My Teenager Was a Science Fair Experiment

Ah, the yearly ritual of the school Science Fair. For those of you parents that haven’t experienced it yet, get your kid started on their experiment NOW, even if they’re still in diapers!  The deadline will be on you before you know it! (just kidding).  For those of you that are past all that, lucky you.  No more late night work sessions and trying hard to encourage your child, yet stay out of actually doing their work, only to see experiments the next day that look like they were conducted by Bill Nye the Science Guy and displayed by Martha Stewart. The one thing comforting about the Science Fair is that I think the procedure is universal, at least in the U.S., since all the mega-chain craft stores (and even drugstores and grocery stores) sell the fold-out, three-section display boards, just waiting for your kid to put something on it. And they suddenly get in a larger quantity right after Christmas, so I’m thinking the timing of the contests is universal, as well.  I guess we can smile as we’re helping and encouraging our child in this endeavor, knowing that, at that very moment all over the country, other parents are probably spending quality time with their child doing the exact same thing.  Ah, the karma of it all. Can’t you just hear the voices filling the air? “Don’t glue that like that, it’s crooked!” “Mom, I just want to go to bed.” “What do you mean, the experiment is due tomorrow? I have to drive to the store at 10 p.m. and buy eggs and vinegar? What?”  “Well, if the crystals didn’t grow then you just have to put that. It doesn’t have to be a success to be a good exhibit. Just tell why you think it didn’t work…no, I’m not going to tell you why I think it didn’t work…it’s YOUR project!” “Dad, those glue sticks we bought were bogus– everything is falling off the board!!!” “WAHHHH! I hate this! I just want to go to bed!”

For me, there is another “comfort” to my kids’ participation in the Science Fair (other than they really do learn a lot about the experimental process).  It’s that sometimes, they find out useful information that can help me around the house.  Not like the science fair ideas they give you at school or on numerous Internet sites, like “How does temperature affect the behavior of ants?”  “What type of liquid will cause a nail to rust the fastest?” and “Can you really transmit sound through a tin or paper cup?” Bo-ring! 
I’ve said, to heck with those lists, if I’m going to spend any time, sweat or money on this, I’d better get something out of it.  Thus has spawned the experiments Does shower spray really work with “no scrubbing required“? (it doesn’t)  What keeps cut flowers fresher longer? (cutting the stems every day and changing the water does better than aspirin and just as good as sugar) and Will birds prefer a feeder filled with table scraps rather than birdseed? (results were uncertain)
For her first venture into the Science Fair arena, my 10-year-old, Emmie, recently tackled a tough one: Will playing fast music help a sleepy teenager get moving in the morning?  Our resident teenager, Allison, though usually woken daily almost two hours before she needs to be at school, regularly stays in bed until there’s only 35 minutes to spare and then makes a mad dash, having no time to make her bed, eat breakfast, or remember to grab her lunch, let alone her brains….and of course if she’s late to school, it’s MY fault…
I couldn’t wait for the experiment to begin and to see if it would work. 

Past research done on shoppers and exercisers (we looked it up on the Internet) made Emmie “hypothesize” that it would work, and let her know that the music would probably need to be 140 beats per minute or above. Man, that’s some fast stuff.  For the sake of saving this blog from boredom, I’ll spare you all the technical details and try to summarize how the experiment was set up. Basically, she used 10 classical piano songs already stored on our electric piano (I knew those built-in “demo” songs would come in handy one day!!!) and was able to increase their tempo using a metronome, also built into the piano.  (We didn’t use pop tunes ala Coldplay or Usher because increasing their tempo would have caused suspicion by the teenager– not to mention they’d sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks– and keeping said teenager in the dark about the experiment was crucial. As it turned out, we told her all the piano music playing in the morning was a music memorization assignment from Emmie’s piano teacher. “Emmie needs to soak it in,” I said. And she believed it!) Through the magic of a laptop, cables, some software we already had, our home computer, an Ipod, and a husband/Daddy who works in Audio Visual every day, we were able to get the 10 songs to play through our stereo system….every morning…beginning around 7:15 a.m. 

The first week, the experiment didn’t go so great.  Oh, Allison was heading downstairs earlier all right– a half hour to be exact–  heading down to turn off the stereo in a rage!  “This is so annoying!!!” she’d yell, then promptly head back to bed as I turned on the music again.  She was later than usual getting downstairs for her final dash to school. She was even late to school one day! I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t making her the first kid to arrive at school– that music was so fast, I was packing two lunchbags in seconds flat, all while scrambling eggs and making coffee at the same time.  But Emmie and I put our heads together to try to figure out what might be wrong. She decided it might be too loud– in the shopping and exercising experiments, the music was so “in the background” that the subjects didn’t notice it much.  If sleepy teenager was flying downstairs to turn it off in a rage, that didn’t sound like the music was “background”.  So we turned it down a bit. And Allison got downstairs earlier! Usually not more than 5-10 minutes earlier than the “baseline” data we’d collected, but she was actually having time for breakfast.

On the Sunday afternoon that Emmie assembled her experiment data and “Conclusions” on the display board, Allison and I were at a mother-daughter tea. I’d meant to tell Emmie to assemble it in her bedroom with the door shut, but I forgot.  I didn’t know what kind of mood Allison would be in when she got home (have I mentioned that teenagers are moody? ) and if it was a bad mood, I didn’t want Emmie to add to her angst by allowing her to see that she’d been the subject of an experiment.  Sure enough, that day Allison was feeling terrible with allergy problems and was “wigged out” on nose spray.  When we returned to find the experiment laid out in black and white all over the living room floor, Allison took one look at it and promptly kicked the bottom of the lovely tri-fold display board, creating a slight rip.

Rip and all, the experiment went on to win third place.  The music, thankfully, has gone away (even at lower volume, it finally got annoying to all of us, I think!).  And Allison was late to school today, as she has almost been almost every day since the start of Jr. High. 

For next year’s science fair, I’m hoping Emmie will tackle other household issues…maybe, “Does doing homework in front of the TV really improve your grades?” or “Which Girl Scout cookie has the longest shelf life?” or the one I’d really like to see done, “Will rationing toilet paper keep the kids’ toilet from clogging every week?” I’m not getting my hopes up too high, though.  She says she wants to do it completely on her own without any help from me next time.  Smart ki