Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Science Fair

I spent most of yesterday judging entries by year 7 students (~12 years old) at the Otago School Science Fair. I thought I'd share some with you.

This one was by a girl who is "mostly interested in drama and art and stuff", which I interpreted to mean "hates science", and is just wonderful:

She put a lot of work into gathering data on what her friends and classmates felt was important in a person being popular. Turns out that owning "stuff" (iPods, cellphones, money, etc etc) is important to a fair few boys but not so much to girls, whereas being fashionable is more important to girls. Personality is very important to girls, but not very important to boys at all. Different aspects of personality type, though, are important to different people - some like quiet people, some like rowdy ones, etc etc. Surprise, surprise, looks are important to everyone. She had 5 main popularity markers; looks, talent, personality, fashion, and "stuff". But each of these had 5 - 14 subsections, and she analysed it all on boy/girl lines as well. I was very impressed.

This wee girl decided to find out if eggs were really necessary in muffins:

Her hypothesis was that the muffins would be all crumbly and dry without eggs, so she made two batches of muffins, one with eggs and one without, and tested them out on her classmates. She asked the classmates to identify the eggless muffin, and then asked which muffin they preferred. She also inspected the muffins and noted any differences. The project was very well done, and only experience that a 12 year old just doesn't have would have told her that banana muffins were probably not the best sort for this experiment! The moistness of the bananas seems to have disguised the lack of egg to a large extent, and many of her test subjects couldn't tell which were the eggless muffins! They did rise less than the others though.

Another food-related entry was this one on the effects of different chook food on eggs:

The girl's family has three hens, and she separated them and gave them different diets for three weeks. One hen got wheat, one got mash, and the other got kitchen scraps and was allowed to forage in the garden. Her hypothesis was that the free range hen should have had the nicer eggs, and she collected them all up and took them to school and cooked them for her class to eat at the end of each week! Unfortunately, she forgot to take into account the variability between hens and didn't swap diets around so each hen got one week of each diet, so we can't really rely on her results (the wheat-eating hen had much nicer eggs, but was a less reliable layer), but she recognised this failing and will do better next time.

A new phenomenon has appeared this year - a frighteningly large number of children, when asked "And where did you get this information from?" answered "From Google", and seemed to have no conception of Google being a tool and not a place! And an unfailingly correct place at that. However, we provide feedback to the teachers, so hopefully some effort will be expended to correct this.

And yes, there were boys exhibiting in the fair, and some of them did very well indeed. It just so happened that of the exhibits I judged, most of them were by girls.

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