Why school projects should be banned [rant]

science project.jpg

I think my mom is the Queen of Science projects. At my house I’ve been struggling with getting my son’s science fair project completed by next week. I’m probably the least creative person at thinking up new and interesting ways to test how fast a matchbox car can run down a wooden ramp. Leave it to my Mom to an interesting way to complete the project in one emailed suggestion that my son build the cars from the kits he received for Christmas (thanks mom!) and then test each by adding weight.

I suddenly realized that my Mom wasn’t born with this science project talent. Rather she developed it by doing all my projects throughout elementary school. Is this the real reason that we have projects? So parents can learn how to do projects for their kids. Science fair night at Buttonball School in Glastonbury will likely be nothing more than three dozen parent’s all looking at the projects and seeing who’s the most talented parent. Which started me thinking about some school projects that I’d like to do…

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Here are some science projects that I’d like to see:

How quickly would the schools stop assigning independent projects if, as parents, we came up with some real life projects. The type of project that actually sheds light on how parent’s are responsible for almost all projects – and NOT their kids.

These could also be projects that are “fun” for parents.

Teacher and Administrator Pay Analysis: Compute the true value of teacher pay by annualizing it with vacations, summers off, half days and shortened days factored in. Most of this information is freely available from the town. Imagine the look on the face of your child’s teacher as he walks by your display and spots his annualized salary – increased for time off, in service, summer vacations – on display for all to see.

Sure, teachers have tough jobs. So do most of us. Too bad I don’t get out of work on a regular basis at 1:05. How cool would this science project be?

Mr. Smith’s Annual Salary – $50,000

Mr. Smith’s Annual Salary $50,000 + value of early dismissals $10,000 + summer vacation $20,000 + school vacations $2,0000 = $82,000

early dismissal.jpg

Are photocopied lesson plans really teaching?: I’m sure creating a lesson plan is tough. My kids are in the 4th grade.

Most of their lesson plans are “(c) McGraw-Hill”. Whatever happened to the “good old days” when teachers created their own lesson plans and course curriculum?

For this project I’d take a collection of the last half billion blurry photocopied assignments that my kids brought home crumpled in the bottom of their backpack and compare them with a sample hand created lesson (that you can actually read and understand).

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These two projects are probably a little too far out there to realistically be displayed at a school science fair. You have to admit they would “liven” up the science fair a little bit!

Are schools really this stupid to think that projects their students show up with are truly done by them?

Next year I promise that we’re doing two projects in my home – one project totally done by my son – then I’ll create a project on my own (titled – “as done by Dad”) and march into the science fair dressed in a suit and with my own display board.

Might make for interesting conversations in the teacher staff room…

Update 3-3-09 – Buttonball School’s Science Fair is tonight and I’m bringing along this “Bingo Card” to keep me sane. I’ll mark off one space very time I see them item that is described.

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Categories: Rants and Raves

23 replies

  1. Just to defend teachers for a second…my mother is a high school history teacher. She routinely carries 5 bags with her full of information. She uses her own personal books, she shops bookstores for new books constantly, and she comes up with lots of ways to get her students to relate to modern history. She doesn't spend a single weekend or vacation day without a stack of papers and projects she's grading, or a stack of books she's furiously marking and noting for use in class.

    If you figured my mother's salary and added in all the extra work she does, trust me she does plenty to earn her pay, and doesn't really take a break even in the summers. Maybe you should move your kids to NJ where the teachers work harder. 😉

  2. What an utterly sophomoric and irresponsible post. In the first place bird droppings for brains, not all of us had mummy do our homework for us! Some of us ACTUALLY had the pride (and the intelligence) to do our own projects, from the planning through the fruition phase.
    Now we come to your attempt to explain the salaries of teachers. So, teachers have two months off during the summer eh? And just what caliber of jobs do you find available for two months out of each hear that "these teachers" can take advantage of?Early dismissal? Is this a joke? I know of few teachers that leave early, or if they do, they're probably sitting in physicians offices dealing with imbecilic creations such as the one your parents created.
    Stick to your lil computer posts and blogs but leave the business world to those who can understand and actually interpret it.

  3. Well, I would definitely say that MOST projects are done by the parents, but I did ALL my projects myself. Occasionally if something was technically beyond my skills (like drilling something, etc.) I would ask for help, but there is no way my parents would have ever just flat out done them for me. Part of it was because I was just that kind of kid, I wanted to do it all myself…plus, I was kid #3 to older parents, AND my dad was a teacher.

