Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Science Fair

Tano ditched school this morning--with my permission--and he and I went into Missoula to attend the Montana State Science Fair, held this week at the University. We browsed the middle school and high school exhibits for a few hours, catching on very quickly to the two basic elements that made a good project: good science and good presentation.

Now, I am aware that my family tends to fall into the nerd category (although we are some of the most fun nerds you'll ever find), but really, it was very fun stuff. We had the best time, reading the hypotheses, studying the process of each experiment, and then reading the conclusions reached.

The boy is working on his first ever science fair project this week for the school's fifth grade science fair, the warm-up for next year's inauguration into the real science fair world. Our experience today has opened his eyes to the kind of quality he should expect of himself. He would like to pursue science fair the way some kids pursue sports, and he is seeing the tactical advantage in looking ahead to what the older kids are doing, then modeling his own projects on theirs. He is hoping to be at the top of the game by high school, competing for college scholarships.

I'm thinking it's about time to rent October Sky for him to watch.

By the way, he is busy this week building a model of a trebuchet, the long-range cousin of the catapult, the most dangerous weapon of the Middle Ages. It could launch a boulder into the side of a castle wall, leaving it vulnerable to attack or launch a dead body over the wall to introduce disease into a city under siege. Tano's trebuchet launches a weighted plastic Easter egg across the room. It can be adjusted for six different fulcrum positions and three sling lengths. The machine was completed this evening and he will start the lengthy process of experimenting with all the different combinations of positions tomorrow. He has written the following hypotheses:

1. I predict that the most efficient fulcrum point will be position #5, as labeled on the arm of the trebuchet.

2. I predict that the length of the sling will not affect the distance of the projectile.

We'll see what the research shows.

I love this boy.


Dan said...

As I was reading this, I couldn't help think here's a kid I'd enjoy hanging out with when I was his age...and I suspect even now.

Tell him good luck on his pursuing his goals...and get him fired up about the Westinghouse science competition--that will also set a high standard.

You can find a wealth of information on trebuchets at one of my favorite haunts, the Forestry Forum.

Here's a link that hopefully will work for you to a complete thread about trebuchets, with links to youtube clips and websites, and the whole nine yards.


Dan said...

Actually, try this...just slide topic right next to "php/" and you should find it.


Sherry C said...


Thanks for the encouragement. I showed the boy your comments and he grinned from ear to ear. Then we got on the Forestry Forum together and browsed the trebuchet discussion and links. There is a virtual treasure trove of info there!

The experimentation is going well. Hypothesis #1 has already been disproven and #2 will be disproven tomorrow, I'm pretty sure. But that's the fun of it! He is having a great time learning some basic mechanical engineering and physics with this project, and he is also learning tons about proper scientific method and isolating variables.

My daughter is way into baking, as I've mentioned before. Maybe she could do her first major science project on pie crust, like you wrote about a while back, or something else food-related. That would be right up her alley.