Why school projects should be banned [rant]

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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).

mcgraw hill photocopy lesson.jpg

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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About the Author

Wayne Schulz
Wayne is a diehard Android user and consultant specializing in Sage 100 ERP Accounting Software. He lives in Glastonbury CT with his two children. When not helping them with their homework or pushing the latest school fundraiser off on his co-workers, he is active hiking and investigating all manner of technology.

10 Comments on "Why school projects should be banned [rant]"

  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?

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