    I think there is a lot of pressure now to do really complicated projects, which really puts it in parents' laps. I did projects like, "Does different music affect the way plants grow?" (They hated Motley Crue and loved Henry Mancini) that were easy for me to control and handle myself.

  4. My youngest child, now a senior in high school, has always done her own projects. She especially dislikes "science fair" projects as she knows that the best ones will be done by parents. She has been at friends houses and watched their parents working on them not trying to hide anything. These kids are going to need helicopter parents most of their lives.

  5. Most of my rant on this was a compilation of private messages that I've received from other parents. Each time we're tasked with a "project" it's widely discussed as being little more than a challenge to see if the parents can manage the project at home for the kids.

    Mine are 9 years old — so their ability to create and manage a project may be a bit less than older kids.

    I'm trying to think whether for the 4 years that my kids have been in school whether there have been any home work assignments that look like they're anything except a photocopied "McGraw Hill". Right now I can't think of any (and I pasted in an exact image of an assignment from this year).

    My stepfather was an elementary teacher until his retirement a few years ago. I can remember every night that he would create his own lesson plans and be grading well into the evening – so I guess some of that exists — just none that I've observed yet in the Glastonbury Schools.

  6. I think our science fair is Tuesday. I'd love to (but will not) take photos of exhibits and have a contest where we judge "most likeliest done by a parent"….

  7. My parents always made me do my own science projects, which is why my projects always sucked. I'd slave and toil away, screw up, and turn in something really crap that I'd worked really hard on. I remember the girl who won the last science fair I had to do. It was an elaborate electric grid for a small city, and all the lights worked and the controls were elaborate. She was a musician, and I got better grades than her in science class! My parents pointed out that her dad was an EE, that she did not do the project, her dad did.

    And the teachers, are they in LALA Land, to think the kids are doing this crap? Applied science is cool, and should be encouraged, but science fairs are crap, and any teacher who thinks otherwise needs to quit drinking the Koolaid.

  8. It's not that I can't relate to the intended spirit of the post here – sometimes on the surface photocopies of homework from teacher workbooks may seem like the teacher was less invested in creating lesson plans and many projects can seem like an exercise in parental participation.

    Even understanding the intended spirit, I have to say that I think that both examples of made up "projects" would be wrong, and portray an inaccurate image of teachers in public schools.

    First, teacher pay – teachers are not paid for the summer, unless they work teaching summer school. Some districts have the option of spreading their pay for the entire year to not disrupt their income flow, but it is not the same as being paid for doing nothing. The short days, well MY experience (and it can be different for others) is that teachers are usually still in the school at meetings, preparing for parent conferences, or continuing education at those times, which is why they are scheduled in the first place. If you add in the dollars that most teachers spend on classroom supplies and other items out of their pockets because school budgets are stretched so thin, salary numbers go down again.

    As to the photocopies, with all the commentary about falling standardized test scores, schools are being forced to become more "cookie cutter" if they want to receive federal funds. They have to be able to prove that they are working from a standard curriculum that will in theory bring up a standardized test score. In order to do that, they use the lesson plan provided. Just because they assign homework from a book, doesn't mean that their skills lack or that they are less invested – they are following guidelines set down by bureaucrats who are looking for more funding dollars and trying to grab as many of them as they can.

    As for parental participation in school projects – good parents participate because they are involved with their kids education and their lives. While you look around and see which project was most likely done by a parent, check out which ones weren't and see if the parents are even in attendance at the event. Like I said, good parents participate, and they do it by making a conscious choice to be involved. Good on you for being involved enough to even notice how your kid's homework looks, let alone know the name of the textbook printer it comes from.

    In the same spirit as the original post, maybe a better example would be to check out the dollars invested in school sports (which also have tremendous value to students, but are not a part of the classroom budget) and compare those budgets the the average classroom teaching math, and calculate how much more a teacher could do with the difference in the classroom to increase test scores if we invested as much per student there, as we do on sports.

  9. My favorite "project" story happened when the kids were in second grade. The Friday before a 3 day holiday weekend we got the call that my son had not sufficiently finished his project in class and therefore was being sent home with this project to complete. It was due when school resumed on Tuesday.

    I also have great fondness for parent teacher conferences which occur in April (two months before school's due to release) where the teacher suddenly announces the poor performance of your student, that she's "concerned" whether the child can progress to the next grade level and all manner of issues that you'd asked about at the prior 3 conferences and were not raised.

