The Disciplines, Graces, and Glories of Science Fair (and all other parts of the curriculum we don't like)


My middle daughter is in Challenge A and if you're in Challenge A, it's time for Science Fair, so that is taking up a lot of our time and attention in this season of our homeschool. Science Fair is not my favorite thing, but unfortunately, I find I haven't been called to teach my kids only my favorite things. God's world is filled with glories that I don't know about yet, but I know from previous experience that I will delight in them when I find them out. 

And this isn't my first rodeo. I have led another daughter through a Science Fair project, I have directed a Challenge level for several kids who each did a Science Fair project, and I have judged at least two Science Fairs, maybe more... At some point, the CC memories start to get blurry. But one thing I do remember clearly is how often Science Fair and other not-so-enjoyable parts of the curriculum prove themselves to be blessings in disguise.

Months ago, my daughter expressed interest in invisible inks and I knew Science Fair was coming (looming) and that interest was a potential project. So we did a ton of research on the topic of invisible ink with a lot of thought and discussion about the topic, more thought and discussion than I'd ever do unless I had to. We were able to turn that interest into a single question about invisible ink that she could test, one question that would have results she could actually isolate and measure. At the end of the research (but only the beginning of the project), she decided to compare three of the most common invisible inks to see whether they are exposed by heat and how quickly they are exposed. Based on her research, she hypothesized that ink made with tea would be slowest to show up under heat (if it showed at all.) There are scientific reasons for this that I won't go into here, reasons it will be her job to explain to the judges of the actual Science Fair, but her educated guess was proven correct upon experimentation. That was exciting to her and eye-opening to me.  

It reminded me that submitting to the Challenge A curriculum, this project, and the scientific process in particular has been surprisingly fruitful once again and has once again, reminded me of the graces that come by way of a curriculum. While she and I are focusing on this narrow area of her interest, invisible inks, and all of that singular topic's particular details, I as the teacher/ philosopher observe through the process that she is actually also learning broader skills like how to wonder about something in nature, ask questions about that thing, focus on that for a while, research and wrestle the concepts involved until she has answers, relate those answers to things she already knows, accumulate more facts that become living, life-giving knowledge about God's world, then isolate more unknowns, and wonder on ask more and more questions and research further.  

As her mom/teacher, I make her put great emphasis on her lab journal more than any other aspect of the Science Fair project. Over time, I find that that artifact helps students literally grasp on to the concepts they are researching and physically keep track of the entire mental process start to finish. More than the particular science facts behind invisible ink, I care most of all that my daughter learns how to creatively wonder about something in God's world, then focus and diligently research, then record her thoughts and findings, then organize her discoveries over a long period of time and process of discovery. That is one of the richest "take-aways" from Science Fair, and what makes it worth the effort. Again, I find it has more to do with learning how to learn Science than the actual Science facts gleaned and remembered and regurgitated. But really, most of all, a Science Fair project can be just one way of nurturing wonder, inspiring worship, and disciplining students in the science and art of taking dominion and the grace and discipline of earthly stewardship. 

Honestly, I come to some parts of the Classical Conversations curriculum like Science Fair kicking and screaming on the inside, but upon submission to these and all other parts of the program, I find immense blessings. We, as a family, do much, much, much more Science, Latin, Logic, Math, Writing, Speech, Debate, Rhetoric, and many other things besides than we ever would if I crafted my own curriculum and avoided the accountability that a shared curriculum and community literally force upon me all the time. In this way, curriculum is not a lifeless box we are stuck in, rather, it's a treasure chest we ourselves exert our own wills to open, a chest full of mysterious maps leading us on journeys of discovery we would never, ever, ever have ventured upon without a "compulsory guide" (the curriculum) and our "group tour" (our community).  

And in doing more Science, Latin, Logic, Math, etc. than we ever want, we discover and discipline and nurture compacities for those things inside us that God has crafted into each and every human being made in His image, compacities we did not know were there and would not have known without our submission to and the discipline and nurture and grace of a curriculum that includes so, so many tasks we do not like like Science Fair (and Latin and Physics and Debate... You get the point. We aren't always reading and discussing Austen or Lewis, but we do get to do that, too, thankfully.)

Now that we are done with the experimentation phase and my daughter has results and conclusions, etc., it's time to put together her project board. I don't like crafts, but again, here I am. Now it becomes more of an art project and therefore, for her, at least, more fun. We are gathering materials and I am helping her arrange and design a board she likes best. I see now the science is blending into the art, naturally, since nothing in all Creation is ever isolated from everything else in by water-tight bulkheads. It's all integrated. We are using inks to decorate the board and we know more about inks now, because of the science we have been forced to do.  

In addition to the project board, there's the lab report and a presentation to judges and peers and tutor, so there's a good deal of work left and again, not all of this is stuff we would jump to do. But I can already tell she's taking rich and enriching skills with her, and knowledge that allows her to appreciate God's world more fully. Most of all, she has a new appreciation for how fun, fruitful, and glorious it can be to wonder about something in God's world and then form of a question and take ownership of discovering more about that. 

"It is the glory of God to conceal a thing. It is the glory of kings to seek it out."

And the moments of awe and glory and grace have multiplied since the start of this oh, so tedious, oft intensive project, one I'd rather not do at all, if I'm being honest. But thank God I can will what I ought. 

I'll probably post again in a few weeks with more photos of her project, her board, and photos from the actual Science Fair. For now, these are some of the photos we've taken and this is my testimony and witness to some of the blessings we glean from submission to the Science Fair and all other parts of the curriculum that we don't like. 


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