Monday, February 11, 2013

The Impact of Big Science Saturday

For long-time readers of this blog, you know that Big Science Saturday (BSS) was a part of our family for several years. Over those years, my sons and I probably performed 100 different experiments of varying complexity, but almost always fun.

As I said many times, my goal was never to steer the boys into science careers. I was really trying to do three things:
  1. Get them to wonder how things work and to ask probing questions.
  2. Teach them how to have a structured approach to solving problems.
  3. Show them that science can be fun.
Well, as life has marched on and the boys have grown older, BSS is no more, and I sometimes wonder if I achieved any of these goals.

As I now consider this question, I suppose I did have some success. For instance, those BSS times developed into our appreciation for robots, like those on the TV show BattleBots on Comedy Central. We're very intrigued by the upcoming SyFy show Robot Combat League, which will debut in a couple of weeks, which appears to have robot battles like those in the movie Real Steel.

But it's not just TV shows. We also seek out local robot events, like the FIRST Robotics competition coming up in April. And recently, Maddox even spent $130 of his own money on an Orbotix Sphero.

So, I suppose I have made some progress on goal number 3, associating science with fun.

Another effect of those many weekends of BSS can be seen in the boys' science fair projects over the years. Their science fair projects tend to be rooted in real-world things they have seen or heard about, rather than the standard old projects of studying how bread molds or using Coke as a cleaning agent.

For example, a while back I was telling the boys about an incident when a bird pooped on me when I was about eight or nine. That led to a conversation about how difficult it might be for a bird to poop on a specific target while it was flying. Maddox turned that into a clever science fair project that involved building a testing rig from erector set, complete with a long rail with a motorized traveler, a bucket on the traveler that dropped a marble at a specific position, and a little Lego guy as the target. 

It was a great project, although the principal of his school didn't think 'poop' was an appropriate topic, and suggested that the bird be a carrier pigeon dropping a message. Give me a break. Maddox went with an unspecified 'package,' and let people use their imaginations.

Their interest in basing science fair projects on real-world observations shows some success in achieving goal number one, wondering how things work. So, I suppose all of those BSS sessions have had some positive impact in terms of the original goals.

However, the most important impact of BSS was letting us spend some terrific family time together doing sciency things, and I see the results of that every day. That's really what made it worth the effort.

(Lab equipment image provided by renjith krishnan and bird provided by Dr Joseph Valks, both at Sphero image provided by Orbotix.)

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