Outrage of the Week: Science Fair Bans Most Science

Hi Folks! Here’s the latest — a brilliant Chinese plot to crush America’s lead in science and technology!

Oh wait. Seems it is just one Colorado school’s list of  science fair rules. Thanks, reader Bree, for sending it in. The list:

For safety: Project displays and posters may NOT contain any of the following:

NO: Organisms (living or dead).

NO: Microbial cultures/fungi/molds/bacteria/parasites.

NO: Plants in Soil.

NO: Chemicals.

NO: Flammable Substances.

So I guess if you are doing a science experiment involving the effect of dust on a desk, you’re ok. But beyond that, it gets very tricky.  And, worse, interesting. And so it is verboten. All for the safety of the kids, of course. — Lenore

Not welcome at the fair.  PHOTO CREDIT: Meneer Zjeroen http://www.flickr.com/photos/nuskyn/ / CC BY 2.0

104 Responses

  1. Science, schmience. Just bow down to the flying spaghetti monster and all will be fine.

  2. Define “chemical.” That’s really vague. I’m not a scientist, but wouldn’t that include… a lot of totally safe things just in your kitchen?

    Also, does the ban on organisms include the students themselves or do they get an exemption? And what about the bacteria that’s living naturally on your skin? Can it come to the fair or is there some sort of full body wash going on outside the doors?

  3. So the project may not contain paper? It’s flammable, you know!

  4. They could do a science project on the psychology of lists of rules.

  5. someone already said so but i guess the prohibition of flammable materials would eliminate most posters. the registrants should all submit glasses of water (in glass glasses, of course).

  6. The way schools that introduce rules like this seem to be trying to lock down minds and knowledge instead of opening up learning, especially about science, is heartbreaking.

    Still, there are plenty of definitions of organisms that don’t include viruses so I suggest a study on Swine flu and Ebola, and whether they can be destroyed by substances that contain no chemicals.

  7. The flammable things I can see (no bunsen burners, no things that need to be lit on fire to make the project work, things like that)..I can even see the no chemicals, to an extent.

    But the rest is sheer idiocy and stupidity at its finest. No Nobel Prize Winners coming from good ole Colorado, I suppose.

  8. Oops! Dust contains house mites. I hope to goodness they’ve done their risk assessment for this hazard.

    Also, I do expect that all entering the room will have sanitised their hands for at least 15 seconds using an alcohol based hand sanitizer and scrubbed their fingernails to ensure that no nasties are hidden there.

    Hmm I’m wondering whether to advise wearing dust masks and latex gloves in addition to the googles and lab coats (washed at boiling point of course – in a washing machine).

    I dare a kid to set off a bottle of diet coke and minto tablet at this nonsensical no-science fair.

  9. That pretty much just leaves physics.

    I wonder if a fossil is considered a dead organism.

  10. But Juliet, they can’t use hand sanitizer either, it has a very high alcohol content and they might accidentally drink it!

    Hee hee, last week our science experiment (in preschool, mind you) was to climb on top of a ladder and drop things off to see if they would break or bounce. Glass jars and light bulbs break! The kids were jumping up and down and cheering!

    The week before that we melted lead and reshaped it into something new.

    Next week week we’re going to light up a grill, just me and the kids, and have a cookout.

    My kids will be ready to take on the Chinese!

  11. Ha! Our list included the above, and no LIQUIDS as well. We were forced into a magnet experiment. Boring.

  12. my 10 year old who will spend next week working on her own science project said it best – “What a bunch of idiots!” Feeling mildly better about the state of education in California (that’s really not saying much…)

  13. Yeah, physics seems the best way to go. I’m thinking maybe a trebuchet.

  14. What do they do, have the kids stand around and imagine what it would be like if they did a science experiment?

  15. Technically, water is a chemical, too. And most things are flammable on some level. I’m having trouble coming up with a tongue-in-cheek example of something that WOULD fall in these guidelines. Even a memorized oral presentation would be disqualified under a strict interpretation of these rules, as kids are organisms, and their clothing is flammable. Meh!

