The Amazing Science Fair Project

Read the preview chapters of The Amazing Science Fair Project.

Back to the Book Summary | Contents | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4


Chapter 4: The Assignment

James sat at the kitchen table, staring intently at the small instruction booklet he was holding in his left hand. His right hand was holding a spoon full of bran flakes, suspended in mid-air in front of his mouth.

“Your cereal is getting soggy,” warned Susan.

“Yeah, I know, but I want to figure this thing out,” complained James, then popped the mushy cereal into his mouth and quickly swallowed it. Finally, he put the booklet down on the table. “I wish they had written it in English. I can’t understand any of it!”

“There are some pictures,” offered Susan.

“Yeah, but they don’t really help much. They show a few things the robot is supposed to do, but not how to do it. I guess we will just have to play with the tablet and see what we can make it do,” James shrugged.

“Maybe we can figure it out together after school,” said Susan.

James looked doubtful. “Uh-huh.”

Susan got up from the table and put her bowl in the sink. “Sure, it’ll be fun, we will get started this afternoon. But now it’s time to go to school. No touching the tablet until I get home. You have to promise to wait for me!”

“Yeah, yeah,” muttered James as he poured his leftover milk into the sink and rinsed his bowl. “Don’t be late!”

----

 “Susan, did you bring it?” asked Becky as they sat in science class, waiting for the bell to ring.

“Show us! Show us!” said Amanda.

“No I don’t, Mom made me leave it at home,” shrugged Susan. “She said it was a special present, and too expensive to bring to school.”

“Man, that’s too bad,” sighed Becky.

“So what does it do, exactly?” asked Amanda. “You’ve had it for two days, you must have figured something out.”

Susan shrugged. “No, not much yet. The instructions are in Japanese, with a few pictures. My Great-Aunt said it worked with James’ toy to operate it, but the tablet could do some other stuff too.”

“Maybe Alice can help read the instructions,” suggested Becky.

Alice Wong was their other best friend, but she was a year younger and in the same Primary school as Ben, James, Tim & Tom.

“She’s Chinese, not Japanese,” replied Susan. “But it won’t hurt to ask, I guess. I will call her after school to see if she can come over.”

Miss Phillips, their Science teacher, walked into the classroom just as the bell rang. She was holding a stack of papers in her right hand, which she placed on the corner of her desk.

“Sorry I am late, children,” said Miss Phillips, “but I have some exciting news that has just been announced. I was making enough copies for each of you in the office.”

Amanda and Becky looked at each other, eyebrows raised.

“I am pleased to announce that our school will be participating in the District Science Fair competition. We will be having a local science fair in our school first, and the top team will go on to compete at the district event,” she smiled at the class. “As a result, we will be replacing the main topic for this term, so you can work on your science projects in class. You can also work on them at home, if you like.”

Amanda raised her hand. “So will there be an exam this term, Miss Phillips?”

“No, there won’t be an exam,” said Miss Phillips.

Cheers went up around the classroom. Several of the students stood up and high-fived each other.

Miss Phillips put up her hand and the class fell quiet. “Like I said, there won’t be an exam. However, you still need to get a grade for the term, so we will be scoring your science fair projects instead. That will count as your term grade.”

Amanda slumped back in her chair. She was near the top of the class this year, and she was good at tests - but she didn’t know anything about science fair projects. What did a good one looked like? How would it be graded? What if she failed it? What if -

Miss Phillips dropped a set of papers on Amanda’s desk, interrupting her train of thought. “This handout should explain everything, including how you will be graded on the project. There are certain things you need to do for the science project, but the topic is up to you.” She continued down the row, handing out papers to the other students.

Amanda stared suspiciously at the stapled papers. She nudged it with her pencil. She counted two, three - no, four pages. Four pages that could mean either staying at the top of the class - or failure.

Becky put up her hand. “Miss Phillips, do we each have to do our own project, or can we work together?”

