Tag Archives: school projects

We Put the “Mad” in “Mad Scientist”

It’s April—Weird Science Month, apparently. At least in this asylum it is, particularly given that my fifth-grade progenies were recently assigned a school project that was deemed categorically intoxicating. An exercise in academia devoted entirely to my brood’s abiding love of science-y type stuff. One in which inane curiosities would not only be nurtured, but patently celebrated. Hence, the ensuing delirium.

That said, Jekyll and Hyde could barely contain their enthusiasm as they shared with me the sordid details of what would prove to be both epic in scale and absurd in nature. Like a clown car, droplets of insanity kept spilling from their mouths in giddified bursts, rendering me at once fascinated and horrified by their plans to test two of the oddest hypotheses I had ever wrapped my mind around. Fascinated, of course, because the notion of reading aloud to a houseplant (to compare growth rates) and/or sniffing fetid socks among other things (to determine what makes people sneeze) is, well, fascinating. I was horrified, by contrast, because I was certain I’d be commissioned to read aloud to said plant on occasion as well as sniff the aforementioned socks. Oy.

For the record, the socks were egregiously foul and the reading-aloud-to-the-stupid-plant gig bordered on disturbing—particularly when I found myself pausing to check for understanding and apologized more than once for mispronouncing a word. To a cussed plant. I can’t begin to express how utterly wrong (read: foolish, awkward, nay, deranged) it felt to do so; but I persevered—in the name of science and in the name of making my child happy (aka the Plant Whisperer). In a similar manner, I humored her cohort by shoving that-which-was-clearly-ill-advised (read: house dust, cinnamon and obscene quantities of black pepper) up my nose—once again, to further the field and to please my child (aka the Sneeze Captain).

Granted, there’s nothing new beneath the sun. Bizarreness—especially as it relates to the many and varied experiments my children have conducted for the sake of scientific discovery—has lived and reigned here for a very long time. I suppose I should be used to it by now, unfazed by my charges’ compelling desire to marry ingredients that have no business being together, to test the limits of things that ought not to be tested and to boldly go where no man (or inquisitive child) should go—namely, within the confines of a dryer, an occupied dog crate and a certain basement crawl space. I could go on.

Admittedly, I’ve been the chief curator of a fair number of studies described above, inviting substances of undetermined origin and wide-ranging viscosity to sully my windowsills, sinks and countertops for interminable stretches of time. Never mind the Shrine to Vileness (read: insect-related captivity) housed in the garage and the noble causes I’ve adopted over the years “…because so-and-so’s Mom won’t let him experiment at his house.” Needless to say, I don’t know what it’s like to live in a home without some sort of glorified laboratory-fest going on. I’m surrounded, it seems, by creatures with a crippling affinity for that-which-is-repulsive-yet-wholly-intriguing. If nothing else, it’s familiar—and probably vital to my kids’ development.

Lord knows how important it is to test the validity of theories that involve decomposing food, fermented dandelions and the microwavable nature of Hershey’s bars. Or so I’ve been told. Likewise, the gravity of pioneering research on the half-life of whateverness currently buried in our lawn (to include Barbie doll stilettos and a beloved Hello Kitty Band-Aid box) cannot be underestimated. Nor can the monumental body of data my charges gather almost every summer, which definitively answers the question: “How many ants does it take to haul away a single Cheeto?”

With any luck, such studies may change how we view the world, possibly enhancing our understanding of community-based synergy—or perhaps enlightening mankind relative to the hazards of exploding chocolate. Which isn’t such a bad thing, methinks, during Weird Science Month and every other moment devoted to the wonderment of discovery.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (channeling Bill Nye, the Science Guy). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Homework Hell, School Schmool

As Honeymoons Go, This One’s Over

The fall marking period at my children’s school ended late last week, and with it my collective enthusiasm for their cussed projects. Make no mistake; I applaud those who give birth to assignments doused in fun and originality—ones that are purposefully designed to encourage thinking outside the box and to harness the creative energies of students. What’s more, I love hauling out the arts and crafts box that lives beneath my bed—the behemoth-sized shoebox crammed impossibly with remnants of this chaotic life. Likewise, part of me truly enjoys rummaging around the garage and yard with my brood, in search of that which would otherwise be devoid of value.

Of course, Thing One and Thing Two become decidedly consumed with the process, wild with delirium as they harvest earthy whateverness from the lawn and paw through the aforementioned hodgepodge of fabric and twine, pipe cleaners and yarn, ribbon and lace. Never mind the vat of paints and modeling clay we’ve amassed in the cellar, the profusion of shoeboxes and poster board that lurks in our attic and the legions of egg cartons, oatmeal canisters and cardboard tubes we’ve stuffed in various closets and cupboards over the years—

precluding their certain death. Hoarders with a higher purpose.

I so completely get the bell and whistles, the inherent wonderfulness of said projects, the cleverness with which a great many are conceived and the good intentions of those who assign such work to the masses; however the sheer volume is fairly suffocating. At least it is beneath this circus tent, where eight of the hands-on wonders were due last Friday. A total of four per child, spread across three major subject areas, some of which took an obscene chunk of time to finish, all of which led to heated debate at the dinner table regarding the progress (or lack thereof) a certain couple of somebodies had made toward that end. Granted, students were given an embarrassment of time to complete the vast majority of tasks and a wide variety of choices were readily available to satisfy every possible artistic whim.

Thirty-four, actually. We counted.

Sadly, my progenies failed to choose anything remotely related to that which was manageable or that possessed even the merest suggestion of prudence given the window of time we have and the initiative duly required. Instead, they selected that which inspired a pervasive state of panic and ensuing dread as it related directly to our collective inability to tackle such a Herculean task. That’s code for: my husband and I wanted to light ourselves on fire—because, of course, that would have been so much more tolerable.

Indeed, after an entire weekend devoted solely to the construction of ridiculously detailed dioramas and co-directing a series of disjointed skits (which our children demanded that we film!) involving a gaggle of giddified fifth graders, I now know WAY more about the Native Americans of the Woodlands Region than I ever aspired to. And for a fleeting moment (shortly after we resorted to using duct tape and just before the pizza arrived), I felt a compelling desire to shrink myself manyfold—so that I could crawl inside the tiny wigwam we had built and hide from the oppressiveness of it all. Never mind the endless evenings crafting math whateverness and the weeks upon weeks that were spent overseeing the creation of TWO freakishly large and painstakingly elaborate board games—not to be confused with last year’s planetary beast-of-a-project (i.e. my brood’s beloved Styrofoam models of Venus, Saturn and more moons than I care to recall) that we somehow endured without the benefit of a marriage counselor.

Needless to say (and crazy as it sounds), we’ve lost sleep over such foolishness, and a fair amount of patience and sanity besides—which is wrong on so many levels I can’t begin to adequately express it. Truth be told, I fear that society has lost sight of the overall goal of education and that the fundamentals have somehow become an afterthought in this age of the almighty project.

That said, Pennsylvania’s education gurus would do well to note that bells and whistles are only as good as the clarity of their sound and the integrity of their message.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (like my friend, Ruth, wondering how many damned dioramas the Duggars have built). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Homework Hell, Rantings & Ravings, School Schmool, The Natives are Decidedly Restless