Summer Workshops Help Students 'Grow Into Science'

GSK Science in the Summer™, administered locally by AAAS, is a fun, free program for elementary-school students. | AAAS

In the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland area, a free science-education program called GSK Science in the Summer™ will encourage as many as 1,700 students to "grow into science."

Administered regionally by AAAS, the GSK program provides training for science teachers, who then conduct workshops for elementary-school children at 17 community-based partner organizations. Ten new partners were added in 2014, said AAAS Project Director Betty Calinger.

In addition, a bioscience curriculum was added to the regional program's existing chemistry and physical science lineup. AAAS intern Tim Barry, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill helped to develop the new bioscience content, which lets students build a "cell" using a box, plastic wrap to represent the cell wall, and a mesh bag with holes that illustrates how cell membranes are selectively permeable. Students in this summer's bioscience workshops have been using microscopes to look at real cells, and then taking part in hands-on activities to explore the key differences between plant and animal cells.

At a recent Beacon House workshop, teacher Gerald Smith guided students through chemistry demonstrations intended to help them understand the three states of matter and the concept of density. Smith, a middle-school science teacher at D.C.'s Saint Thomas More Catholic Academy, cranked up some music and asked students to dance like the particles in solids, liquids, and gas. For the "solid dance," the students were very close together and not moving around much. When they danced like a liquid, they were somewhat further apart and more active, and as a gas, they were very far apart.

Next, students watched how slowly a drop of red food dye moved through a beaker of cold water, compared to its faster pace in hot water. "A hotter temperature allows water particles to move apart, so the food coloring can flow through the water more quickly," he explained. He also munched on a banana, comparing it to a banana that had been frozen as solid as a hammer. He had students create a "density tower" by pouring vegetable oil into a cup of water and then adding a cork, and he helped them safely create carbon-dioxide "rockets" by adding water and a cork to test-tubes of dry ice. As the solid ice turned into gas through the process of sublimation, corks went flying.

"We want to thank GSK for bringing you guys to science, and for bringing science to life," Smith said at the end of the workshop, when each student received a certificate of excellence and a tote bag containing goggles, magnifying glasses, and a notebook. "Go back home and do all of these cool experiments, and you can be a genius at chemistry!"