilege students from higher-income families for all the obvious reasons. They also take away from family time that families at all income levels have less of these days. And they definitely are a challenge for the millions of students who live with parents coping with physical illness, mental illness, and/or substance abuse.

Therefore, I’m a strong believe that elementary school projects should be done in class. Science is so important, in fact, that doesn't it make sense to have trained teachers teaching the scientific method rather than a ragtag bunch of parents? I was thrilled when my daughter started middle school and the sixth grade science teachers had the students complete the entire project in class, including the PowerPoint presentation.

But, what if a school is still really wed to the science fair? How about this:  Re-cast it as an elective, noncompetitive family project. If the science fair were re-imagined so that families could decide to explore some cool thing and then truly do it together, we'd get rid of the sham that the kids are doing the projects by themselves (maybe some do, but it seems pretty rare). We'd add in the factor of being able to do more complicated/interesting projects because parental involvement would be assumed. And, by getting rid of the stupid competition aspect, we wouldn't have kids (or, let's be clear, parents) competing to see who does the coolest project or the spiffiest board. Doesn't this sound like a much better idea—and maybe even fun?

Janice Van Cleave, who is well-known in science education circles, wrote to me on Facebook after seeing my board and said, “Susan, I love your science fair display. Sadly it reveals the truth. You have encouraged me to write new rules for elementary science fair projects.”

If millions of parents, and even someone like Janice Van Cleave, see the truth in my joke, something needs to be done. I’d love to have more of a national dialogue about this. Surely, we can figure out a better way to excite students about STEM fields.

To see my original board: Click here

To see George Takei’s posting of it: Click here
Huffington Post: Click here
imgur: Click Here

·         http://mom.me/in-the-loop/11195-moms-science-project-gets-heart-why-we-all-hate-science-projects

Thank you so much, Susan! I am so privileged to be the conduit for your thoughts. What do you think, readers? Do you agree? Disagree?

Please share this article. Would you consider pinning, tweeting, "liking", emailing and sharing this with others? 

1 comment:

  1. Susan, we were among the millions who saw, shared and liked the image of your poster. It provided a perfect visual image of the many questions we have been asking ourselves about school science fairs. In fact, we were just funded for a national study that will take a close look at school science fairs to determine what models are the most effective, both in student learning and engagement, as well as cost! We would love to talk more with you about our project: http://ltd.edc.org/re-imagining-science-fairs.