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Judging the Next Idol

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Just completed my stint as a judge. No not for a reality TV talent show. No Iím not the next Simon Cowell. This is the third year now (not successive, I had to miss one year in the past four years) Iíve participated as a virtual judge for a national science and engineering contest for sixth through ninth graders. Thatís eleven through fourteen year olds.

I donít judge everyone in the contest, so I donít see all the entries. I judge about ten entries, and if they need more scored and I have time they might ask me to do a few more. It takes about a half hour an entry, so itís not a burden, just a few hours, and Iím usually scoring right up until the deadline, not from lack of interest but because Iím unusually busy for some reason in March. The kids are cute and their efforts are usually endearing.

There were some good ones this year. One seventh grade team tried to assess which foods to eat to perform better on tests. They researched the ones that were singled out as helpful and ones that were hindrances, added a neutral control candidate, and then had students eat these foods and try to solve puzzles. Now this wasnít the most splashy experiment (and you can say itís somewhat suspect) but what impressed me was their methodology. They had positive and negative variables, a control variable, multiple trials, and a good statistical analysis of their data. Their adviser must have guided them well. So if it means anything, eat cucumbers before a test.

An eighth grade team designed a backpack that doesnít hurt the back. They tried to understand where the load on the shoulders and back should be and designed accordingly, or so they said. And for good measure they added two battery powered massagers toward the lower back interface point. They only got an average score from me. They had no criteria as to what constituted a better backpack, and so their conclusion was based on a couple of people telling them it was better than a store bought one.

The one project that really impressed the heck out of me was a seventh grade team that made paper from grass. Yes, actual paper, and they took four different types of grass and assessed which made the best paper. They had pictures of the process and the resulting product, submitted emails of team discussions, and the data from the experiment. They judged the quality of the paper (and therefore which grass was best to use) by how ink bled on the paper. I can almost imagine a straight laced thirteen year old girl in charge of this team because of comments like this. ďThe documents were proof read to perfection and turned inĒ and ďEach member was respectful towards one another (Note chain emails).Ē LOL, they get points for grammar and spelling and for team work. (I remember one year where the submission told about a fight between the one who wrote it and another team member.) Unfortunately for the grass team I had to short them a few points because they judged the quality of the paper on one process for each grass. Itís quite possible that one grass could have been improved with a little bit different manufacturing process, which could have changed their conclusion. In retrospect I probably should have let that sly. They really put some good work in there.

All the entries werenít all that impressive. An eighth grade class decided to assess whether physical therapy for pets was beneficial. They helped do physical therapy on a dog at a veterinarian and when they finished and the dog looked happy they called it a success. Another tried to come up with a transition program to help ease the stress on sixth graders entering junior high school. They sent out questionnaires to identify issues but apparently the respondents didnít understand a key question. Oh well. I was no Simon. I was kind.

Hope they all do better next year. I wish I had participated in something like this at that age.

Updated 03-24-2012 at 11:04 PM by Virgil



  1. qimissung's Avatar
    They all sound adorable. I'm glad you were kind. I would have wanted them all to be the winner.
  2. LadyLuck's Avatar
    I remember participating in things like this as an entrant. I never knew how they were judged, but I always loved doing them. Glad to know you were kind, and it's a little impressive to think that some of the next great minds may come from such groups
  3. Virgil's Avatar
  4. TheFifthElement's Avatar
    It's really cool that you get to be the judge of that contest. How did that happen? It sounds like fun, anyway and you were kind which is also nice. A positive experience all round. Nice
  5. Virgil's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by TheFifthElement
    It's really cool that you get to be the judge of that contest. How did that happen? It sounds like fun, anyway and you were kind which is also nice. A positive experience all round. Nice
    Thanks Fifth. The people who run it came to my work place a few years ago looking for volunteers. I don't know how many volunteered from where I work. No one else has ever mentioned it to me. I volunteered and they send me emails to do so every year. In fact you just reminded me I forgot to answer this year's follow up survey.
  6. Buh4Bee's Avatar
    I know it means a lot to the organization to have people like you encourage science competitions. This is the best kind of community volunteering. As a teacher, I like to thank people like you for making a difference!