Sunday, February 24, 2008

Science Fair

I hated Science Fair. It was time consuming, expensive, and if I hadn't known exactly what was going to happen, I wouldn't have performed the experiment at all.

The first time I ever had to do Science Fair was 1990ish, in 9th grade. Somehow my middle school allowed us to dodge that particular bullet. High School was not so kind.

A few years before me, Jason had been asked to do a science fair experiment, and, being Jason, had gone to the World Book Encyclopedia and looked up "Science Fair". Or "Biology". I can't remember which. Anyhoo... detailed in the Encyclopedia was a complete description of a science fair experiment, right down to results.

So that's what Jason did.

So, knowing most science teachers see, literally, hundreds of science fair projects, when I was in 9th grade and had to do science fair, I figured... why reinvent the wheel?

I bought, I think, eight mason jars, a handful of water snails, a handful of plants and proceeded to slowly kill off a whole lot of plants and snails. PETA would not be pleased. I was pretty diligent about the snails for the first part of the experiment, but, honestly, forgot to look at them at all for the last week or two. By the time I returned to the snails, there was at least one jar that was nothing but browninsh, brackish water with snail parts and shells sloshing around.

Panicked, I realized I better fake some results. So between some coaching from Jason, some intuition and basic accounting for randomness in my results, I faked the slow trudge toward death of a few jars of snails deprived of plants, and therefore, 02 in their water. Essentially, all of my data was fiction. Or, dare I say? Science-Fair-Fiction?

What I did not take into account was how heavy it was going to be bringing in eight mason jars filled with water and snail carcases, plus the huge wooden board thing I'd spent a Saturday afternoon crafting in the garage. Do they even let kids get spray paint anymore?

I was, honestly, completely disinterested in my own project, and I resented how heavy it wound up being. This was nowhere near as fun as the time I had built a scale model of Stone Henge in 5th grade, or the castle with the working drawbridge in 6th grade (thanks, Dad!). When they asked us to take home our projects, I remember pondering the weight of the jars and the backing board and my ability to transport them all on the bus ride, plus the uphill two block walk from the bus stop. Also, the smell that would come from the bottles if a single bottle broke. By now all of the snails had passed the pearly gates for gastropods.
"What if we don't want our project back?"
"You have to take them home."
"You don't want it? Some kid next year might want it."
"No. Take it home."
"What am I going to do with a science fair board and eight jars of dead snails?"
"Ryan, take it home."
"What if I don't?"
"Then someone will probably throw it away."

It is safe to say that the lesson I learned from Science Fair was not the lesson I was supposed to learn.

In 10th grade, I moved to a new school and wound up having to take biology with freshmen, and I was really, just... not... very... involved. Mr. Bryant was awesome as a teacher, but I was far more interested in Swamp Thing, X-Men and whatever monologue Jeff Wilser and I moght cook up for the worms we were dissecting. Plus, I just didn't get out in front of the project in time.

I wound up doing some half-baked project on how and why people lie, and got back about 100 surveys. Not much of a sample, but apparently my report was good enough for at least a B+, because I don't remember being dissatisfied with my mark, and it most certainly would have affected my 6-week grade as well.

I do recall Lee in my 9th grade class had simply forgotten to do a science fair project, which led to, possibly, the greatest science fair project of all time. A 1/2 page, hand-written report called "Black Holes: Who cares? I don't."

It had to do with things really, really sucking. Like his grade.

I did not ever get my snails into a science fair contest, so I was spared that humiliation. I barely ever understood what I was doing from ages 8-19, anyway, so I can only imagine what that experience would have been like, being quizzed on my wholesale starvation and asphyxiation of snails.

Why this trip down memory lane?

This is why.


J.S. said...

Yeah, there was a period for a couple of years there where our house was a sort of snail Auschwitz. Seems like I begged you not to try that idea again...

The League said...

I was never a scientific path-blazer.

JAL said...

I will never forget Lee's display.

The League said...

Were we in that class together? Did you sit behind me?

JAL said...

In all honesty I don't really remember 9th grade science and can't recall the name of my teacher either. She had the slice of human brain in a jar and the only discussion I recall with her was who made a better James Bond between Roger Moore (her choice) or Sean Connery (my choice).

The League said...

It sounds like maybe you had Ms. Seale as well. That sounds not unlike the sort of conversations she would have.

I seem to recall the slice of human brain, Rachel Ellsworth, and Evie Mincho's excitement over the New Kids on the Block tour. I don't recall what we studied, though. It was basic, physical science. So I remember putting things in a vacuum sealed bell jar and Ms. Seale talking about how their were too many humans to sustain Earth's resources. The implication being: We need a good plague every once in a while.

Michael Corley said...

I enjoyed your trip down memory lane. I'm glad I'm not the only one who gave voice to the animals marked for vivisection.

I have only one memory of a science fair, and that was my hypothesis that the younger you were, the better your ESP score. I proved my theory and got an A. I also didn't have to do and science, so it worked out well.

Michael Corley said...

Oh! Oh! Oh! I TOTALLY remember the brain slice!

Anonymous said...

Only here can I one find a walk down memory lane that includes the ever so rare Eve Mincho reference.


The League said...

I wonder whatever became of her. She always seemed like a decent sort of dame.