The Science unFair

I need help with a science fair project.

Kiddo#1 knew in early December that he would have to do a science fair project. He said, “Something like watering a plant with sugar versus regular water to see how it grows.”

I went to a few websites and made a few dozen suggestions, and at the end of it, he decided to water some plants with sugar versus regular water to see how they grew.

(You can see where this is going, right?)

We planned to take 15 of the million offshoots of my spider plant and plant them in peat pots. Except that in the first week of January, he came home: we needed BEAN SEEDS and we needed to plant them TODAY!!!

(This is after, at the end of December, I said, “What do we need for your science fair project?” and he snarled, “I don’t need to do it YET!“)

Within a few days, we procured seeds. He got 15 little pots, measured in the soil, planted 15 seeds, labelled everything, and watered them with different solutions. And we waited for the sprouts. And waited. And waited.

After 10 days, I made him plant new seeds on the ground that the original seeds were never going to sprout. And of course, those aren’t sprouting either. Meanwhile, the high-sugar pots are growing a cotton-candy-like fuzz and they smell like vomit.

I’ve emailed his teacher for help. I’ve said, “Are you sure we can’t use actual plants?” I’ve said, “Can we do a different project that will prove something other than the fact that Kiddo#1 has inherited his mother’s inability to grow anything whatsoever?”

Here’s where I need help: the science fair is in six weeks. If the teacher says we can change midstream, what kind of project can you guys recommend that he can do in six weeks (preferably four weeks) that does not involve any kind of plant-life whatsoever? Have you or your kids done something tremendously fun that will tickle the geek in him?

He loves systems, games, and probability.

(Right now, the only thing I can think of that he can document is “How many times can his mother endure a full-on meltdown over these dumb seedlings before she has a nervous breakdown?” and I never signed a human research form. Which, yes, one of his friends sent us so he can experiment on Kiddo#1. I kid you not.)

Alternately, if you think it would be better for me to step back and let him suffer…tell me why. He did everything he should have.

Thanks, and wish us luck.

EDITED with an update: the science teacher wrote back and said that as long as it’s documented, any results are good results.

I think we’re going to try again with different seeds, different soil, and I hope a different outcome. I’m honestly beginning to think anyone with my genes could kill crab grass if we put it in a pot and tried to cultivate it.


  1. christopher

    Good luck. Mine did hers on erosion, erosion of – seriously – hard candy under different conditions. Skittles. M&M’s. She eats her experiments that fail…

    1. philangelus

      Oh, wow, that is awesome.

      So erosion of butterscotch candies in water, vinegar, coke, milk…?

      I would gladly buy a pound of butterscotch and consume the leftovers In The Name Of Science. LOL!

  2. christopher

    You’re getting it now. There always had to be a control group that just sat there… the erosion of that group between the teeth of an 8 year old seemed to be the most studied.

  3. Tadj

    Do you know what sort of restrictions the project has? Ages ago I did mine on the insulation properties of various household materials. Basically I took four jars of hot water, wrapped on in plastic wrap, one in aluminum foil, one in cardboard, and left one naked. I then measured the water temperature of each jar every 5 minutes until they cooled to a certain point (or until my parents and I lost our sanity from the kitchen timer going off… I don’t remember which). I then graphed the temperatures vs. time to show which material held in the most heat for the longest time. I won the science fair with that one. If you like the idea, my suggestions would be: get a thermometer for each container of water, and every 5 minutes is too often.

  4. cricketB

    Mine was lame — slide rules. Won the school, because I could actually run one (and in hindsight I suspect the judge was impressed with anyone who could do math). Also, Dad used to judge them so I practiced answering questions with him and I had a solid stand and dotted all the I’s — bibliography, title, summary, that sort of thing.

    Systems, games and probability. PH is a mathie, right? He’d have to help with this one.

    Compare least-squares fit with how well humans draw the best-fit straight line. Create some scatter graphs, maybe on a 20×20 square. Give subjects a copy, tell them to draw best fit line. Depending on his math level, either record slope and intercept, or record what the drawn line gives at 5 and 15. See how close they are. Also do a least-squares-fit and compare to how the humans did. Have the judge draw a line and tell him how well he did.

    Then explain why fitting lines to data is useful. Calibrating equipment, guessing what size to knit growing kid, etc.

  5. the brother

    try Thats where we went for our science project ideas…see ya

  6. philangelus

    Thanks, all! I still haven’t heard back from the teacher, but when he comes home (in about an hour) I’ll have these ideas to pitch to him.

  7. Laura diamond

    Try growing pea plants. With a little web search, there is a ton of info on Mendel’s genetic exp’s. with the plants. And they grow fast. Maybe a couple of weeks if I recall correctly. Good luck–I kill plants too…not on purpose of course!

  8. Laura diamond

    Or, you can “grow” rock candy.

  9. Liz

    I think that you should let him just continue on with his project but with one new suggestion. When I was in science class, we did an experiment of miracle grow vs tap water vs natural outside conditions. He could do one group that is sugar, one that is tap water, then one that is tap water + miracle grow. If it was warmer, I’d recommend doing the natural outside conditions, but it is winter. 🙂

  10. Scott

    If you can’t change, you can try using marigold seeds. It’s very hard to go wrong with them. They grow like weeds.

    If you can change I would suggest proving which form of space travel is more efficient Federation Warp drives or Imperial Hyperdrives :*)

    1. philangelus

      The way he’s behaving right now, I’d put him on a ship with a hyperdrive and let someone else deal with him when he arrives in the 26th century. :-b

  11. Marie

    option 1) repeat with new pots (cardboard egg cartons?) and radish seeds, being careful not to overwater
    2) Illustrate that people believe in the “Law of Small Numbers”. They think if you flip a fair coin 10 times, you should get 5 Heads and 5 Tails or at worst 4 and 6. There is no Law of Small Numbers. So if he has someone make up sequences of 10 coin flips and then actually does sequences of 10 coin flips, then presents the two sets of sequences to people, more people should pick the fake set than the real set. The real set won’t look “random” enough to them.

    1. philangelus

      I think we’re going with your option 1. New seeds, new soil, an egg carton is easy to come by… And just keep the experiment going with both sets simultaneously.

      We’ve also got the seeds “tented’ right now in hopes of getting some kind of greenhouse effect going rather than relying on regular sunlight and the heat in the house to get them to germinate.

  12. Patient Husband's Former Officemate

    Could you do some sort of “Schrödinger’s seed” experiment? You set up some sort of photon detector (that’s probably the hard part), something to diffract light, and a condemned seed (perhaps one that failed to sprout)? You get to mix probability with your “black thumb” while probably being the only project with an umlaut.

  13. cricketB

    How about colour memory? It’s the worst memory humans have. We can identify scents from years ago (or at least remember the mood), but can’t remember colour.

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