Thursday, February 19, 2009

Weird science

Today is our school's science fair. Rows of projects with folding boards and bubble letters and half-finished bacteria growths and awkward students trying to explain themselves to even more awkward parents who are trying to pretend interested in what their kids are saying. I remember having to participate in the science fair for four years when I was in elementary school, and considering how much I disliked them, it's a wonder that I wanted to be a scientist for a little while. I think it was mainly due to the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, and also because I liked sounding smart in telling people I wanted to be a "biogeneticist". It's strange how much I remember about my projects. In Grade 4, I was ahead of my class, so they asked me to put a project in the fair; my dad and I made a papier maché volcano that lit up, and I had a few volcano facts. Wow. The next year, a partner and I worked on a project entitled "What are the different types of cancer?" Our project consisted of interviewing another student's mother (she was an oncologist) and some encyclopedia research. We got a 63, which is probably as low as our teacher could give us without turning us off of science for the rest of our lives. In Grade 6, I worked alone on "How did the dinosaurs become extinct?"; apparently, I was not too enthralled by the scientific method and chose to do research instead. I worked really hard on it (as I remember), and I got a 66 - so much for motivating me to love science. My projects in middle school were actually experiments because we were not allowed to do research projects any more, and I actually think they were kind of cool. One year, we tested the durability of different fabrics in washing machines; in the other year, we built boxes out of different materials (glass, wood, and steel) and measured how well they kept temperature in different times of freezing. Although I had little patience for the actual measuring and taking time to experiment, I did enjoy presenting them at the fair and at the regional fair that almost the entire class attended as participants, but it was more as an experience than being excited about science. I suppose it really took me until university to realize how little I liked science. I took all of the sciences in high school out of moderate interest and boredom, combined with the fact that it was easy for me to get really good marks, but when my world was opened up to the humanities in university, there was no going back. Why would I pay to take really difficult classes that I did not enjoy when I could take fun classes that were easier for me? I had made the shift, and I am now far from a science guy. Last year, I had to teach Science 9 for a week, and even basic chemistry was difficult for me to remember. I think it's because science is a mindset that I have left far behind; I'm just not interested in it. I keep knowledge of the current events of science, but I'll leave the technical stuff to people who take the time to know it. I still love reading science fiction books (most recently John Wyndham's The Kraken Wakes, but I read them as literature and stay away from the uber-geek technical-type of SF. Maybe I've just become too "post-modern" (though can you be post-modern if you self-identify that way?) to be scientific, but it's just not my thing. Maybe next year we can have a "social science" fair instead...

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