    Tip: When faced with an "April surprise" be sure to use the following two abbreviations as you listen compassionately. It's your right under federal law to request this at any time. Schools absolutely hate it:

    1. NCLB
    2. PPT

    I thought the "teacher" was going to fall over backwards in her chair.

    PS – The third word schools hate to hear in combination with the two above "parent advocate"

  10. Okay; I know about "no child left behind", but what is PPT?

  11. Planning and Placement Team

    My understanding is that should you feel your child qualifies under No Child Left Behind, that you are able to call a meeting where the school must provide you with either their reason your child doesn't qualify or create a plan under federal guidelines.

    In most of those meetings you are allowed to bring a "parent advocate" — and the unspoken issue is the schools never know whether that advocate is an attorney, specialist or your neighbor……so it puts them on their highest level of alert.

    And always strive to be the nicest parent in the school should you find the need to complain. The hotheads are always discounted all the way up the school chain of command.

  12. The year all four of our sons had science projects due, I turned in my own spoof project to the principal: "Do Science Projects Cause Maternal Insanity?" I hated the whole process so much that I found a solution and turned it into a business – we now sell project guides that kids CAN do. Of course the the parent must be involved to some degree – most elementary students can't drive to Wal-Mart and buy supplies. But working together is part of parenting.

  13. I was very, very proud of my son's science project last year. It was Rube Goldberg-iest project alive. I bought all of the materials, I helped him do something when he asked (i.e., use the power saw), but everything he did was all him.

    And I had the very distinct impression at the science fair that the teachers were able to guess the amount of parental involvement.

  14. There's a free parent guide for when the project specs ask your child to identify the independent/dependent variables, and your budding scientist can't remember which is which…http://www.onlinescienceprojects.com/guide. Our project guides themselves are sold here: http://www.24hourscienceprojects.com.

  15. I have to agree with wayne. When you normalize teacher pay to the rest of us 40 to 60 hour per week slobs with 2 weeks/year vacation who don't have unions that make my property taxes equal what my mortgage payment is (in NJ), they do quite well. Then many get to retire and collect a healthy pension. My only pension is my 201k (used to be a 401k) . The teachers pensions are being replenished by more debt on my children and soon to be much higher taxes because the funds lost the money in the market like I did, so double whammy.

    Most public school teachers I know have ridiculous benefits compared to the private sector. Tiny co-pays, everything is covered from viagra, to braces etc. One has cosmetic surgery coverage for Christs sake.

    I can't even send my 4 kids to the public school here that I contribute over $10k portion of my property taxes because the kids are being taught in trailers due to a lack of space, and the standardized test scores suck. Yet we have a Superintendent, again working 6 months/year, who makes $200k+ to oversee 4 poorly performing schools.

    You tell them wayne!

    Now can somebody tell me why this insanity doesn't contribute to our soon to be 2 trillion dollar ANNUAL deficit that is going to make this downturn look wimpy compared to the day other countries stop buying our soon to be worthless debt created by this broken public education system?

    I say give the parents the cash back and create a free market school system. Now watch how schools, administrators and teachers begin to compete for the dollars which would be based on results instead of tenure.

  16. Good work Wayne, goaskmom & Julie. This should be a Public Service Announcement. 😉

    For kicks I pointed my scientist wife to the link (yes, we met in a lab and had, er, good chemistry–though I've been out of the lab for over 10 years) to get her take. I guess that gives us an unfair advantage over other parents, lol. 😀

    • Ok – this demands a totally off-topic explanation. What type of scientist is your wife? And what made you leave the lab? Inquiring minds want to know! :-)

      • She worked in a biochem lab testing immunological properties of milk via gas chromatography/mass spec and HPLC, next door to the lab where I worked. When I first saw her, I knew I would marry her some day (a few years later, as it turned out, thanks to our mutual love of Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass). The biological lab where I worked was downsized when the company owner died, but my wife's department was spared. I found work testing software and doing IT support for a company that creates multimedia for major tech firms…that was more than 10 years ago. She's civilized me a bit, so that I can discern the difference between chocolates and how to pronounce things like OPI (Mrs. O'Leary's BBQ and such). Right now she's doing our 1040s by hand (she thinks it's brain challenge), and is handy with a pistol. She's one tough, smart girl. 😀