Washington, D.C. Students Welcome “Science in the Summer” With Songs, Dances

The children at the Boys & Girls Club in Washington, D.C. were skeptical when they heard that they would be attending a science program for a week in July. “You could just tell, when the counselor said, ‘You’re going to science now,’ there was some apprehension in their faces,” said Francis Lotz, a fifth-grade teacher in Montgomery County, Maryland. “There wasn’t any real excitement about it.”

But it only took one day for the kids to become excited about science. “By day two, they were asking, ‘what time do we get to go to science?’” Lotz said. “That excitement was built through one day, and I see it growing each day, where they are looking forward to coming to science class and seeing what new things they can learn and experience.”

The Boys & Girls Club’s FBR Branch at the Town Hall Education Arts and Recreation Campus (THEARC) was just one of 19 libraries and community centers in the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore areas that hosted Science in the Summer, a GlaxoSmithKline program administered locally by AAAS.

Designed to encourage elementary school students to “grow into science,” the program was first held 26 years ago in the Philadelphia area. Since then, more than 100,000 children have participated in its free science classes, which also have been offered in Pittsburgh and North Carolina.

After several years of Science in the Summer success in Philadelphia, GlaxoSmithKline invited AAAS to establish the program in the Washington, D.C., area. AAAS recruited local community partners including libraries in Washington and Baltimore, the Ruby Tucker Family Center of the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority, and the Laurel Historical Society in Laurel, Maryland.

AAAS oversees the development of the curriculum, recruits and trains teachers, makes site visits, provides materials to each host site, and evaluates all aspects of the program, said AAAS Program Manager Betty Calinger.

“We worked with great partners in the Philadelphia area, but it’s even more exciting to bring this hands-on, inquiry-based science program to children in our own backyard,” Calinger said. “The reaction from the girls and boys, parents, and staff at the host sites has been very positive. A parent summed it up nicely: ‘My kids had an amazing time, and they didn’t even realize how much they learned.’”

The program gives children opportunities for learning through observation, experimentation, and the process of discovery, said Pandit Wright, president and chief executive officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington. That “really lets kids get their hands on what they’re doing, which makes it not so fearful, not so different, and not so strange.”

Tony Small, the regional artistic director at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, incorporated Science in the Summer with the club’s ongoing programs. While educators and policymakers are familiar with STEM—science, technology, engineering and math—“we add the ‘A’ because that stands for arts,” Small said. “It’s STEAM now and everything is put to music and put to art.”

Science in the Summer participants at THEARC learned the scientific method with a song, and created a rap to learn the elements of the periodic table. Small reiterated the states of matter with students before leading songs about the water cycle and scientific method.

In Lotz’s class, students demonstrated the differences between the states of matter by doing the molecule dance. Four students representing the molecules of solid matter stood closely together while two students representing liquid molecules slowly walked around in a circle and another student as a gas molecule ran around the room, occasionally pausing to do pushups.

Having Science in the Summer at the Boys & Girls Club exposed the children “to a curriculum that they may never see until they get to middle school,” Lotz said. “And once you’ve gotten to middle school, if you don’t have the basis, if you don’t have the background of science, it’s really difficult to pick it up after that point.”

“It’s just a one-week pilot camp,” Wright said, “but we’re tremendously excited about the possibilities of future partnership and above all about the learning opportunity for our youth.”

Learn more about Science in the Summer.