  16. I can see it all now: Plastic models of the solar system, posters outlining the lifecycle of a frog and a few potato clocks. Minus the potatoes of course. Yay for schools encouraging originality!

  17. No “Chemicals”? Umm, everything in the universe is made of “chemicals”. Water is a “chemical”. Paper is made out of “chemicals”. Air is made out of “chemicals”

    Even “dust on a desk” involves thousands of chemicals.

  18. Am I missing something?
    Isn’t it possible to do experiments where dangerous organisms are exposed to flaming chemicals at home or even in the high school’s science lab, take pictures of the experiments or draw diagrams/graphs etc and then bring the poster to the science fair?

  19. Once again, why I’m choosing to homeschool. My kids may not get the opportunity to ride a school bus or eat cafeteria food (darn it!), but they will most certainly get the opportunity to (safely) set stuff on fire, mix chemicals to see how they react, examine bugs and leaves and fish and frogs and dirt, and for heaven’s sake grow plants in soil! (What’s up with no plants in soil? That one’s got me stumped for sure.)

    As one of my astronomy professors pointed out to our class once (paraphrased): There’s more science in cat box than on the Discovery Channel. You want your kids to learn science, give ‘em a cat box, a pair of rubber gloves and a magnifying glass. They’ll find something fascinating in there, no doubt about it.

    I think he was so right on! (Science is supposed to be grody sometimes).

  20. Doesn’t the original blogger live in Boulder? Maybe climate studies would be appropriate.

  21. Dear School –

    My child will not be taking part in this “science” fair, as per your rules she is (1) an organism, (2) regularly goes outside and by doing so has soil particles on the bottom of her shoes/trouser hem, (3) travels with an entourage of bacteria and is made up of (4) chemical components, and finally (5) her clothing is flammable.

    Thank you for understanding.

    Sincerely,

    The Parent

  22. Sorry you are largely wrong on this one. Since the blog you link to mentions Friday Folders this is an Elementary Level not High School Level Science fair.

    It is SOP to ban experimentation on Animals at this level. The ethical considerations are above most 5th graders level. We want ethical scientists.

    Microbes are different – At my school they can be approved on a case by case basis – based on students ability to follow lab procedure.

    Plants in soil should be allowed

    Chemicals – that one is stupid – because everything is chemicals. Now if they said dangerous as defined by regulators that is different.

    Flammable – Again SOP to ban except under very controlled situations.

    In my Elementary science fair has different levels
    1. Kinder – collections
    2. 1 & 2 Can’t remember
    3. 3rd Demonstration of concept
    4. 4th Full experiment
    5. 5th Full experiment or Invention convention. We generally do Invention convention because we do it after the Science TAKS test and it is a great way for the kids to apply concepts while blowing off not a little steam.

  23. EVERYTHING is a chemical. Absolutely everything that exists in the world is made 100% of chemicals. I guess that means that the science fair is going to be called off?

    Assuming that they define “chemical” in some narrower fashion such as “Noxious chemicals” or something, there’s still one problem.

    Your posters can contain no Flammable Substances?

    So you can’t use paper for your posters… just sheet asbestos?

  24. *snerk*

    My youngest son’s science project in 6th grade was a study in fermentation. Given that we all volunteer in a winery, he put it in the context of winemaking, and made his topic question “How is wine made?”

    They FREAKED. The “science teacher” (there’s a reason for those quotes) called me in to talk about his topic, and finally said “He can only do this experiment if you can assure us that ABSOLUTELY NO ALCOHOL is produced.”

    Recall, he was doing a fermentation study. What’s the main product of fermentation? Oh, right.

    My son pointed out that the peach rotting on her desk was producing alcohol as we spoke, and wondered why a “science teacher” wouldn’t know that.

    His topic was approved and he got an A on it.

