This afternoon Mrs. Eagle and I headed over to one of our feeder elementary schools and judged their science fair. We've done this the past few years and it's always quite a bit of fun. This year they were horribly short of judges as the snow days we've had managed to knock everyone's schedule out of wack and many of the schools ended up scheduling their fairs on the same day. The result was that there were only three of us judging the entire fair this year, Mrs. Eagle, myself, and a retired science teacher who works at the local university as a student teacher mentor.
We walked into the cafeteria and were confronted by the sea of science fair boards. I don't even want to estimate how many projects there were, but there were a lot! Since we had three grades to judge, each of us took a grade. Mrs. University took the 3rd grade, I took 4th, and Mrs. Eagle took 5th.
The quality of science fair projects has definitely improved over the years. I didn't see a single project on "what paper towels are the best", or "what diapers absorb the best", (although I saw way too many, "which chewing gum brand has flavor that lasts the longest). There were some interesting questions such as "Can I make a magnet to help pick up my mom's silverware?", or "Who has the most bacteria in their mouth, my dog, my cat or me?", and "What affect does erosion have on our local river?." It took quite a while to work my way through the fourth grade projects, but I finally pulled out eight, which were all pretty good.
We decided that we'd would all work together to narrow down our first round of selections, and that worked out pretty well. We discussed and picked out my top four and ranked them from first place to honorable mention. We then narrowed down the eight that Mrs. University had picked (including a great one on sled materials and snow), and ranked them as well.
And then Mrs. Eagle pulled out her four because, truth be told, she couldn't find eight that really were that good.
"I hate to say it," she said, "But look how much better the fourth and third grade projects are."
She wasn't kidding. It wasn't that the boards looked all that much better, but the content was much better. Much more interesting questions, better hypotheses, repetition of experiments to increase the validity of their results and so on.
"Do you think it's because that's when they're starting to turn into middle schoolers?" I said.
"Puberty," she said. "That's probably part of it. Plus the older they get, the less they play outside and the less curious they seem to be about the world around them."
Tell me about it. We have often complained about the incredible lack of curiosity about anything our kids seem to possess. They are not interested in anything outside of their social lives, video games, and electronic gadgets. And even then they aren't all that interested in how anything works.
However, it was fascinating, and a bit alarming, to see this jump to adolescence paraded right before our eyes.