This year's project, however, went much better. And it was a real communal effort. Ella and two partners decided to test which solution cleaned a penny the best. One family hosted the girls while they did the actual experiment and created the display board. For the experiment, they used vinegar, ketchup, lemon juice and soap to clean pennies with a tooth brush and a cloth.
The girls did a great job recording their results, taking lots of pictures and creating a beautiful display. And they won second place out of the third graders at their school. Much to my surprise, they advanced to the regional science fair, which was two weeks ago.
Since the one family had hosted the girls while they created the project, I volunteered to take the display to the Events Center the day before the fair to set up the board and then to take the girls to the judging the next morning. During the set-up, my hopes for an easy morning vanished.
The Palmer Events Center exhibit hall was an immense zoo, with hundreds of kids and parents and projects every where. When Ella and I got home from setting up, I received an e-mail from a friend warning me about what would happen on Saturday, namely that parents are locked out of the exhibit hall while the judging is going on and that judging can last anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours, depending on how long it takes the judges to talk to each team.
So Saturday morning, I packed for the worst-case scenario, cramming my knitting, a good book, and my iPod in my bag. When we got to the Events Center, however, I was amazed at the efficiency and organization of the whole thing.
The kids were ushered to their displays by volunteers, and the parents were gently nudged out of the exhibit hall, even those who were having fits at leaving their baybees behind. There was a huge waiting area with tons of chairs for the parents, and the kids were brought out to the waiting area by volunteers as soon as they had talked to the judges. Everything went like clockwork. While I was waiting for my little crew, I hung out with a friend and chit-chatted. The time flew.
Once I rounded up Ella and her partners, we headed for home, stopping for a special treat of McDonald's for lunch. One of the other moms took the kids back down to the Events Center for the awards ceremony later that afternoon.
Amazingly, the girls won first place in their division, whatever that may have been. The mom who took them said that it looked like every project got first, second or third, so who knows how the organizers divided things up.
Divisions didn't matter to the girls, though. They came home with big blue ribbons and even bigger smiles. The mom who drove them took the girls out for ice cream, and then the third family hosted a celebratory slumber party. As far as Ella was concerned, it was just about the best weekend ever.
The whole process was a good learning experience for me. Ella obviously loves science and doing experiments; she comes up with them on her own during school holidays. There are going to be lots more science fairs and science projects in our future. I need to get over myself and turn Ella loose. The world needs more girl scientists, and Ella may just become one.