Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Science Expo: Today!

6:30 am. Pick up phone to put it in pocketbook. It rings. I stare at it, then answer. "Ms. Frizzle? It's Benny's mother. He says he misplaced one page of his project... Can he print it out at school? He said you wouldn't let him, and he doesn't even want to come to school today."

"Listen. Tell Benny to calm down, go wash his face, and get everything else completely ready, and I'll let him finish the last thing at school."

9:15 am Tables arranged upstairs, desks set up downstairs. Students start to bring their projects out. A few students try to print things at the last minute to fix up missing parts of their displays.

9:45-11:30 am The judges arrive, though not enough of them. We press one of our AUSSIE consultants into service. By the end of the day, he judged so many projects, he deserves the Purple Heart of Science Fairs (except, it didn't kill him). The students are at a very high energy level. Not as many parents come to see the Expo as I'd hoped, although this made traffic flow much simpler. I gave the kids an assignment to complete throughout the day - they had to pick the best two projects in their own grade, and the best one in the other grade, and write a little summary of what was good & bad about each one. We scheduled time for each class to visit the other exhibits, and miracle of miracles! it went smoothly. Our staff operated as a team, so that I was able to spend most of the day supervising the sixth graders, knowing that all was well upstairs with the seventh grade.

11:30 am Lunch break. We are supposed to get a bunch of bag lunches sent up from the cafeteria so that we don't have to take the students all the way downstairs. Most of the lunches arrive. One tray gets stuck in the dumbwaiter... and may still be there, for all I know!

Meanwhile, all the outside visitors arrive - the Superintendent for Science for our Region, a representative from the organization that helped start our school, the building principal and someone from "central board" (a.k.a. the city Dept. of Ed.). We give them the tour and tell them the students will go back to their projects in a few minutes. They all seem really impressed! Yes! I have a nice chat with the Science Superintendent, with whom I have corresponded at length but never met. I can tell she is going to fight to make science matter in our Region, yet I still have that little twist of anxiety in my gut that she's going to "catch me" in something that I am doing differently from Region mandate - that's an unfortunate aspect of NYC Dept. of Ed. culture, the fear teachers have that people from the Region are out to get them!

I get effusive praise from one of our visitors, and I hear that the Science Superintendent saw &heard the kinds of things they are looking for in schools this year, "accountable talk," "academic rigor," etc. Yes!

12 - 2 pm The judging continues, though the kids are getting very restless. Next year, I need to shake the trees and find more - LOTS more - judges, so that the whole event can happen in two hours. Longer than that is too long. Our "op center" in the parent-teacher room is a computer and a pre-made spreadsheet for entering scores and figuring out the winners. That part goes very, very smoothly, a vast improvement over last year, when we were frantically checking math and tallying things by hand. We hold an awards ceremony for the sixth graders while the judges finish looking at the seventh grade projects. In typical teacher style, I tell them how great a job they ALL did - true, for the most part - and demonstrate How To Receive An Award: When you hear your name, walk up to Ms. Frizzle, shake her hand using your right hand, then shake hands with the principal and accept your certificate in your left hand. Important life skill!

The winners? "Mold Doesn't Grow in a Day" (What chemicals prevent/promote the growth of bread mold, a dramatically gross project that totally deserved to win) and "Sweet & Slow" (How long does it take sugar cubes to dissolve if they are whole compared to crushed?). Benny - who nearly did not come to school - is one of the members of the "Sweet & Slow" group! I also chose a runner-up group from each class.

2:30 pm The seventh grade scores come in. I frantically add them and enter the totals in the spreadsheet. It's a close race - after one judge finishes, five groups are tied for first, with 38 out of 40 possible points! We do another awards ceremony. The kids give ME a big round of applause, and I think to myself, this is our very first class at this school, and they will always be my babies....

The seventh grade winners: "Exercise & Talking" (a thoroughly-researched investigation into how much talking interferes with doing sit-ups, jumping jacks, etc.) and "Mouth Germs on the Runaway" (testing the effectiveness of different kinds of mouthwash in killing bacteria). I was annoyed as heck that Mouth Germs won, since the two boys involved spent the better part of three weeks fooling around and doing the Uptown Shake in class.... and somehow, when I had written them off completely, pulled it together to get second place! I don't like the message that sends, but I guess that's why I'm not a judge.... On the other hand, the fact that they got second allowed a really great group of boys to get runner-up, which they not only deserved, but would mean so much to them, since at least one has really struggled academically, but did his science project with real gusto! Everyone felt good about that.

3:15 pm Everything more-or-less cleaned up, I go out with some colleagues for snacks and beer (let's just say I nursed mine.....).

8 pm My roommate - who just finished a big master's project - rents "Pirates of the Caribbean," a great movie, even the fifth time through!

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