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[Originally posted Jan. 8, 2005]

There is one element of the educational experience that clearly separates parents into two distinct categories: those that relish the challenge of assisting Junior (or Sweet Pea) in his/her science fair entry and those that consider the assignment to be downright burdensome. I guess you can tell where our sympathies lie in the Apple household.

I was never one for coming up with the creative idea of what scientific principle to explore. Even when presented with a list of possible projects, it was difficult to find something that seemed exciting enough to be worth the effort. I guess I never had that type of Benjamin Franklin curiosity that loves to try out new ideas and use whatever tools and materials at hand to try to make something work. Give me the finished product any day!

But it seems like the Science Fair is a necessary rite of passage for every generation. Even in the homeschooling experience (because of its diversity of coop types of courses), one cannot escape such projects. Picking a good topic is half the battle. These days, with internet resources to complement the numerous library books on the subject, there is no end of possibilities. The problem is to settle on one that is doable and still worthwhile.

When Julie came looking to her folks this week to offer up some ideas . . . nothing immediately came to mind. The best I could muster was some type of imitation knock-off of the David Letterman “Can It Float?” bit (of course without the bimbo accessories in their Vanna White type role). But somehow just asking the class to vote on whether some obscure object would float or sink and then performing the test seemed too simplistic for my budding engineer. So more detailed research was engaged.

Leave it to me to come up with the shortcut solution. The best sources of ideas are those unique individuals with the inquisitive nature that actually think it is fun to spend time ruminating over the possibilities. All of us know several of these practical can-fix-anything, workaholic types. They own every tool ever marketed and tinker all weekend at keeping their homestead immaculate. You know who I mean.

But even after coming up with a workable idea, there is still the pain of its execution. How many trips to the hardware or craft store will be necessary to obtain all of the necessary materials? How many things will go wrong and how many do-overs required before one can safely exhibit without embarrassment?

Of course, my daughter wanted me to recount my personal experience . . . What type of project did I tackle . . . and how did I make out? Fortunately, I have blocked those details out so they are locked deep in my subconscious. I can only testify that somehow I made it over that hurdle and was able to proceed into the theoretical realm of information and ideas where the deficient practical skills are not terribly exposed.