Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Scorekeeping and science

I hope I didn't dash anyone's dreams last night.
I helped judge a science fair and it was a challenge for me.
Not that I don't understand basic science and how to make a decent presentation. (I'm the kid who made a whole solar system out of salt dough and toothpicks, after all!)
But weighing the pros and cons of 10 projects that all looked to me like tons of work is difficult.
I wanted to give every one 100 points.
But there were barriers to that kind of outcome.
First of all, I was working from a smart device that was challenging me.
To be fair, I showed up late for the training so the people showing me the ropes had to hurry and gloss over the finer points.
I learned to get onto the Wifi and to pull up the judging form.
I understood there were 100 points possible and I knew I wasn't supposed to be a scary judge. I was also told NOT to give everybody the maximum points.
What I didn't know was what to do with situations like where no one showed up. After I put down a zero for those missing projects, someone made an announcement on the overhead speaker: "Please do NOT put a zero for missing projects. It messes up our system."
(When I told the guy in charge I'd already done that twice, he sighed. "It's okay. Someone always does that. I'll fix it.")
I also couldn't figure out how to put subjective impressions into numerical conclusions.
There were several projects I liked because they were more fun than most of the others. One pair of girls had made what they called a "Fidget Phone," designed to give your fingers something to do while you're waiting for a test, a lecturer to finish or a light to change.
I also enjoyed a project about using the Golden Mean to measure beauty.
I thought that was creative but did it beat the guy's 5-foot tall poster about an obscure gene that predicts cancer?
Did fish feces fed to plants mean more in the long run than whether or not distilled water froze better and harder than soft and hard water?
What about the fact that when plants were subjected to heavy metal music, they withered and died?
How about the kid who decided it didn't matter if you stayed up late the night before a test. "It doesn't affect me," he said, "or my friends." He had spent one whole evening measuring the effect.
I did my best.
I listened.
I read the boards.
I looked at the pictures and the charts.
I tried to sense whether the kids competing really learned very much from their experiements and effort.
At the same time, I tried to avoid losing the judging form into cyberspace.
We had to leave before I heard the final results and I can't help but worry a little.
What if I've nipped an Einstein in the bud?

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