  25. Did anyone else immediately think of the new Orville Redenbacher’s “Science Fair” commercial? You can see it here: http://www.orville.com/about-us/our-ads.jsp
    (Scroll down to the one titled “Science Fair”) Not only do we have a helicopter mom DOING the kid’s project, she chastises other kids for making cool, interesting (read: dangerous!) projects. Makes me want to eat popcorn to support such an awesome ad. (I’d laugh harder if it weren’t so true…)

  26. That pretty much just leaves physics.

    Have you SEEN the examples given in a standard physics text? People are constantly driving off of cliffs, dropping bombs out of airplanes, and firing guns! Violent, violent, violent. Not at ALL acceptable for Our Children.

  27. I kinda agree with Eskimo….

    it says:

    “Project *displays and posters* may NOT contain any of the following”

    Not that the projects themselves can’t.

    Is it a little over the top? Of course. But it might not be as bad as what everyone is making it out to be.

  28. It says, “For safety: Project displays and posters may NOT contain any of the following:…” It doesn’t say that the projects themselves can’t utilize these items. My experience with science fairs (as a former science teacher) is that the display is NOT the same as the project… Let’s hope that is the case here and that the project rules aren’t as restrictive and ridiculous as the display rules.

  29. As Susan and Sally point out, the restrictions may be less restrictive than they seem. My science fair project in 9th grade was almost entirely based on chemicals (and a little bit of physics in the testing), but the display would most likely have met these regulations.

    Except that the regulations are stupidly worded and unclear. This may not be a case of helicopter schooling as much as it is a shining example of lousy communication. Which makes me wonder what else kids aren’t learning from this school.

  30. Sure it says the display not the project – but surely you bring the project in as part of the display if possible so that the fair itself isn’t the most-boring-thing-you-can-do-other-than-sit-in-a-classroom-and-copy-stuff-off-the-board?

  31. Find me any substance not make of “chemicals”. Heck, water is a chemical simply because he know what it’s chemical composition is.

    Good heavens, this is totally and completely absurd.

  32. @Eskimo

    And how are you going to present pictures that aren’t made of chemicals?

  33. Gotta wacth out for that dust, though. Dust in grain elevators has been said to cause explosions and fires.
    Scratch the hand sanitizer. It is a chemical concoction that’s mostly alcohol, and we all know that alcohol burns.

  34. Erm, I disagree about the actual impact of these restrictions. The intent is ridiculous (what, the agar cultures will give everyone cholera?) but you can just take pictures of verboten projects and use other forms of display.

    I did my 7th grade science project about the flammability of children’s clothing, but I certainly didn’t bring in the testing kit and light up some onesies on the gym floor.

  35. Well crap – My children have made SF projects on bread mold and leaf burning. Guess those are out. My son also made a phone. That requires electricity, so it must be dangerous too.

  36. Don’t you realize what could happen??? Somebody could get SERIOUSLY INJURED!

  37. No plants in soil?? That is a major WTF if ever I saw one. [sigh] Most Americans are grossly ignorant of science in general, just to start out with. We really don’t need to accellerate the trend with garbage like this. :(

    Angie

  38. Oh, BTW, “no chemicals” eliminates everything. Of course the school authorities are clearly too ignorant of anything which smacks of science to know this. :P

    Angie

  39. OK. Have it you way.

    Did I mention that I’m an experimental particle physicist? I’ll be thinking a little about what my kid might do with Rail guns, Gauss guns, Tesla coils, Jacob’s ladders, lasers (solid state, of course), electromagnets, rare earth magnets, cyclotrons, Van de Graff machines, and any other things I find ling around the lab that make me go “Cool!”.

    Don’t blame me, you brought it on yourselves…

  40. this just boils my bodily fluids.

  41. I guess my kid could bring a CD player and share They Might Be Giants’ album “Here comes science.” At least they could all learn really cool songs about science.

