The Sounds of Science

Hard to believe that a little sheet of red paper could send a feeling of terror right through me. It's what I know is written on the paper that scares me as my son removes it from his backpack. I see the magic words and I know my fears are well founded. Yes, indeed, the season of science projects is now upon us.

Now I recognize that science fairs are commendable as learning tools for children. A time to display their scientific creativity. A time to challenge their young minds and test hypotheses. A time to drag one's parents back down memory lane to those nostalgic anxiety attacks produced by school deadlines. When your child's ability to drive to the store to pick up the necessary materials is still at least ten years away and you're not yet entirely comfortable letting them fly solo with a hammer and circular saw-- you'll find yourself involved up to your cerebellum in their science projects!

In discussing potential science ideas with my young children, I attempt to steer them towards simplicity. My thoughts do not get more scholarly than "Does a basketball bounce higher with air or totally deflated? Does ice melt if left out of the freezer? Why? If you drop a head of cabbage and a rice cake from the roof, which reaches the ground first? If you tighten the springs on a toaster will an egg bagel or an English muffin achieve a higher trajectory when shot out? If a grape becomes a raisin can a raisin become a grape?"

My children are uninspired by my random thoughts and are pushing toward investigating how centrifugal force affects the germination of corn seeds or designing a solar powered hot dog cooker or determining if different concentrations of salinity has an effect on the growth of red mangoes. They're way out of my league.

Ultimately, we compromised with the first grade project being phases of the moon and the third grade a presentation of rocks and minerals. I'm finally thinking - no problem. Very doable. Rummage up a few rocks, paint a couple of earths and moons and we're done a few days early. Kick back and watch the Discovery Channel a few nights for extra credit in my book.

I soon found myself pacing the aisles of a mega department store at midnight searching for Styrofoam balls, peanut brittle (can you say igneous rocks), wooden shish kabob sticks and salt water taffy (can you say metamorphic rocks). I knew I was losing it when what began to concern me most was why peanut brittle flows in abundance around the holidays and is apparently nonexistent the other eleven and a half months? Is it only harvested in December? Perhaps an exposť on this subject can be next year's project.

I finally tracked down the necessary materials and my solitary scavenger hunt was over. We completed the projects and were now prepared for the ultimate test of scientific aptitude-- transporting everything to school without permanent damage. A full moon can quickly turn into a half moon if a turn is taken too sharply and celestial bodies are unintentionally realigned. Maybe next year's project can analyze if one applies quick pressure to the minivan's brakes and the earth/moon project is thereupon catapulted from the trunk, over the bench chair occupants, and finds its final resting place upside down between the two captain chairs - how much damage to the project results? Will a six-year-old witness say, "Cool! Do that trick again!"

We did arrive unscathed, set up our projects and toured the fair. Arriving back home I confess to having enjoyed learning more science. I feel a little more comfortable knowing how different environments affect the regeneration of planaria and just what are the humidity preferences of a flour beetle. However, come next year, I'm sure my feelings of trepidation will resurface. Hopefully, I'll remember that we could always investigate that peanut brittle mystery. That is if my kids aren't on to more advanced items like whether the lemonwood plant contains antibiotic properties to fight fungal growth. I can't wait.