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5th Graders' Science-Fair Project Gets Big Response--on the Internet

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There is some truth to the adage "Be careful what you ask for; you just might get it." Two girls with an idea for a science project learned that lesson in a way they'll never forget.

Stevie Sharland and Amanda Larrabee, two 5th graders at Phillipston (Mass.) Memorial School, teamed up this spring to discover the power of the Internet as a project for their school science fair. They found that the Internet is powerful indeed.

Following the scientific method, Stevie and Amanda came up with the question: If we send out two letters on the Internet, how many responses will we get in two weeks?

Their hypothesis was they'd get around 50 responses. Instead, they got well over 50,000 on the global computer network. It seems that the girls neglected to mention the two-week cutoff date in their electronic letters.

"It's pretty incredible," said their science teacher, Suzanne DiGeronimo. "It kept going and going."

The response was so great that the Sharland family was forced to close out its electronic-mail account, where the girls were receiving the mail. That not only ended the project, but caused countless e-mail responses to be returned to their senders. Ms. DiGeronimo estimates the final number of responses at 75,000.

Be Prepared

While Stevie and Amanda hit the e-mail lottery, getting responses from all 50 states and many foreign countries, the 210-student, K-6 school was getting phone calls from across the country. The two weeks leading up to the May 12-14 science fair were hectic. Nearly every staff member helped field the calls, which tied up the lines daily.

"We've received over 400 calls from people wanting to make sure this was legitimate," said Principal Sam Kaszmarczyk. The school even got a call from the office of the U.S. secretary of defense in Washington.

"I knew it was large, but nothing like this," Mr. Kaszmarczyk said of the Internet. Now that he has seen the power of the network, he said, the next time the school will be prepared.

Even now that the science fair is over, the school is still getting three or four calls a day. And while Stevie and Amanda won the hearts of Internet surfers worldwide, their project lost out to one on rockets. They were, however, awarded an honorable mention.

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