But, surprisingly, until last year, it had been years since Salem schools offered that old standby, the Science Fair.
"We started off small last year in the high school," said Salem High School Science Teacher Amanda Himschoot, who is leading the effort to revive, promote and coordinate the science fair. "This year, we have 29 elementary entries, and more than 35 overall entries, compared with last year."
On Tuesday, March 6, a group of student volunteers had their hands full as they set up the entries on cafeteria tables for the public to view before an awards ceremony.
"When my aunt died, I thought I'd stop and choose a new topic," Shayanne Collins said as she stood beside her Science Fair project, The Journey of Cancer. "But she gave me information when I was doing research, and I decided to go ahead with it."
According to Collins, she chose cancer as the topic for her Science Fair project because the disease runs in her family. The indecision about finishing the project came after her aunt died of cancer two months ago.
Her three panel exhibit provides information on what types of cancer there are, what factors can lead to cancer, and what treatments are available.
"One thing I learned is, more treatment is available than there used to be, and there is progress toward cures," Collins said.
Her work paid off, as Collins received a second place ribbon, qualifying her to move on to the Northeast Arkansas Regional Science Fair in Jonesboro.
Lorenzo Offutt's exhibit was a colorful mess.
His experiment, The Wonderful Life of Color, consisted of gluing a line of crayons to a board, beginning with light colored crayons and progressing to the darkest.
"I put them one yard from a heat source (a gas heater) and let them melt," Offutt explained. "You can see the darker colors melted first and dripped more (on to the board). You can see the light colored crayons melted less, and the white one didn't drip at all."
According to Offutt, the experiment proved that dark colors absorb more heat than lighter colors.
"Well, for one thing, it shows you that, when it's hot and sunny outside, you will be cooler if you wear lighter colored clothing. A dark shirt will soak up the heat more," Offutt explained.
Offutt won a third place ribbon this year, compared to a first place last year, but said he enjoyed doing the experiment and research, and planned to enter again next year.
"We still don't have many seniors entering exhibits," Himschoot said. "With elementary students on up entering and getting into the habit, we expect to have a lot of senior exhibits as time goes on."
|The Science Fair is open to students in grades four through 12. While all eighth graders must do a fair project as part of their science studies, participation for other students is voluntary.|
Doing a Science Fair exhibit starts with coming up with a topic and putting it in the form of a question that the student will try to answer through research. Students are given packets of information to lead them through the process.
The entrant performs an experiment and gathers research, analyzes the results and comes up with a conclusion.
The final step is for a student to show his or her work through an eye-catching exhibit, that leads viewers through the process they went through.
For this year's fair, 12 judges were selected from the community -- people who work in various professions, retired teachers and school board members.
"The judges really liked entries that provided useful information," Himschoot said, mentioning one student who tested three brands of disposable diapers by putting a tablespoonful of water in each one, until they were full and began leaking. The experiment showed the cheapest brand was least absorbent but, in a surprise, the middle-priced brand was more absorbent than the highest-priced.
Judges also liked exhibits where students showed creativity in choosing their topic, especially projects that involved extensive research work instead of a flashy experiment.
As the awards ceremony neared, parent Miguel Holding was on the phone, calling his mother in Florida to tell her his son, Junior, had won first place for his exhibit.
"She was ecstatic," Holding said. "She wants pictures and wants to know how he does in Jonesboro."
Holding's wife, Leann, said the Science Fair had been a good experience for her eighth grade son.
"Science wasn't one of his favorites (classes) but, when he picked a topic he liked and did his experiment, he got really excited," Holding said. "He didn't realize science could be fun."
Science teacher Himschoot hopes others will also come away from their Science Fair experience with a new enthusiasm for science. It is a field educators are under pressure to promote, as it is seen as key to helping the U.S. compete in the global economy.
"We have seen a good increase in the number of participants, and Mrs. Himschoot has done a great job getting us started again," Superintendent Ken Rich told The News.
Winners on the elementary level will participate in a Regional Science Fair at Highland Elementary.
High school students will travel to Jonesboro on March 16 to participate in the Northeast Regional Science Fair at Arkansas State University.