  42. Oh my goodness! My father was such a bad sort, helping me with my science project many moons ago, which consisted of comparing the growth of five plants using a control and various feritilizers. Just think of the kids in that gymnasium we could have killed off.

  43. As bad as it sounds I and other members of my family were very involved in science fairs and did quite well. If memory serves me well it included a seismograph, air cushion vehicles, optics, flexible wings, aerodymanics, bouyancy, etc. Actually I can’t remember any projects we did that did not meet the criteria set forth here. You can safeguard the school and still leave a lot of room for exploration. I call over reaction at FRK this time. (I will admit though there were plenty of volatile chemicals used for the model aeronautics. They were all kept off site and I don’t think they were allowed in the science fairs at that time (early mid 70’s)).

  44. Comical and sad, all at once.

  45. Yes, China will get even further ahead…that’s all I can say!

  46. Bob — come on, seriously, even aside from the way the wording makes it painfully clear that the people who wrote those rules don’t know squat about science, how can a display involving plants in dirt possibly endanger the school? Or basic backyard-type bugs, live or dead? Or any number of experiments with harmless “chemicals?” The fact that there are other options for the kids, if we go by what the administrators meant as opposed to what they said, why should they be restricted when there’s no sane reason for it?

    If the school authorities that panicked about the possibility of some kid bloowing up the auditorium or releasing ebola viruses, it seems to me that a much more reasonable safeguard would’ve been to have the kids plan their entries, then before they start their work, to consult with their science teacher and let him/her decide whether or not there’s any possibility of danger. There you go — problem solved without wiping out entire categories of scientific inquiry.

    Angie

  47. Well, scrap the whole fair then, since no one can actually have a display then, because posterboard and paper are flammable materials. Just sayin’…I always hated science anyway. History and English FTW!

  48. C’mon, we need to keep our kids safe.
    Ignorant, stupid, and safe.
    Sheesh.

  49. Oh, for goodness sakes. They’re only saying that you can’t have those things on your poster/presentation. Does it take some of the fun out of presenting your work? Of course. Is it silly and unnecessary? Probably. But it’s not the end of the world. And we have some pretty awesome cameras and video technology these days.

    I’m a huge fan of this website, but this isn’t one of those things to be outraged over. At least they’re encouraging kids to do original scientific investigation. That’s pretty rare, from what I can tell.

  50. Ummm…..why have a science fair when there is no, what do you call it, science. There will be nothing there pretty much.

  51. [...] Colorado: “Science Fair Bans Most Science” [Free-Range Kids] [...]

  52. Sure Tonia. Once you get back to use with a way of using video technology in a display without using chemicals, I’d be happy to agree with you.

  53. Ahhhh – Good ol’ US of A. Safest place for kids in the world. Little fat, stupid, diabetes-having, heart-failure-having, lumps of love catered to by their hovering, doting, parents. Yay. I need a cookie. I was good and stayed in my chair.

    Yep, “display” may not mean the project, but aside from getting to stare at everyone’s tri-folding boards with a bunch of graphs on it (we can read a textbook if we want that sort of boredom) – bringing part of the project in and putting it in front of said board would constitute a “display.”

    And sure, it may be elementary school – but what about showing a tooth dissolving in soda? Or the growth of seeds as evidenced by plants in an egg carton? Those ARE elementary level projects. By these rules, the kids can make a stupid graph to show their fellow students. Wow. Does the pride come from showing their friends they can color?

    I’m so SO thankful for my kids school every time I read something like this. My daughter’s project was showing how baking soda in a bottle of vinegar expanded gas enough to blow up a balloon. Her friends loved it and she was so proud of herself showing them. That was first grade. Why limit them with rules like these when the kids are capable of so much??

  54. Sorry, wish I could be more eloquent, but I’ve had a shite day. This is fucking bullshit.

  55. What the @(&@!? No plants in soil? Would shampoo and conditioner count as chemicals? Are those allowed in the locker room or only if they’re a certain brand?