Miss Phillips turned to look at Becky. “It depends on the size of your project. If it is complex, it makes sense to work in groups of two or three. But if it is a smaller project, you should be able to do it on your own.”

Becky looked at Amanda and grinned, then gave her a thumbs-up.

Before Amanda could respond, Miss Phillips continued “Of course, each of you in the team would get the same grade.”

Amanda slumped back into her chair and crossed her arms across her chest. I mean, I really like to work with Becky, but her grades are only so-so, she thought.

Susan nudged Amanda’s left elbow. “C’mon, it’ll be great. We’re good at projects!”

Amanda gave Susan a half-smile. “Yeah, I guess we are.”

“That settles it then,” announced Becky. “You, me and Susan - we’re gonna do great!”

Amanda looked at Susan and Becky. “Ok, I guess so. I mean, yes, it’ll be great,” she said with more confidence than she felt. What are we going to do? All of our other projects were for fun - but this one is going to be marked!

---

James was waiting at the kitchen table when Susan arrived home from school. He had the little robot and the instruction book sitting on the table in front of him. “I didn’t touch your tablet, don’t worry. But I have been waiting here for over ten minutes - please hurry up and get your stuff!”

Susan went into her bedroom and dropped her school bag on the floor. She picked up the tablet and its instruction booklet from a shelf, then brought it over to the table. “I was late because I was getting us some help.”

Just then, the doorbell rang. Susan went down the steps and opened the door. “Alice! Come in,” she smiled.

Alice came into the kitchen just behind Susan. “I don’t know if I can help much, but I’ll give it a try.”

“Hi Alice, how can you help?” said James.

“With reading the instructions,” said Susan, handing Alice both instruction booklets.

“But those are from Japan, and Alice is Chinese - aren’t you?” asked James, looking confused.

Alice put the booklets down on the table. “Susan asked me if I could have a look. I told her that a lot of the characters are the same in Chinese and Japanese, but they are pronounced differently.”

Alice picked up the booklets and slowly flipped through the pages. “Chinese write in hanzi, and Japanese use kanji characters, which look similar and usually have the same meaning. Not always, but most of the time.”

She paused and looked up at James and Susan. “The problem is I don’t know that much written Chinese yet. Mom and Dad have been teaching me some, and I have a tutor once a week, but there are a lot of characters in these instructions that I don’t know.”

James hung his head. “We’ll never figure this out.”

“I didn’t say that,” said Alice. “I mean I can read some of it, but I will need some help from my Mom or Dad or my tutor for the rest. Can I take these instructions home with me?”

James looked up at Susan and shrugged. “Sure, they aren’t much use here.”

Susan nodded.

“Great!” said Alice. “Well, let’s see what we can figure out right now.” She picked up the robot booklet and flipped to the first diagram page. She traced her right index finger around the diagram, squinting at the small, faded characters.

“Say, did you guys know this robot has cameras for eyes, and that the shell lifts up, like wings?” remarked Alice.

“It can fly?” James exclaimed as he sat up straight in his chair. He picked up the robot and turned it around in his hands, examining it closely.

Alice re-traced her finger over the set of characters. “No, sorry, it says flying-like motion. It doesn’t actually fly.”

“Too bad,” sighed James. He turned the robot so he was looking directly at the tiny face. “What about the cameras - can they see me now?”

“If you have it turned on, sure,” said Alice. “But it says something about using the tablet to make it work.”

She rubbed her eyes and put the instructions down. “I am going to have to take these home to look at some more. Reading it is really, really hard, and I am not sure about some of the words I have read. Besides, I still have homework to do before dinner.”

“That’s OK,” grinned James. “I have to get ready for Scouts tonight too.”

Susan and James walked Alice to the front door and waited while she slipped on her shoes. Alice stood up, and James handed her the two booklets as Susan opened the front door for her. “Thanks for helping us, Alice. We made some real progress. We are going to figure this out soon, and it is going to be awesome!”

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