Since its inception in 1986, Science in the Summer has brought free, hands-on science education activities to more than a quarter-million children around the country. This summer, that number grows as thousands of children are taking part in the newest Science in the Summer program featuring the science of the human body, “The Science of Me.”
Science in the Summer, an enrichment program targeted to 2nd through 6th graders, aims to get elementary school students excited about science and avoid the well-documented “summer slide” phenomenon that can drain skills and knowledge over lengthy summer breaks. To ensure children are not falling behind, pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline launched Science in the Summer in the Philadelphia area more than 30 years ago.
Today, the program reaches elementary and middle school students nationwide, an expansion overseen by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2015. Science in the Summer is now held in 20 states and Washington, D.C., with the help of 26 partner organizations, including AAAS, which administers the program in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, according to Betty Calinger, AAAS’ senior project director.
In addition to activities at libraries and Boys and Girls Clubs, Science in the Summer will reach even more children in Washington, D.C., through a new partnership with the nonprofit Kid Power. Kid Power has offered after-school programming for children in Washington, D.C., since 2002 and expanded its work to summer activities beginning in 2006. This year, Science in the Summer is part of Kid Power’s five-week summer school, complementing social studies and language arts coursework as well as enrichment activities in art, sports and nutrition, said Curtis Leitch, assistant program director of Kid Power.
The new partnership between Science in the Summer, AAAS and Kid Power features an accomplished, veteran science teacher. Bryan Goehring, known to the students as Mr. Bryan or Mr. G, has been a science resource teacher in Maryland’s Montgomery County Public Schools for 25 years and is teaching the Science in the Summer curriculum at 10 different locations this year.
The Franklin Institute, a premier science museum in Philadelphia, developed two age-relevant variations on the Science in the Summer curriculum. Goehring led rising 6th, 7th and 8th graders through the course for older students during the week of July 1 at a Capitol Hill elementary school.
As students donned their safety goggles, Goehring encouraged everyone to try out everything and not just pick activities they knew they would enjoy. Goehring set a relaxed atmosphere in the classroom and cracked jokes with the students at the same time he reminded students of the day’s goals: “The idea is to learn something over the next few hours.”
Students began the morning learning about the digestive system, specifically how the human body breaks down types of food. Foods like bread contain starch, Goehring told the students, noting that when we eat starch, the saliva in our mouths – specifically the salivary amylase enzyme – breaks the starch down into sugars, which our bodies use for energy.
“If you have some crackers or some cereal at home and you take it and put it on your tongue and let your mouth moisten it, it’ll become sweeter,” Goehring said before engaging students in an experiment testing which foods contain starch without tasting them.
Working in pairs, students kept close watch over a set of test tubes, one filled with pure starch and the others filled with liquified foods, including corn, lettuce and potatoes. Adding several drops of iodine to each test tube, they took notes on data sheets of color changes to determine which foods contained starch. Students quickly made inferences based on the collected data and excitedly shared their answers with the entire group: Foods that turned a dark blue-purple – “blurple,” as one student said – contained starch similar to the pure starch sample. Unlike the lettuce, the corn and potatoes also turned blue-ish, so the students deduced they too contained starch.
The students also simulated the digestive process. They crunched Chex cereal with their hands, softening it with water to replicate how saliva softens consumed food and added acid to break it down, as the stomach does before food is sent through the intestines. They also learned about the circulatory system by dissecting sheep hearts, which Goehring told them are similar to human hearts. They probed for the spaces where veins and arteries pump blood throughout the body.
A host of volunteers and assistants helped keep the experiments running smoothly. Kid Power offers older students, often alumni of their programs, opportunities to serve as site assistants, said Leitch. Goehring had his own student volunteers, including the president of Difference Makers, a nonprofit organization founded by Goehring’s students at Takoma Park Middle School. These partnerships, Calinger said, offer additional guidance for Science in the Summer participants and enrichment experiences for the older student volunteers.
Leitch is hopeful the partnership between Kid Power and AAAS’ Science in the Summer will continue to define summers. The depth and breadth of the Science of the Summer curriculum keep Kid Power students engaged and ensures they learn something new, said Leitch.
“The collaboration between AAAS and Kid Power as well as with the other community-based organizations involved in Science in the Summer is special and important,” said Calinger. “It fulfills our mission related to science for all and public engagement with science, and it builds an awareness of AAAS and the importance of science in all communities in the D.C. area. We make new friends as we engage all children in good science.”
Science in the Summer continues in the Washington, D.C., area through August 22. The full list of states and administering sites is available on the GSK website.
[Associated image: Andrea Korte/AAAS]