    And to think a kid I knew back in the day showed how to make methane gas from cow manure for his science protect.

  56. In anticipation of stupid school roles I bought Theo Grey’ Mad Science for my 6 year old grandson. Yesterday we burned steel wool, yes with real fire.

  57. ahahhahaa, this made my day! Who ARE these parents????!!!
    Sarah M

  58. The REAL story here is not the banning of this item or that from science fair displays – that’s just a symptom of a much deeper problem, and this problem is NOT pathological fear, which is the basis of cultural resistance to free range. The problem in THIS case is pathological IGNORANCE, a pervasive and profound lack of understanding of what science is. And it’s an ignorance that goes all the way to the top: when I recently complained to our independent school district (ISD)science coordinator about the way the scientific method is taught (or, actually, NOT taught), I was told that the state of Texas forces the approach to which I was objecting, and so there was nothing they could do about it.

    The silver lining on this one, however feeble, is that it forces kids to be productive despite artificially-defined, largely-arbitrary restrictions – the proverbial “one hand tied behind my back” approach to creativity. That’s the same challenge they’ll face every day of their adult lives in the workplace, so they might as well learn how to cope with it while they’re young.

    My daughter competes in her District science fair tomorrow night, having won first place at the level of her school. This will be her third District competition; she won gold medals at the first two (25,000 kids in our District, so no small feat). Her presentation this year LOOSELY conforms to the rules stated above (our proctors condense the restrictions to the mantra “nothing liquid / nothing live”), although if someone REALLY wanted to pick a bone with it, it does not strictly conform, because nothing CAN. However, despite the ominous-sounding warnings, there IS a little bit of blind-eye common sense interjected into the process of competition – after all, the judges for the most part are real scientists recruited from the real world, not state-shackled teachers from the ISD.

  59. Have you ever filled out the paperwork to do a project with human subjects? My sister did a project to see how well people could sing specific pitches, and the amount CYA paperwork she had to fill out just to talk to people was astronomical and hilarious.

  60. The restriction is based on the posters and displays (not the projects themselves), and I can agree with the ‘probable intent’ of these rules. I believe that a competent science teacher could certainly assure that most of these items could be safely displayed (displays that are glued shut, etc.) without the wholesale banning of such items.

    The sad fact is that without a compelling display showing some physical object (in addition to colorful charts and graphs), no one looks at your project and your chances of winning are nil. An evil teacher would encourage students to experiment outside these limitations so there is a display and a chance of winning. A great teacher says ‘to hell with winning’ and encourages their students to go where their interests lie – since culling and supporting these interests is what is truly important.

  61. I would submit disqualification petitions for every contestant who created a display containing any chemical element with lists of the offending elements as my project. Perhaps creating a sample display without the use of chemicals. I would, of course, have to askthe judges to please remove any carbon or oxygen about their persons as they might contaninate my display of “The World Without Chemicals.”

  62. Wow, I guess they can all do posterboards. How THRILLING.

  63. Obviously, a school that has banned dihydrogen oxide.

    So many great comments – I’m with Neil , working the windlass on the trebuchet. Back in the 50’s (not that I remember when it came out) there used to be a kid’s edition of Popular Science that in one issue taught kids how to make a windlass-cranked crossbow with bow made of scrap automobile leaf springs and a pull weight of over 400 lbs (For those of you who aren’t into weapons, this means “able to send a 1/4 ” steel rod thru the engine block and both front fenders of a ’59 Chrysler Imperial”) which of course is a toy every 12 year old needs.

    Oddly (not really, it’s what I do every weekend) I spent yesterday doing “science projects” involving live plants growing in rotted horse manure with some of the neighborhood kids. At the time I thought we were just playing in our community garden. Obviously, the moms involved need to be flogged for trusting their kids with someone like me and my rescue part-Staffordshire (that’s “pit bull” for you fear-mongers) boy Spot. Besides, it was bitter cold in Houston this weekend – don’t think it ever got much over 60, and the ground was muddy.

