D.J. Hale stood at a table in his middle school classroom contemplating baby food stains.
The 13-year-old CREST School student was trying to determine whether water temperature makes a difference when trying to clean strained sweet potatoes and chicken off a baby's shirt.
His teacher, Callie Haynes, 26, supervised his project, but he did the testing on three one-piece baby outfits that were cut in half and smeared with the orange-colored food. (D.J. admitted tasting the baby food and said, "It's actually good.")
His hypothesis was that hot water is a more effective stain remover than cold, and he found he was right.
D.J. and his classmates are among about 40 students participating in the first science fair that CREST, a school for special education students, has held.
Five students worked as a team on one project in teacher Gary Pearcy's class last year and took it to the county fair as a group project, but there was no school fair.
Pearcy, 35, is the curriculum specialist this year and has been working to expand the formal science experimentation that comes with science fairs. He says it's a good way to learn science and for the students to display to their peers what they have done.
Eight teachers are participating along with the students, who are in grades 4-12. Two teachers are doing classroom projects, while others are overseeing individual and team projects. The participating teachers are Haynes, Crystal Johnson, Terri Cooper, Heather Ivanyi, Wendy King, Jane Pilla, Gema Coleman and Tres Banda, assisted by aide Susan Crowley.
Pearcy appealed to CREST's school advisory enhancement council to help fund the work.
"We didn't want economics to be a factor limiting student participation," he said.
The students seem to think the science fair is a good idea, too. Jasmine Lewis, 14, likes the hands-on lessons.
"You don't have to work in your textbook," she said.
Jasmine and teammate Tommy Owens, 10, were soiling cloth with motor oil and testing the effectiveness of detergents.
"We're trying to find out which detergent gets out oil," she said. "My hypothesis is I think Tide's going to win."
"It's not generic," he said.
Dale Wright, 13, was interested in finding out which hair gel holds a spiky 'do the longest.
"I took three different types of hair gels and than I used one in my hair and I used it for five hours," he explained.
He observed the effects and then shook his head over black paper to see how much residue he could shake off. The less flakes, Dale said, the better the gel held up. He did this with all three samples.
Dale said science fair projects are important "because you learn a lot more about stuff you don't know about, and it's fun. Plus, it's exciting 'cause you don't know if you're going to win or lose."
Felicia Picone, 13, was testing paper towels for absorption quality.
"Bounty's the one," she said. "It won. I knew it would."
She saw the value of her project and testing of other products: "So you can see which brands to buy in the future," she said.
Michael Pierce, 14, also wanted to get his money's worth when shopping.
His question was "How many grapes can fit in a bag, Ziploc or off brand?" His hypothesis was with the Ziploc bags and, sure enough, the name brand bags could hold an average of 134 grapes compared with 122 for the off brand.
Haynes said she thinks science fair projects are a good way to teach science.
"It solidifies what we're taking about when they are allowed to do it," she said.
The CREST School science fair will be held Dec. 18-21.
" ... You learn a lot more about stuff you don't know about, and it's fun. Plus, it's exciting 'cause you don't know if you're going to win or lose."
Dale Wright, 13, who tested hair gels to see which would hold a hairstyle longest