Monday, March 14, 2011

Science fairs

We didn't do science fairs at school when I was growing up in the UK. I think they're a cool idea - though the quality of the projects can be extremely variable. I would have been incredibly stressed if I'd had to do one, thinking that I had to come up with something original. Nowadays there are books and, of course, websites where you can get all kinds of ideas for your project. It seems rather like cheating to me to start by Googling "Science Fair project ideas", but having seen some of the same experiments year after year ("A comparison of the relative strengths of different brands of paper towels") I would guess science teachers and science fair judges welcome anything that seems a little more interesting.

Of course, there are also the kids whose parents do the entire project for them. I remember one that involved hamsters, light sensors, and a computer program that tracked which side of the cage the hamsters spent most of their time. At least the kid was honest enough to tell us that he didn't really understand how it worked because his dad had put it together! I'm sure a kid following the directions for a published science fair project would have learned more!

Google has now taken the science fair one step further and has set up a global science fair "looking for the brightest, best young scientists from around the world to submit interesting, creative projects that are relevant to the world today." The submissions must be in the form of a 2 minute video or 20 slide presentation and include the following elements:
  1. About me/the Team: Initial introduction to the Entrant/Team and explanation of what winning would mean to them.
  2. Project question: The scientific question about their hypothesis.
  3. Hypothesis: Leading on from the question.
  4. Research and Works cited: The research conducted to help them shape their question and hypothesis and to put their work into a relevant, real-world context.
  5. Experiment: Demonstration, using good experimental techniques, including a detailed description of the experiment.
  6. Data: Collected during the experiment to support a conclusion, recorded accurately and precisely, and presented clearly.
  7. Observations: Description of the patterns or trends supported by the data.
  8. Conclusion: An explanation of how the experiment answers the question or why it fails to do so and whether or not it supports the hypothesis.
  9. Bibliography, References and Acknowledgements: References for sources of information that they have consulted and/or referenced and acknowledge any assistance received 
Wow! That's a lot to pack into 2 minutes! I do wonder how they are going to figure out which projects were really put together by the parents? There are some pretty cool prizes, like a trip to the Galapagos - my kids are too young, otherwise I might be tempted to push them to put an entry together ;-) If you're interested, you'd better get cracking as the application deadline is April 4th!

Helping in a practical way

The whole world has been shocked by the devastation wreaked by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. A little girl I know has decided she wants to help in a practical way.

 Can you help too?

ShelterBox's HQ is in Cornwall in the UK. There are 18 international affiliates. Each box that they send out supplies an extended family of up to 10 people with a tent and lifesaving equipment to use while they are displaced or homeless.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

It's a small world

I live in a small New England town - the kind of place where you have to be careful what you say about anyone because there are days when it seems like everyone knows everyone else. All kinds of people that you wouldn't think would know each other, do. They went to school together, or they are related by marriage, or they work(ed) together. It's actually one of the reasons I like living here. I wouldn't want to live in a city where, I'm told, people often don't even know who their neighbors are.

The world can be small like this New England town too.  I was once working at a school where we had an exchange teacher from Europe for a year. She had a friend from the UK come to visit, and somehow we figured out that the friend had been my parents' neighbor 30 years earlier when they were working in Turkey and I was a baby!

Last week, Danielle of brit abroad in USA and I figured out that not only did we grow up in the same corner of the UK, but in the same town and a few houses apart on the same street! Given the efforts most bloggers make to preserve their anonymity, it's really pretty amazing that our conversation got that far. Once we had made that connection, I am sure Danielle suddenly worried if I knew her older sister who has been so unpleasant to her. Fortunately, I don't - in fact, given that Danielle is younger than me, and her sister is older, I didn't know either of them when we lived on the same street.

It's a good lesson in how, although we may try to hide behind a blog name, in the end we are not as anonymous as we would like to think. We give things away about ourselves with every post. Some bloggers, in addition to using a pen name and being careful about what they say, choose not to make their email address public or use a special email address for their blog. DO NOT assume that your 'real' email address will stay private though. If you have associated it with your blog by having copies of comments sent to it rather than the one on your blog, you run the risk of having that email address exposed. I am assuming that if you have created an email address to go with your blog (as I have) then that's the one you would prefer the world of strangers out there to know.

In the last week, pretty much all the Blogger blogs I have posted on have 'bounced' my comments back to me. I say 'bounced' because that's the email message I got, even though my comment appeared just fine on the blog. I've been getting messages from with the subject line Delivery Status Notification (Failure), and the message
Delivery to the following recipient failed permanently:
followed by the email address. In many cases, that address is NOT the email address that is posted publicly on the blogger's website, but one that is clearly a more personal one. (i.e. '' or '' instead of '') So, if you want to keep that more personal email address private, don't have comments forwarded to it! Otherwise you may find the world becoming smaller than you would like as people figure out more about you than you had intended!

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