    And a big shout-out to Stephanie way up at the top. Great to run into another Pastafarian here. Of course I support teaching intelligent design in public schools, if it involves the theology of the One True Faith. And, of course, if the teacher is dressed in pirate garb and says “arggg!” a lot.

  64. I don’t think “flammable” means “will burn.” That’s “combustible.” Flammable means things that will self-ignite under ordinary conditions. Paper isn’t flammable unless they’re planning to keep the building heat turned up to 451F. So yeah, no gasoline-based experiments, fine.

    But the other stuff is ridiculous. No “animals” is fine — no “organisms” is ridiculous. And as everyone’s pointed out, no chemicals means nothing, including the kids, parents, and teachers.

  65. “Congratulations on your award winning nuclear bomb model Mr. Jones!”

    “It’s no model. It really works!”

    “And where did you get the radioactive material?”

    “I scraped the luminous stuff off of 6000 old glow in the dark watch hands.”

    “Really?”

    “Really. Kaboom!”

    “OK People, Fire Drill!”

    “Cool your jets, I got the safety on.”

  66. Lasers might be the way to go. Photons aren’t chemicals, so it won’t matter if you blind a few fellow students.

  67. OH! I can top this– my son’s 5th grade science fair rules state:
    “For safety reasons, students MAY NOT work with or display:” (and the **long** list includes)

    Mold, fungi, bacteria, food mold, alcohol, acid rain (!!), insecticide, herbicide, dry ice, nicotine/tobacco, poisons, chemicals (bleach, …) sharp items (needles/syringes), food made from animals, human or animal parts or body fluids (i.e. blood, saliva), human or animal tissue, and “anything that may cause psychological or physical risk”.

    :::YAWN::: we had a lovely time trying to come up with a project that fits into those guidelines. To be fair, there is another sheet that says…
    “Approved Chemical List (with restrictions)”–

    on which things like baking soda, hair gel and gum are listed. So I suppose if you want to test which hair gel is the firmest or which gum flavor lasts longest, you’re all set….as long as you don’t cause someone psychological damage by creating funky hairstyles with the gel! ;)

  68. Maybe they don’t want kids finding out that high fructose corn syrup is not in the natural food chain, or that oxygen is an element and is used as a drug in all hospitals. Ask your managed care representative (they approve things) No wait, ask your doctor or nurse. If the answer is no, check your hospital bill and don’t pay for it. As parents we have to realize that children are reaching puberty at an alarmingly young age. Age 8 for my son, who is now 30. I was still buying him OshKosh overalls in primary colors. I reached puberty at 13 or 14. Those days are gone.thanks to Bovine Growth Hormone, in milk, which is banned in Europe and Canada. We should turn off TV’s and actually RESEARCH what we see online. Most people would be surprised at what they don’t know.

  69. I need more information. As an attorney, I cannot help but point out that the flyer referenced above only states that these alleged “dangerous objects” cannot be “contained in the display.” I do not believe that this prohibits either video or photographic display of the alleged “dangerous objects.” As such, I think they may just be prohibiting these objects “in the display” which is usually brought by the student to the school in question (where there is no dirt or microscopic organisms -haha.) Please note, I would not be surprised (and I would be offended) if the prohibitions extended to the actual project, but I would prefer confirmation of same.

    P.S. I apologize for my lack of being able to communicate this thought without using legaleze, but I wanted to be accurate (while putting my outrage in parentheses.)

  70. nice information, thank ya

  71. chemical – “material produced by or used in a reaction involving changes in atoms or molecules ”

    Ironically, the few thing this project leaves behind are some of the most dangerous.
    Any physical material fits under the general definition of chemical.
    What does that mean? We are allowed only a few things.
    1)colliding subatomic particles (but god knows how)
    2)Irradiation
    3)Electricity

    Safe? I think not!

