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Monday, February 21, 2005

Science Fair

I am a man of the people, and where possible I try to give back to the community. Stop laughing! I'm serious! I'm still waiting...have you finished 'lol'ing? Good. Back to the story.

Today's good deed de jour: be a judge at an elementary school science fair. I signed up for this because I like science and I don't really mind children. Is there a better way to spend an afternoon than to watch children do science? The answer is yes, of course, because science fairs are really just excercises in futility since kids in elementary school can't reasonably be expected to come up with anything original within the stifling confines of the education system. But they've got to start somewhere and they need someone to judge their pathetic efforts along the way -- that's where I come in.

It's 12:00 noon and I find myself waiting in the office of the private school near Lawerence and Dufferin, where the science fair is being held. There will be ten grad student "judges" and at the moment, three of us are sitting on the plush chairs in the office. On the coffee table there are two issues of Fortune and one of The Economist. My old elementary school office never had these sorts of publications spread across its coffee table -- in fact, my elementary school office didn't have a coffee table -- but then again my dad didn't pay $15,000 a year for me to learn my multiplication tables. Bored and curious, I reach over to a pamphlet station on my right and pull out a copy of the school's brochure -- you can never start too early to plan for your children's education. The advertised curriculum is impressive: the kids read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Iliad, and Julius Ceasar in the sixth grade. I read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde last summer, and the only Homer I know goes by Mr. Simpson at the Sprinfield Nuclear Powerplant. Frankly, when I was in grade six I couldn't even read the Coles Notes for any of those literary masterpieces. But then again, without having forked over $15,000, I had to be content with reading Charlotte's Web -- a book with arguably far better character development than Jekyll and Hyde.

After a rather lengthy wait, the science teacher walks into the room to welcome us to the school. Ms. Science is in her late 20s and is wearing a pair of tight, low-slung pants that threaten to cut off circulation to her lower extremities, and a top with a dangerously low neckline. I don't remember my old science teacher looking like this! Suddenly, $15,000 doesn't seem like such a bad investment. The temptress -- I mean teacher -- leads us down the stairs to the gym where the darling children have already set up the requisit volcanoes and model solar systems for us to judge. We are each handed a clipboard, a pen, and some sheets with the marking scheme clearly laid out. Soon, the children stream into the gym and without much fanfare, the science officially begins.

My first contestant of the day is a cute little first grader, who looks very uninterested and dryly informs me that his project is on 'Tsunamis'. I look down at my marking sheet and scan quickly for a column labelled "Inappropriate content/too soon after tragedy", but I couldn't find it so I let him off the hook and listen to his spiel. It soon becomes clear that this kid has no idea what he's talking about and probably thinks The Ring of Fire is what you get when you eat Indian food too fast. Nevertheless, he reads the notes posted on his poster without skipping a beat. For someone in the first grade, it's not a bad effort so I give him 78/80.

As I move up the grades, I adjust my marking scheme accordingly so that the kids in the older grades get a bit more of a challenge. I also begin asking more insightful questions to see if the project is done by the kids or by their parents. Most of the projects are run-of-the-mill stuff that we've all done at some point in elementary school: baking soda and vinegar volcanoes, looking at the effect of light on plants, and comparing the nutritional value of fast foods, etc. None of these projects are mind-blowingly good, but almost all are done with enough effort to deserve respectable marks. However, on this day, I see two that I'm convinced were finished on the morning before the fair. These I will share with you for your reading pleasure.

It's almost 2pm and I am very hungry. The banana bread and coffee that the school had provided us fifteen minutes earlier is now a distant memory. Naturally, I am cranky as I walk up to the next project, titled "Will it Sink or Will it Float?". I like the nod to the Letterman segment, but right away I know I won't be needing my blue pen, so I tuck it away and bring out the red one. I listen intently -- or rather, I try my best to pretend that I'm listening intently -- as the seventh grader dumps object after object into a tub of water to examine their sea-worthiness. I nod, feigning surprise at the speed with which a piece of stone sinks to the bottom of the tub. "It's the weight," she tells me, "the stone is too heavy; much heavier than the feather that floats". "What I about tankers and cruise ships?" I ask, "aren't they much heavier than this stone?" I guess Homer forgot to cover buoyancy in the Iliad.

After "Sinkers and Floaters", my confidence in the private school system has been shaken -- although not yet irrevocably destroyed. But what little faith I have left in the "Mo' Money, Mo' Intelligence" motto is completely annihilated when I see the title of the next project I have to judge: "The Three States of Water." The pair of seventh grader girls greets me with huge grins, almost like they're gloating about being able to finish their project in under 20 minutes the morning of the science fair. Girl number one eagerly tells me that the three states of water are solid, liquid, and gas. Then in a carefully choreographed move, girl number two brings out an ice cube, a cup of water, and a ziplock bag filled with air to show me the three aforementioned states. I am not impressed and give them a "Are you #$%!ing kidding me?" look. "Are those the only states of water?" I ask innocently. "Yep", they say and smile broadly in victory. "What about the plasma state?" I say, while thinking to myself, "I'd like to see you show me that!" Unfazed, the Olsen Twins smile and ask if I have any other questions. I smile my most forced smile and say "No. Thank you for your time, girls." Mary-Kate knows they're sunk and turns to Asheley to whisper something I cannot repeat here. Sorry ladies, but you can't pull stuff like that on me -- don't game the gamer, dawg.

At 3:30pm, we hand in our marking sheets and collect our parting gifts, a box of Lindt chocolates -- not bad for a day of helping kids reach their potential. I come home and see an email asking me to participate in another judging in early March. I think I will do it again...for the children, of course. Sometimes, I think I give too much of myself to the community.

Your Favorite Jerk


At Sunday, February 27, 2005 3:56:00 PM, Blogger julia said...

Is this David from delta???

omgggg.... you are toooo funny.
i really enjoyed reading this particular science post...

your entries are so descriptive and the experience is like that of reading a novel.

what fine english skills you have!

At Tuesday, March 01, 2005 10:48:00 AM, Blogger Reformed Jerk said...

Hey Julia. Yep, it's me :) Did Jonny give you this address?


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