Friday, February 8, 2013

my day as a science fair judge

Yesterday, I spent my day volunteering as a judge for the local school district's annual science fair. You may be wondering how I got myself in such a position. Let me explain. Since moving here, I have been very eager (desperate, perhaps) to get out of the house and get involved with local activities. So when my husband came home from work one day and told me he would be volunteering as a judge, my ears perked up! I thought to myself I love science and I love kids, so how hard could this be? {much harder than I thought, but more on that later}. R told me there were dozens of Air Force members that would be volunteering but that they were still looking for more. He saw right through my bashful exterior and the next day he asked the coordinator if I could also be a judge. Hooray! Babysitter booked. Activity on the calendar.

R and I arrived at the Civic Center yesterday for the pre-fair briefing. As I entered the room, I instantly realized that I was the only civilian there. There I was in a sea of camouflage. Oh wait, here come a few other civilians through the door. At least I'm not the only non-Air Force judge. The other "civilians" turned out the be VIPs... the mayor of Del Rio and members of the city council. So the science fair judges would be the mayor, the city council members, about 40 Air Force officers, and me. No big deal, right?

This was no ordinary science fair. This was the district-wide finals for all projects that won 1st or 2nd place at the campus-level. There were two age categories: grades K-2 and 3-5. We were given our official name badges, clipboards, scoring cards, and judging criteria instructions, and sent on our merry ways.

{My very official name badge!}
I was assigned to be a judge for grades 3-5 and I'm so grateful for that. I had a hard enough time judging 8- and 10-year-olds' projects; I can't imagine having to deduct points from a Kindergartner's project! When we walked into the Civic Center auditorium, we picked a row of projects and starting the judging. Del Rio is in such a rural area of Texas that I was not surprised with how many "botany" projects I judged. Several of them were experiments on which type of fertilizer helps plants grow best, or the optimal usage of compost for growing crops. The children were throwing out all sorts of farming and planting terminology, and as a self-admitted "black thumb," I had no idea what they were talking about. One sweet girl, she was cute as pie, gave me some pointers on growing tomatoes and flowers. I was feverishly scribbling down notes. These 8-year-olds had a wealth of knowledge and I was going to take full advantage of learning from them during this science fair!

The judges had a list of 10-15 items {title, hypothesis, creativity, clarity, etc.} to judge the students on. We were able to give each item a score of 1-5, 1 being lowest, 5 being highest. We had been previously warned about projects that were clearly done by parents, or "partner projects" where it was clear that one student did all the work. 

One student started every sentence with "my dad." My dad bought Miracle Gro from Home Depot. My dad watered the seeds each day. My dad typed the results into the computer and took the pictures. I filled-out my score sheet: 1, 1, 1, 1, 1... done. On to the next! The next little girl presented her project, something related to bubbles. This 9-year-old genius was talking about polarity of covalent and hydrogen bonds, and chromatography techniques that I had used during my own research for my Master's degree. Something wasn't adding up...

me: This is all very interesting! How did you learn about thin-layer chromatrography, different types of chemical bonds, and the effects of gravity on the evaporation process? 

the genius: The internet.

me: The internet? You didn't study this in school?

the genius: Well, my mom is a high school Chemistry teacher. She was the one who picked this project. She did this project.

Excellent. Another project scored. 1, 1, 1... on to the next! As the day went on, it was clear which students did their own projects, and I'm thankful that the vast majority were projects like these. I truly enjoyed these projects and listening to the children speak about them. They were so precious and so excited! Some of them started talking about off-topic things. {"I once saw a cat that had been hit by a car, and there were guts everywhere! My grandma said the cat is in kitty heaven now."} Sometimes it was hard to keep a straight face. Some of the projects didn't really even make sense. {The project to determine whether different dogs have different nose prints, and this was determined by rubbing food color on the dogs' noses, which I'm sure they loved, by the way.} What?! 

I could tell the students liked me by the number shouting "Miss Molly! Come judge my project!" Actually, I'm not sure that they liked me, but I think my 5'4" stature was a little less intimidating than a 6-foot-2-inch-tall Air Force officer. They little girls all said they liked my hair and my shoes and they wanted to know if I lived on base, and if I had babies, and dogs, and cats {along with 100 other personal questions about my life}.  

The hardest part of the day was actually judging the projects, or at least the student-produced projects. They were all so good... I wish they could all win! To see the excitement in their eyes was really inspiring and you could tell that many of them had a genuine love of learning. I'm not sure that I'm really cut-out to be a judge of elementary school students as I'm pretty sure I told each one of them "You're so smart! I love your project! You did a wonderful job! Good luck!" ... But overall, it was a fun day! I learned a lot {mostly about plants and farming!}, got to spend the day with R, and hopefully helped brighten a child's day.

Happy Friday!


  1. I would never be able to deduct points from a Kindergartner either!! Haha!!

    I love how quickly you were able to tell who did their own project and who did their parent's project :) Techniques you learned in your master's program? Probably safe to say a 9 year old didn't come up with that one :)

    Who ended up winning 1st place? :)

  2. Remember your science fair project? I do! Dogs food preference I believe? Thanks for letting me help round up the neighborhood dogs with you on that one :)