Friday, March 7, 2008

Homeschool: The Science Fair

On Saturday, February 16, 2008, Max participated in his first science fair. I signed him up for the GATEWAY-sponsored activity (Gateway is the local organization for Gifted and Talented Education) through community education. We also registered for a fun and informative introductory class about the science fair. We attended that class several weeks before the science fair to learn about project ideas and layouts. The fair was held in the lower level of the Gonda Building, downtown on the Mayo campus.

Max and I enjoyed our "special time" the night of the class. We did three experiments together at the class, then headed over to the mall for a trip to the bookstore and some Cold Stone Creamery ice cream.

The following week, we browsed through a small stack of science books from our home library and the public library. Max narrowed his choices down to four experiments, from different fields of science, including biology, chemistry, and physics. He decided to study energy in foods because he wanted to "burn stuff and use a lighter."

The title of his experiment was "How Much Energy Do Foods Contain?" and I was excited to do the project with him. I remembered doing a similar experiment in my ninth grade science class, and learning about kcal and measuring temperatures, but I didn't remember very much.

Max and I learned a lot together, including Do Not Wait Until the Last Minute or Even the Last Week to Do Most of the Work. Max chose ten foods, with very little guidance from me, to use in his experiment. He chose foods that he likes to eat, including cherry sour candies, Mentos candies, an apple, a carrot, provolone cheese, chocolate, and a granola bar. We didn't realize how much time it would actually take to burn small samples of each of those foods. I expected that each food would burn for less than a minute; most of our samples burned much longer than that, and the granola bar burned for sixteen minutes.

The main premise of the experiment is to burn a food and determine how much energy is contained in the food by measuring how many degrees a can of cold water rises while the food is burning. The project was probably best suited for an older learner, but Max did many of the steps in the experiment himself. He measured 50 ml of water for each sample, measured the temperature, and recorded his data on a chart. He weighed and recorded the mass of each sample of food, typically 3 or 4 grams. He helped keep track of the time and the temperature of the water during the experiment.

At the end of the experiment, I asked Max what he learned and what he would do differently if he did the experiment again. He dictated almost two pages of single-spaced information, and I typed it. You can read his abstract online at:

Mitchell played Nintendo DS while Max's project was reviewed.

Max relaxed a bit after the first reviewer asked him questions about his project.

Another volunteer studied Max's project. Three separate reviewers examined his project and asked him questions about his work, including very sneaky questions like, "This looks like a lot of work. How long did it take you?" (Max's responded, "About two days. We just finished it yesterday.") and "Did you do this presentation board yourself?" (Max's responded, "No, my mom did it," and he forgot to mention that he helped.) One of the reviewers was happy to see that Max learned that the healthy foods burned longer, the equivalent of giving your body "healthy energy" rather than a quick, sugar-laden burst that doesn't last. I overheard her ask him, "What did your mom do before she had you?" and Max replied, "She worked at Victoria's Secret." Later she told me she would have guessed that I was a nutritionist, which was a very nice compliment.

All the science fair participants were divided into two groups, and when Max's group was done having their projects reviewed, they had a snack and attended a very interesting presentation about Antarctica, presented by the Science Museum of Minnesota. There were many beautiful photographs. The kids were so impressed to learn that some penguins can stay underwater for sixteen minutes.

Ahhh ... three reviews are finished. Now for the fun parts: snack break, Antarctica presentation, and checking out everyone else's projects.

The envelope, please! Max gets ready to see his scores!

Lots of excellents and positive comments!

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