  72. What gets me is that if they wanted to ban actually dangerous science experiments, there was a far easier way to do it – have every experiment be approved by a teacher.

  73. But what about all of that dihydrogen monoxide in the cafeteria? How could they be so callous when our children’s lives are at stake?

  74. I’ve volunteered as a science fair judge and many science fairs have the same rules – in fact, i pointed this out to Lenore about a month or so ago. If you read the rules again, however, you will see that it is the project DISPLAYS and POSTERS that cannot contain any of this material, not the projects themselves.

    In our science fiar, the kids are welcome to do the projects they like but, on the day of the fair, their displays cannot contain the meterail – they are welcome to use photos or other display props to give the judges an idea of their project.

  75. Another thought – isn’t this the same thing as people who blow up safety related issues the other way, without looking into it enough ?

  76. I’m with Eskimo on this one. The projects can contain those things, but they just want the results and the data on the board and displays. We just finished our science fair with similar rules. The kids brought in their boards with all their data, graphs, charts and photos and left the actual experiment at home. Then they had to answer the judges questions at the fair. Science still happened, we learned things and had fun in the process. And since they didn’t have an elaborate display to rely on, they got to practice their public speaking skills.

    That is how I remember my science fair back in the 70’s happening too.

    Now if it said the projects couldn’t contain those things I’d be alarmed.

  77. Where’s the rule about “NO work that is obviously not the child’s work. No parental help outside of maybe helping the kid glue stuff on where THE KID says it should go.

    Parental help shall be limited to guidance only; you can teach your kid, you can help steer your kid, you can help your kid by letting them bounce ideas off of you, but you CANNOT DO IT FOR THEM.

  78. Mary Mac – I didn’t read the post or comment up thread thinking the projects themselves had to be free of the prohibited items. The school is banning much of the actual science from the fair itself. and if I were participating I would want to choose a project where I could bring some of the actual project with me because otherwise the fair would be *much* more boring.

    If you can’t bring your actual project in to show off you’re likely to feel less pride in it – or at least be less likely to be one of those students who suddenly finds that what they have done is, in fact, really cool, and yes other kids are fascinated too.

    And if you look around the fair and just see your fellow students’ photos of their projects and graphs you’re going to be less engaged and excited by what science can be. So it dampens down imagination and enthusiasm in the sciences.

    It also makes schools look stupid when they say things like “No chemicals” – which dampens enthusiasm for school. Which is a shame, I think.

  79. Agedemands and oddments, the guidelines say no chemicals may be in the display. In order to have pictures (heck in order to have paper) you have to have “chemicals.” EVERYTHING is made of “chemicals.” That’s why you can’t have pictures of those things, or of anything. That’s the problem with these rules.

  80. And the real problem is, though in a way that’s a nitpick and we all know they actually mean no volatile chemicals, there are people writing guidelines for science fairs who aren’t acutely aware of the fact that everything is made of chemicals. That’s the scariest part of this whole thing, even leaving aside arguments over whether the intent of the guidelines is reasonable.

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  82. At least it is a serious exercise in creative thinking. How does one possibly come up with something that doesn’t violate one of these rules.

    Why no plants?

  83. Not only is a display without the actual project more boring, it also lowers the fair quality. How are the judges supposed to know the project actually works and that the kid didn’t just build something that looked cool and researched how it is supposed to work.

    They’d learn valuable research skills, but it’s not exactly science.

  84. Christie – I was cynically wondering if some of the rules were more about avoiding mess than avoiding physical harm.

    Having said that we should remember this is elementary school. In the blog Lenore links to the original poster says the rules are district wide policy for elementary schools. Maybe they just don’t expect to have a real science teacher at that level and so have rules that non-science trained teachers could follow, instead of relying on skills some schools may not have access to. (I know I didn’t have a real science teacher until I was in middle school. That was the UK, a long, long time ago though).

    Of course that gets into – why have district wide rules? Why not let school principals use discretion, judgment and innovation to make things work at their own school instead of catering to the lowest denominator.

