Archive for: April, 2011
The science fair happened, and the younger Free-Ride offspring's project board is now home. (The teachers are still judging and grading the sixth grade projects, which means that the elder Free-Ride offspring's project board is still at school.)
Here, in pictures, are the highlights of the younger Free-Ride offspring's project:
A straightforward descriptive title. (The kid may have a future writing scientific journal articles.)
Gotta have hypotheses to test.
The equipment was not terribly fancy. Then again, except for the bread, it was stuff we already had on hand, which is a plus.
Maybe it's just me, but I always like it when science fair results depart from initial expectations. It makes it feel more like real science, I guess.
The science fair instructions from the school were emphatic that kids should not bring in potentially biohazardous specimens with their projects (and mold was among the things specifically mentioned in the "NO!" list), so the younger Free-Ride offspring took pictures. It may have been smelly, but the range of colors of mold that grew is actually kind of impressive.
My favorite part of the younger Free-Ride offspring's project is the data visualization. For each of the specimens that grew mold in each set of experimental conditions, the kid measured the mold spots (in square centimeters) and added up the total molded area on each data-collection day. Data was collected until each bread sample was totally molded over.
To generate these graphs, the younger Free-Ride offspring calculated the mean mold area for each given type of bread in a particular set of conditions on a particular day. Since each of the bread samples was 4 x 5 centimeters, the younger Free-Ride offspring drew a 4 x 5 rectangle to represent the bread sample and then plotted the average mold growth by filling in the appropriate number of squares. You can see as you go across the plots from left to right that ady by more and more squares get filled in until all 20 are filled, representing complete mold coverage.
At least at Casa Free-Ride: the day before the project board is due.
That day (or, to be more precise, this day) is the day that reminds everyone of just how laborious a process it is to:
- create visually attractive (or logical and legible) representations of the data
- locate and organize all the raw data if you have kept your project notebook in the same fashion in which you keep your notebooks for sketching and stories (which is to say, not necessarily on sequential pages -- but at least dated)
- type up descriptions of your experiment if you are not a frequent typist (neither of the Free-Ride offspring is)
- draw actual conclusions from your data
- work out how to fit everything you want to show and say on the three-panel project board without making that project board look too busy or too sparse, and without inducing eye-strain
Also, we're hoping to hit the trifecta of functioning erasers, functioning printer, and functioning can of spray adhesive to get all the pieces properly assembled. (Thank goodness that data collection wrapped up yesterday.)
Hold a good thought for us.
In heavy throughput grading mode, you sometimes notice interesting confusions or conflations. Among those I've noticed the past week:
- "The chemical" for "the bacterium". (Sure, a bacterium is composed of chemicals, but it's got something extra, that spark of life, right? Or am I being a silly vitalist here?)
- "IUPAC" for "IACUC". I reckon you probably do want to use the correct nomenclature when describing the compounds you use in any research (including research with animals), but IUPAC has no special powers to approve or oversee your research protocols.
As a fund-raiser for the youth soccer league to which we belong, the younger Free-Ride offspring's soccer team has been selling chocolate bars. Among other things, this means that each morning the younger Free-Ride offspring has packed up a selection of chocolate bars to bring into school, and each afternoon has returned with a stack of dollar bills. (Honestly, it makes me feel a little like Nancy Botwin. But I'll work through it.)
Anyway, in connection with this candy-peddling, the younger Free-Ride offspring mentioned a customer who bought an extra bar for an older sibling "so he wouldn't get killed." I suggested that this was exaggerating the danger of a sibling's displeasure, or that the younger Free-Ride was not using the standard definition of the verb "to kill".
The younger Free-Ride offspring's full reply to this is transcribed below.
Well, my sibling kills me all the time -- [the elder Free-Ride offspring] actually does.
See, [the elder Free-Ride offspring] eats all my body except my soul, which is saved.
Then [the elder Free-Ride offspring] gets this ghost-like material that can be shaped like any human, and shapes it like me.
And then [the elder Free-Ride offspring] got this, like, plaster that can move, so I don't feel like a ghost. And then [the elder Free-Ride offspring] got this paint called "[The Younger Free-Ride Offspring] In a Can" and just sprayed over the plaster, sprayed all over me.
And [the elder Free-Ride offspring] saved the soul so you wouldn't get suspicious and [the elder Free-Ride offspring] wouldn't get busted. Because the soul is what makes this plastered painted ghost sound and behave like [the younger Free-Ride offspring].
This all raises some interesting questions, of course, among them:
1. What kind of thing is this "soul"? The younger Free-Ride offspring, upon further question, identified it as being material stuff, and also as essential to reproducing consciousness and personality, yet it seems, in this telling, not to be exactly equivalent to the brain. (Is it possible that the "soul" in question is some manner of artificial intelligence, an uploaded consciousness? Is my elder offspring making Cylons?!)
2. More disturbingly, how is it that the elder Free-Ride offspring, who has been raised vegetarian, has now apparently turned to cannibalism?
3. Where can I get me some flexible plaster? What kinds of materials have such properties?
4. Finally, if I were selling "The Younger Free-Ride Offspring In a Can," you'd totally line up to buy it, right?
We're less than two weeks out from our elementary school science fair, which means that both Free-Ride offspring are in serious data collection mode. As they look ahead to having enough data to present and "analyze" (you lose points if there's not some kind of computing of a mean, preferably accompanied by bar graphs -- heaven help the child exploring a question which yields qualitative results), I figured we should check in with some notes from the experimental trenches.
The younger Free-Ride offspring has been studying mold-growth on a selection of breads under various conditions (including exposure to light, air flow, moisture, and temperature).
Mold has grown (and on some but not all of the samples -- so there will be differences to explain). Quantifying the amount of mold that has grown on a sample (either by counting wee spots or by using a ruler to measure moldy regions) and recording those data in the lab notebook takes rather longer than the younger Free-Ride offspring had anticipated. Also, while the younger Free-Ride offspring digs wearing the powdered latex gloves to handle the bread samples, the fact that the moldy bread has a distinctive (and unpleasant) odor was a complete surprise.
Dr. Free-Ride's better half is concerned that this is evidence that we have sheltered our kids from the normal operations of the natural world.
The elder Free-Ride offspring's study of whether a rabbit (this rabbit) relies more on sight or smell to locate treats hit a little bit of a snag. The original experiment involved putting treats (or non-treats) in hard plastic vessels --some of them clear, others not, some with slots in them (making it possible to smell what's inside the container), others completely sealed up -- and to observe and record Snowflake's reaction.
From those early trials, we learned that Snowflake was pretty quick in her assessment that she couldn't get inside those containers herself. Secure in that knowledge, she would give up and start munching the timothy hay in her run. Moreover, she discovered that within about 15 minutes of her giving up, the elder Free-Ride offspring would also give up and remove those annoyingly impossible containers from the run -- often giving the rabbit one of the treats when the containers were extracted.
Clearly, the rabbit was too smart for the original experimental design.
However, within the last week the elder Free-Ride offspring has been constructing mini bales of timothy hay, some with treats in them and some not, and has observed Snowflake's differential reaction to them. Ultimately, the data analysis here may require coming up with a scale of smelliness (i.e., of how easy or hard particular treats are to smell). We'll see how that goes.
Meanwhile, I'm making sure both Free-Ride offspring consult literature relevant to the systems they are studying. And I'm getting a new can of spray adhesive so that the display-board assembly proceed without incident.