Sunday, January 28, 2018
"Why do I have to watch this again?" asked my oldest daughter.
"Because," I said, "I want you to understand what kind of science fair project we're doing."
"But I do understand -- Sweetheart and Dragonlily are going to do the maze."
I nodded. "Yes, but this is still learning time for you to understand what other scientists have already done."
Slumped in the desk chair, Beatrice watched one minute of an old Yale University film about hungry rats and mazes. Even I had no idea what was going on and my major was psychology in college.
Super dry and super yawn.
"Wow, well, that's enough, but please just read these two pages about rats and maze experiments," I said.
"Do I have to?"
"Yes, you do. Thank you."
"Okay," she said.
Just prior to this, as I was researching relevant resources online for both our daughters to review for their school science fair project, I found strange and silly videos of kids and young adults spoofing rat-maze experiments, even dressing up as the rats literally and pretending to play rat and scientist around the house. Tolman gone awry (Tolman was an American psychologist best known for his studies of learning in rats using mazes).
Wow. Way too much time on their hands.
Weeks before, both the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and I had talked with the girls about what they wanted to do for this year's science fair. Both are interested in how things work and we do homemade science projects a lot, especially Bryce our youngest who's always investigating anything and everything.
They decided they really wanted to do something with our pets -- Sweetheart our guinea pig and Dragonlily our new rabbit.
The girls decided (with our help) to conduct a maze experiment, with the hypothesis that both the guinea pig and the rabbit would be able to complete the maze for food after five trials each. Maybe getting faster each time because they would learn how to do the maze, and because they were always hungry anyway, and that the rabbit would complete the maze much faster than the guinea pig, because the rabbit was already faster and seemed smarter. We did have to explain to the girls that although guinea pigs are rodents, rabbits are lagomorphs, something we didn't even realize ourselves.
Whatever the classification of each animal, it seemed a reasonable hypothesis, and both the Mama and me agreed.
But it wasn't what happened at all. Nope, not even close.
I built the maze with some help from the girls, having to make the walls wide enough to accommodate our very large guinea pig. And then the day came to conduct the experiment. Bea and Bryce were giddy with anticipation.
First trial: Sweetheart the guinea pig. We placed her at start of the maze, having to help her in little due to the fact that she spread her legs out and caught her claws on each side of the maze walls, almost as if she did not want to be put in the maze.
Once in, she just sat there. And sat. And sat. And never moved. Just sat and stared at me with her blank dark eyes.
And then she peed.
The girls bounced off the walls. Bryce couldn't help herself and kept put her face right in front of Sweetheart's, patting her bottom and encouraging her to move.
"C'mon, Sweetheart. You can do it!"
"Bryce, get back and let her try. You're scaring her," I kept insisting.
"I am back! C'mon, Sweetheart!"
We all cheered her on. Nothing. We even tried to put food closer to her to entice her, but nothing. Didn't budge. We did the other trials with the same result. And more pee.
Then it was Dragonlily the rabbit's turn. First trial: we placed him at the start of the maze. He didn't fight it like Sweetheart did and he actually began to move through the first straightaway of the maze.
"He's doing it!"
Within a few seconds, he jumped out of the maze. Because that's what rabbits do, they jump. All of us laughed. It was actually really funny.
We did the other trials with the same result, each time Dragonlily jumping out of the maze after a few seconds. And each time we all laughed.
"Well," I said, "we may have to scrap the experiment. The data just isn't there. They never even made through the first part of the maze."
"Maybe we should leave the room so Sweetheart can try. Maybe she's just scared," Bea said.
"We can try again," said the Mama. "Maybe we just put a fence around the maze so Dragonlily won't just out. That's what I thought before you even put the maze together."
"Yes, again! Again!" shrieked Bryce.
We need to write all this up, I thought. Our hypothesis was completely wrong, but that's part of the scientific method, of investigating the world around us and learning new things and correcting the things that we thought were correct in the first place. This is what the girls need to understand.
"We're going to still write all this up and turn it in, girls. This is what science is all about, that there's always something new to learn regardless of what we thought was going to happen."
Bryce had already moved on, chasing the rabbit around the house. Beatrice had the guinea pig on a towel on her lap feeding her vegetables.
"Sweetheart peed again," she said.
"Of course she did," I said.