  85. How about showing the radioactive decay using the parts of a smoke detector. It’s allowed in the rules!

  86. Has anyone noticed the Orville Redenbacher commercial where the mom is pushing her kid into doing the boring snack calorie poster for his science fair project instead of a laser gun? She says “that’s fire! I don’t think the school allows fire.”

    This sentiment has become so ingrained that they’re using it to sell snacks!

  87. Look, we just have everyone make a digital video of their presentation, and then have all the people (organisms) stay outside the room while we use a projector to show the video inside the room (keeping the projector itself outside the room). Voila! Only photos present in the actual science fair!

  88. Pipu – Sounds like we’ll need a screen to project onto and that means *argh* chemicals!

    I suggest ditching the hall entirely and everyone will need to create an avatar to meet up in a virtual hall on the Interwebbymajig. Of course we’ll need some very strict rules about that because you know, the Internet is nearly as dangerous as letting your kids walk to school alone.

  89. I’m with helenquine – the regs sound more like they’re designed to prevent the janitors from having to spend all week cleaning up spilled project parts than anything else.

  90. I was a middle school teacher in Utah for a while, and they have the same rules as Colorado. And yes, WATER counts as a chemical, so it was not allowed to be on display at the science fair. Crazy, huh? One kid did some experiment about buoyancy and had a container of water, so he was disqualified. I kid you not.

    It should be noted that students can have experiments involving the things above (chemicals, microorganisms, etc), they just can’t have their experiment on display at the fair (pictures only.)

  91. Well, they may be doing their level best to keep kids away from biology and chemistry, but they forgot physics, no? If it were my kid, I’d encourage him to do something involving projectiles or electricity. He’d get two desserts if he could come up with something using both. Lasers might be cool too!

  92. Before the kiddies came along, I used to volunteer to judge a history fair (I was a physics teacher in one of my lives). As you might expect, many of the projects were slapped together, some were awkward, but some were always awesome! Quite a few used scientific method or science history, which would have qualified them for a science fair. I certainly think a history of the science fair, including the situation at this Colorado school, would be difficult to beat.

  93. I suggest ditching the hall entirely and everyone will need to create an avatar to meet up in a virtual hall on the Interwebbymajig..Before the kiddies came along, I used to volunteer to judge a history fair (I was a physics teacher in one of my lives).

  94. my 4th grade science fair project was to look at how to use Pavlov’s theory to train hamsters.
    I would make a clicking sound and give the hamsters a treat if they would crawl up a tube.
    The science project was a success and I presented my project.

    I lost…to a girl who’s project was “What music to fish prefer”. She brought her fish to school because it was allowed, but I wasn’t allowed to have my hamsters because they were “rodents”. She got to demonstrate and I didn’t. I just had pictures. Sniff…not fair :)

    BUT it shows you how far things have gone…both of our projects involved animals

  95. This sort of thing is part of why we homeschool our kids. They love science.

  96. ( Rolls eyes) and besides playing with toy guns I did science fair projects with rocks the size of my fifth grade head, and I had classmates who used animal parts such as skins, bones, brains, and even a turd or two in their projects.

  97. My elementary school did an even better job of keeping us poor, stupid kids safe. They just cut science out of the curriculum entirely!

  98. oh! I really wondered,how to make a project without these items like chemicals and all ……

  99. Of course we’ll need some very strict rules about that because you know, the Internet is nearly as dangerous as letting your kids walk to school alone.

  100. Entry “Outrage of the Week: Science Fair Bans Most Science FreeRangeKids” book-marked. Thanks a bunch.

  101. I always thought that paper was a flammable substance…

  102. Funny, I had been under the impression that PAPER was a flammable substance…

  103. [...] today I met my parenting hero, Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids. Just this morning I read this Outrage of the Week on her blog, where one school effectively banned science from the science fair in the name of safety. Please [...]

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