Sunday, January 25, 2009

Science Fair

I get to judge science fair because I'm a sucker that way. It's interesting but occasionally very unpretty. Some conclusions are astounding.

Did you know that running up stairs makes your heart beat faster? No, really, it does. This graph shows it. (Insert Pareto sorted graph -- names vs. single recorded time -- here) Realize, my readers, that the data didn't compare relaxed heart rate to running heart rate vs BMI or something scientific. It was just name and number, thrown together that morning.

Compare that to an exploration of the burn temperature of flour-sugar mixtures. She didn't quite realize the shape of her graph. She figured on the exponential part but not that it would naturally have a decreasing growth rate as the mixtures approached 100% sugar. She tried to explain her extrapolation of her figures but knew it wasn't fitting the data right. I pointed out the 100% cap on the mixture and how that would limit the temperature to that of the pure mixture and her eyes lit up as she realized what the actual situation was. I felt a little bad when she said "it was so obvious now." Well, not really.

Some of the graphs make me shudder. One in particular had a horizontal axis evenly marked off, but labeled "0.1, 0.1, 1, 0.5, 2, 1, 0.5, 2, 3" The graph had an upward trend and so did the results. I am looking for the spot on the scoring rubric that said "Totally screwed up the graph and all conclusions made from it were garbage" but I couldn't find that entry.

Others had a couple observations and no real data to graph but they made graphs anyway. "I measured the time it took to climb three sets of stairs and graphed the numbers. I spent a lot of time painting the cardboard display." "So? What conclusion did you reach?"

Distraction vs style of music - I liked that one. I hope she quantifies the distraction of the music somehow, but it had definite promise.

Size of wound v time of bleed-out - give me a break.

Still others had had a "bit of help" from their parents. I asked one "I see this number in the table and I see it here on the graph, but where are these numbers? (indicating some others in the table)" Couldn't answer. Father answered for her. Father was wrong. I tried again. "How did you measure the heartbeat?" "I held the mouse and divided by 15." I think she meant that she counted for 15 seconds and multiplied by 4, but what I had seen already was pretty impressive for her regardless, so I didn't press further, just told her it was a good job and scored it so.

One kid was all proud of herself because she had been able to teach many other students about the use of Excel so that was a good spot of light on the evening.

Will you grade mine?" was the constant refrain. I really wish I could move around, look at them all and not have to score them, just offer a comment or suggestion or a "cool" without needing to spend too much time at each one. As it is, I always seem to miss so many of my students because it's just too much. After two hours, I have to get out.

And I hate the rubric.

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