Sunday, April 12, 2009

Science Fairs

The homeschool Science Fair was last week. All three kids planned projects for it; Max did a study of mason bees and the twins did a joint project about their gardening adventures. (They tied it into a science topic by taking a closer examination of the germination of the various seed sprouters they used) We worked on it for about 10 days beforehand, reading garden stories, reading about pollinators, reading about germination rates and Super Soil. Fun stuff.

Then we cast our gazes to the appearance of their display boards.

FDPG wanted something witty and artsy for her title, and Dominic, no doubt influenced by his suddenly-self-conscious older brother, didn't want anything that stood out or otherwise called attention to him and anything to do with anything to do with him (and yes he said it exactly that way). So I talked him into ignoring what other people think and going out on a his own creative limb we compromised.
Now tell me, do you recognize this painting? It's called American Gothic. It was painted in 1930 by Grant Wood. I thought it was a famous painting (heck, it's been black-velveted, surely that qualifies it as world famous?), and I thought everyone would recognize any allusions to this painting...

You can see where this is going, can't you?

FDPG and I happened upon it one day, on our on-line explorations, and we also saw all the things people have done to it (biker look, hippie look, doctor/nurse look, etc) and we both thought it would be most amusing to feature her and Dominic as Canadian Gothic farmers in front of their own farm. Allusions, baby, allusions. Dominic, as I said, was not so taken with the allusion aspect, but FDPG bribed him with some of her impending Easter candy convinced him to play along, and so it was that we found ourselves outside one bright shiny day, them posing, me with a camera. One with a fork and the other with a shovel, FDPG looking fondly over at her farmer brother:
Maybe it was because Dominic lacked the hollow, haunted-eyed expression of Wood's farmer, or maybe it was because FDPG didn't have a ponytail and a glum gaze, but everyone at the Science Fair drew a blank about the original. No one seemed to know what we were on about. We get this a lot so it's not as if we were crushed or anything, but it did strike me as highly unusual that no one knew the painting. "That's okay," said FDPG, "we can laugh at ourselves!" Yup, we sure can, FDPG.
The twins' contribution featured a Seed Lab section, where they examined 5 different methods of sprouting seeds: two were those conventional Jiffy pot/clear cover sprouters, one with a heat mat and one without; one was just a tray of open pots; then another covered sprouter (from Lee Valley) but featuring an unusual design; the last one was an aquarium with a nightlight in it.

Then they decided to show all the garden prep. they'd done: sieving soil (for those finicky carrots and beets), pesticide-free gardening, making plant tags, and learning about growing cycles. As one usually does with boards of this ilk, the twins attached photos of all the things they'd done along the way, in addition to their Seed Lab experiment results. We were all particularly struck by the before and after photos of the garden. The after refers to after they'd sifted the soil through the strainer, enlarged the garden 5' and cleaned up the strawberry bed.

FDPG, aka The Girl Who Does Not Much Like Drawing, shocked us all by reproducing a sketch of an aphid that looked like something out of an art book. "I can't believe I did such a good drawing!" she exclaimed, while we all nodded in surprised agreement.

Dominic looked at it with narrowed eyes, wondering if he'd perhaps done it and she was taking all the credit. I mollified him with a request to draw the cabbage looper.

What attracted the most attention was this glass vase. Someone gave it to me for Christmas one year. It was a little on the AWKWARD and BIG side (it's almost 3' tall), which meant that it had been relegated to the basement, but 10 days before the Science Fair we were poking around in the Cold Storage room and I came across one of our seed potatoes from last year. "How about we plant the potato in that glass behemoth and get everyone to guess what it is?" I said. Even Dominic liked this idea. So we layered some sand (drainage) and soil and stuck the potato in the ground. I left a slight hole so the kids would have an easier time guessing, but not one single person guessed what it was.

Wait, I lie.

One person did guess, but it was her 12th guess.

Now I'm wondering if we should leave it in here or remove it to more roomy climes (like the garden). I kind of feel for it, all squished in there.

Max's project featured the life cycle, wants and needs of the Mason Bee, a native bee around these parts. It's a very undemanding little bee, and one we see a lot in our back yard. It's also a prodigious pollinator. Max, wanting to figure it out for himself, struggled a little with the question of what to include, but after some discussion he settled on conservation and habitat. Luckily the newspapers were being unusually topical this week, and we managed to find some handy articles on beekeeping and local pesticide bans.

He also learned how to cut mat titles.

No blood was shed in the making of this blog post

He included a sketch (a copy taken from this article):
Some thought-provoking titles:
And an exhortation to fill one's garden with Mason Bee houses.
And thus it was that we all had a fine time at the Science Fair. FDPG raffled off some of her special plant tags, Max convulsed his pals with some displays of Star Wars Lego men (and ignored his science board altogether), and Dominic felt as though his dignity was still intact at the end of it all.

I went home and had a stiff drink.


Heather said...

No one recognized the potato plant?!?
A few years ago I was reading Harvest for Hope (Jane Goodall) and there was a bit in there about Jamie Oliver and how he couldn't believe the veg that kids did not recognize. Even simple veg like zucchini or celery they didn't recognize and couldn't imagine how they were grown. My boys have since become HUGE fans of Jamie Oliver - his cooking, his promotion of organic local veg, and his zest for food and life.
Have you watched any of his DVDs? Maybe your family would enjoy him as much as we do. My youngest is using some of his learning $ to buy the Jamie at Home cookbook.

Suji said...

I've seen that Grant Wood painting! Always thought the wife had a gently complaining look like "what's my hubby done this time?" sort of expression LOL. Woohoo for FDPG's drawing and Dominic's expression in the photo :) Do all boys get to be like Max when they are older? I sure hope so :) Your kids are so artistic sheila! Now I'm having 'science fair/ show and tell' envy. LOL.

sheila said...

Heather, nope, not a single person. In some ways I was shocked, but you know, I never grew potatoes until last year, so I wonder if I would even have recognized them?
When we were renovating this house 2 years ago we watched (on my parents' 4 million channel TV) Jamie's School Dinners series. It was incredibly depressing how few kids liked or wanted to eat real food and how resistant the parents were to eating well. But I remember the twins being very taken with him. He's such a kook.

sheila said...

Suji, you are so sweet! I sometimes think I complain too much about Max, but he's not really that bad; I'm just old and crotchety. He is pretty artistic, I'll agree with you there. He does a mean comic, too. I am SO glad you know that painting. I was starting to think that I was out in some obscure hinterland that day. I thought EVERYONE knew about that painting! It's funny, when we found it I did a little research and Wood used his sister and his dentist (!) as the models.