Saturday, February 20, 2010

It's Getting Out of Hand

Ten years from now my memories of this school year won't be "Oh, that's the year Zoe started kindergarten" or "That was Charlie's last year of elementary school." It will be "Fucking-Ay. That was the year that Zach worked his ass off and did 873 science projects."

Believe it or not, my son is working on another science project. This one, though, is going to require a little bit of involvement from his dad. No, Doug will not be shopping at JoAnn for felt and styrofoam balls and surprisingly enough I would gladly welcome a project that required such accessible, inexpensive and realistic science project materials.

This is a group project with the end result being an eight-minute presentation about the weather. Is the presentation performed in the classroom, like a skit? Oh no, because that would be convenient and age-appropriate. This presentation has to be filmed with a video camera (preferably high-def), transferred to a hard drive, edited together in a creative way and it should be exactly eight minutes long and turned in on a DVD or other high-quality format. They must also include a commercial, that they have to write and perform, for a product or service that benefits the environment or is in some way related to Earth Day.

Although this project was assigned a month ago, Zach's group is still only about 85% done. Since they all need to participate and they aren't provided with any time in class to meet as a group, they need to get together in the evenings or on weekends. Finding one night that five 13-year-olds are all available and able to get together is a tough task. Finding several nights has been almost impossible, specifically for one boy named Kevin that for some reason thinks that going skiing with his friends at the last minute instead of working on a science project is more fun.

Since Doug is familiar with editing software he tapped into his patience and, after transferring the footage to our hard drive, spent some time in front of the computer showing Zach how to edit it together to create a movie that makes sense and is worthy of an A. After Zach spent over three hours editing on Thursday night, the movie was complete and Doug transferred it to a DVD and a flash drive.

This might make me sound boring and old-fashioned, or maybe I'm being hyper-sensitive to the impact that the economy has had on some families, but it seems like this project could have been completed for a few thousand dollars less, and have been just as educational, with a presentation performed in class including a couple props and some charts made on poster board. It makes me wonder: was the main goal to teach the kids about interpreting weather reports and how to work together as a group, or was it to find out whose parents have spent the most money at Best Buy? After reviewing the scoring system, I have come to the conclusion that a good grade will only be possible if you have a high quality video camera, a fairly new computer with decent movie editing software, blank DVD's or a large storage flash drive and group members that don't have any other weeknight or weekend activities that require any time.

After a few productive meetings, Zach's group has made a surprising amount of progress. They designed some elaborate weather chart backdrops on Powerpoint and incorporated the weather channel on the Wii, both of which are displayed in the background on giant TV screens. Their time logs are completed, the script will be written over the weekend by Kevin (if he doesn't go skiing instead) and as long as there aren't any misplaced DVD's and hard drive failures, everything should be completed on time.

One benefit that has come out of this project is that Zach realizes that he is very lucky. Not only do his parents shop at Best Buy, but he also has a dad that is a creative director, knows how to edit film and feels immense amounts of sympathy for a kid that has spent virtually every weekend of the school year working on one science project after another. He has also learned that there are always members of a group that won't hesitate to slack off and do the bare minimum, that PC's suck and using Powerpoint on a Mac is the only way to go and that his mom doesn't love having three teenage girls talking about their hair and giggling in the basement on Valentine's Day, even though she hates the holiday anyway.

But has he learned anything new about the weather and how to interpret a weather report? I don't think that really matters, since we all know the weather forecast is wrong 95% of the time anyway.


Gary said...

Erma Bombeck, eat your heart out!

LM said...

As a science teacher myself, I agree with you ENTIRELY. This project doesn't take into consideration the economy, people's time constraints or any other common sense factors. Somebody just wants to make a name for themselves at their school. This isn't a real science project and it would cause any parent to drink heavily.

Anonymous said...

and I thought that damn 6th grade leaf project was a waste of time! - by the way - exactly which leaf goes with what you have no clue.....and after 3 of those darn reports I don't give SHIT.............sounds to me like the teachers are just getting worse with the projects......MAKE SURE CHARLIE AND ZOE NEVER HAVE THIS TEACHER!!!......MOM

Anonymous said...

Yes, I just received my kindergarten packet for my first child. Although I am ready to kick him out the door to attend school, the first task of filling out 30 forms (most of which repeat the same information) was enough for me to drink my dinner. I am all for parental involvement in education, but seriously? I agree, that project could have been completed for a few thousand dollars less. I would hate to get that school supply list...3 notebooks, pencils, flash drive, powerpoint, wii, glitter glue, computer, internet access....

Annette said...

I checked "I agree" and "hate it" because a) I agree with how you feel about such an amazingly difficult, unrealistic science project, and b) I hate it because are you serious? Is that really what schools are asking of kids now? That scare me for what my kids (and my husband and I, for that matter) are in store for once our three kids enter grade school and beyond. Yikes!