Clubs frequently retain their identity. A Pep Club in 1950 was about school spirit, and in 2005, it still is.

But some identities do change.

Example: Forensics.

Forensics has long meant the art of speechmaking and oral presentation. Rusty McCrady, the debate and forensics coach at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, said forensics clubs give students the opportunity to speak effectively. They can choose their own material, sometimes opting for poetry or their own speeches. They also can select an approach: being informative or persuasive.

Forensics, however, decidedly is not debating.

Debate clubs involve students in researching a preselected topic and then trying to convince people of their position. It's a cousin of forensics but not the same thing.

Adding to the confusion is the latest definition of the ancient word forensics, stemming from the Latin word, forum, meaning speaking to the marketplace of ideas, McCrady said. But in modern times, it also means a department of medicine, especially in a police laboratory.

Today, Forensics Clubs, which teach students how to be sleuths, are popping up in several schools. They are inspired by the hit television show "CSI," which shows detectives using DNA and corpse analyses, as well as other techniques, to solve crimes.

Some schools are even offering new courses in Forensic Science to appeal to non-science majors because "CSI" is so popular.

Benjamin Atwell, 17, does both debate and forensics, not the CSI type.

"Debate is easily the most fun thing I do all week, even more fun than sleeping, which is something I do little of but love a lot."

-- Valerie Strauss