Science Fair in the Middle School in Deerfield has always been a bone of contention for me. In my mind, it is akin to the Pinewood Derby in the Boy Scouts. Each one is set up with the idea that a young person is going to do a major project alone but with guidance.
The Pinewood Derby has been a negative in my head since I was involved personally as a kid. I had little if any guidance and I remember my frustration as I tried to make that car and was totally unsuccessful. My annoyance with it continued to exist later on in life as I had to work with my boys on the project and I tried to follow the rules. I actually did follow the rules. The trouble is that no one else seemed to pay attention to them and believe me we always came in pretty close to last. The Science Fair was a travesty of an affair as the local parents pretty much always seemed to do the work of the project and there was nothing spared in terms of professionalism. What ends up happening is that unsuspecting, normal parents might be surprised when they go to the Science Fair and see what turns up as student work.
This all brings me to a Science Fair in the early 90s. Once again MK and I were there to guide and yet not actually do the project. As teachers and as responsible parents we needed to tread the careful line of not allowing our children to be damaged by a sometimes evil situation but still hopefully learning something of value and while trying to realistically follow the expectations.
The other day I was talking to Jerry at the gym and we talked about Wayne Chiodi, probably one of the most brilliant men I will ever meet, and have a chance to get to know. Wayne was a coffee-mate of my father-in-law’s at McDonalds in Deerfield and he and his wife Carol become a part of our family for a few years before Wayne succumbed to an early demise due to the big C. I remember thinking that Wayne and Carol were the perfect couple, he being an introvert and she being quite the gregarious, intelligent, witty person. I also remember thinking what a horrible loss to lose such an amazing, interesting, brilliant person at such a young age.
Carol’s brother was no slouch in the brains department, either, and had an MD, a PhD, and a patent or two. His most famous patent, was I believe, for something in Brooks’ running shoes that I believe is still used to this day. Dan, besides several space missions ans space walks, was on the TV program called ‘Survivor.’ Both of these guys happened to be around when Richie was doing his Science Project and dealing with, of all things, just what an astronaut loves, rockets! As Richie reminded me, Wayne worked with him on complex math equations and Dan took the rocket facet.
We naturally enjoyed the situation and we all understood that the involvement of Wayne (a master of science, mathematics, and I believe Physics) and Dan. In fact my family was in from Cleveland and we all went out to an elementary school field and did the experiments needed for the project. We had a great time, did well, and Dan and Wayne spent a lot of great time with Richie helping him do the necessary parts of the project without taking it over. It was overall what a real science project should be, a learning experience, something we have never regretted.
Their involvement proves everything I had thought about the suburban science projects and the like. In many respects they are nothing more than a total travesty of a situation. As it turns out, Richie explained to me that his grade on the project was a “C+.” We never did tell Richie’s 7th grade Science teacher, but damn I wonder what she would have thought if she had realized the resource involvement of two of the most intelligent men I have ever had the pleasure to meet. On the other hand, I don’t know if we ever told either Wayne or Dan that their work wasn’t with Richie wasn’t as academically fruitful for Richie as we might have hoped. The fact is, however, that there was real learning there that no one could ever possible take away!
Notes on the pictures: Top Photo is of Dan Barry (on left) and Wayne Chiodi (on right)
Bottom photos: Top and bottom show the whole crew out in the field, Middle shows Wayne’s mom and wife, Carol (always the life of the party!)