"Go For It"
BY RACHEL ZIMMERMAN
That was the attitude that Bill White, the teacher of my grade seven class, encouraged each of us to have. He urged us to develop our own ideas and carry them as far as they could go. Every spring, as the snow melted and the birds migrated northward once again, my school buzzed with activity and anticipation of the approaching science fair. Some students saw the fair as just another project, something to be completed as quickly as possible with just enough effort to get a passing mark. I have always taken a different approach.
The annual Science fair is an opportunity for students to pursue their own interests and explain their findings to parents, friends, and the community. My elementary school had mandatory science fair participation in the senior grades, but I have done projects every year since grade one. Early projects on adhesion ('What Things Stick Together?") and vibration (musical pop bottles, rubber bands, etc.) soon led to more advanced studies on astronomy (The Planisphere), incandescent light, and the properties of glass which make it behave like a fluid rather than a solid.
One of the turning points in my life came when I was in grade six. At the time, I had been reading books about Helen Keller and Louis Braille, and I came across a book in the same section of the library about a language called Blissymbolics. This pictographic language is used by people who cannot control their muscles well enough to speak or write; for example, people with cerebral palsy or who have had a stroke.
In order to access the language, Bliss users point to symbols on a board, and someone else must be present and attentive (and very patient) in order to see what the Bliss user is pointing to. Although Blissymbolics was a great breakthrough, it did not allow for communication with someone who was not in the same room at the same time or for recording ideas for later reference. After reading the book on Bliss, I decided that I wanted to improve this system of communication to allow the Bliss user to write messages independently. My grade six science fair project was the perfect opportunity for me to learn how to use computer graphics to draw Blissymbols on the screen, and to educate the public about Bliss and the people who use it.