Guest blog by Becky K., School Parent
Here we are at the start of another Christmas break and on my mind right now is… The St. Paul’s Science Fair! I love the science fair at St. Paul’s! (I can say that now that my son is in 6th grade.) When my son’s 5th grade year began, we received information about the science fair project and the due date seemed so far away. Owen had never participated in a science fair nor had he performed an experiment on his own but the length of time that we had to get everything done seemed doable ….which is why I feel compelled to write this blog article now….to help any 5th grade parents who may have forgotten that the science fair project is looming. Take it from me that an ideal time to knock out the experiment is over Christmas Break!
Choosing the Science Fair Topic
The first milestone of the project is of course picking the topic. I wanted Owen to pick something that interested him so he could remain engaged and so when that milestone was due in the early fall, we started brainstorming about what he might want to do. His first idea was to do something involving the cats that we had recently acquired. One of our cats seemed to be gaining a lot of weight….at least more weight than her brother and so we wanted to try to figure out if in fact our cat Hershey was fat. We called it the “Fat Cat” project and it was going to be more of a statistics project using data from local vets.
Thank goodness that Mr. Ernst has a wealth of experience with science projects because he felt that our Fat Cat project would be a little too overwhelming to pull off in the time frame and looking back, I completely agree and am very grateful that he waved Owen off of that idea. Owen was bummed about having to find a new idea and he was not feeling inspired so I sent him to Google. There were thousands of ideas to choose from in his search. He began reading about all sorts of experiment ideas and it energized him again, which I was grateful for.
He landed on “The Salty Pasta Project” which was something he felt would be good given his “Italian heritage”. (His grandmother is Italian and owns an Italian restaurant.) As long as he felt connected to the project, I wasn’t going to argue with him.
The objective of the experiment is to answer the question:
- When cooking pasta, does adding salt to water make the pasta boil faster?
- And, does varying the amount of salt added make the water boil faster?
I was actually really interested in finding out what the answer to this question was and so I thought this was a great idea….I didn’t really register who would be boiling and handling the 16 boxes of pasta at the time but I thought it would be a relatively straightforward experiment. Mr Earnst liked the idea. He added the variable of seeing whether the type of salt in addition to the amount of salt.
Researching the project
Owen started his research next. He researched the boiling point of water and other liquids, he researched salt, and he learned about solutions and solvents and solutes. He made a lot of messy notes in his book and Mr. Earnst read and commented on all of them. The project was progressing nicely and Owen and Mr. Earnst were in regular communication and I was really proud of how he was owning the project and moving it forward.
And then came January. Right after the holiday break where he spent most of his days doing nothing of great importance, the experiment was due! While he was doing a great job managing his deliverables and turning things in on time, he failed to bring up the fact that his experiment was due in early January. He had not started the experiment.
Conducting the Experiment
And so that is how we spent almost every night for a week in early January: measuring, boiling, and weighing (to determine when it was cooked) pasta….pan after pan after pan of pasta. Owen was of course very involved in all aspects of the experiment but transferring the hot pasta was something that I helped him with. The experiment was a joint effort and at the end of the week, our entire house reeked of pasta. I don’t think we actually ate pasta for several weeks after that experience, but he finished the project and started analyzing the results.
The write up of the project and the display went fairly well. Mr. Ernst provides really good feedback and works directly with each student to ensure that they are working toward the goal and that they are learning about the scientific method along the way. When it was time to pull everything together on the display, we talked to other parents who had done the science fair before and this was very helpful in understanding what we needed to look for and help Owen with. He googled science project displays in order to see good examples of how to arrange his content on the display board.
He decided to have a red, green, and white color scheme for the board to match his Italian theme and he came up with the idea of gluing uncooked pasta to the board. I thought this was a cute idea but he ended up using A LOT of glue which caused a bit of a mess. In the end it was fine. He did get counted down slightly for the glue but everything else about the display was really good.
He put everything together. I was his copyeditor, making sure that his spelling was corrected (he is a terrible speller) and that he was using full sentences that made sense. He typed everything for the board on the computer, printed it out and glued it all on. He was really proud of his final project. (Glue streaks and all.)
When we dropped it off for the fair, it was a bit of a festive day. All of the kids were bringing in their projects and I spent a few extra minutes browsing all of the other projects. There were so many creative ideas! I was extremely impressed with all of the projects and I learned a lot from those projects. Each project is judged by individuals not associated with the school and the judges provide very helpful and insightful comments to the students.
Owen’s project did very well at the St. Paul’s fair and it got picked to go to the St. Louis County science fair as well. He received a special prize from P’sghetti’s who appreciated that his project celebrated is Italian heritage and we got a gift certificate for a family dinner.
I do honestly love the science fair and I am looking forward to 7th grade when Owen gets to do this again. I think that this was a great experience for Owen in managing and delivering a large project (including managing a staff…his pasta cook :) ). It is another example of the quality educational experience that our children are getting at St. Paul’s and an example of the expertise and experience of our teachers who lead them through this experience.