Skip to main content

Philadelphia Libraries Celebrate 25 Years of GlaxoSmithKline/AAAS Science in the Summer

Jonathan Nguyen conducts his summer science class inside a library, but his students don’t whisper as they twist together DNA models or join an assembly line of peanut butter sandwich-making to learn more about genetic mutations.

Many students say it’s a change from their school-science classes, said Nguyen, a biology and anatomy teacher at Pennsauken High School in Pennsauken, New Jersey. The students “are so gun-shy about things like ‘don’t make a mess’ and ‘don’t make a mistake,’ ” he said, “and in science you’ve got to do both.”

Science in the Summer, sponsored by the healthcare company GlaxoSmithKline and administered by AAAS, offers elementary school children the chance to experience science first-hand in free classes throughout the greater Philadelphia area. The 2011 classes mark the 25th year of the program, which was started in 1986 by former GlaxoSmithKline scientist Virginia Cunningham.

Children at the Free Library of Philadelphia participate in genetics experiments offered through GlaxoSmith Kline’s Science in the Summer. | Video produced by Carla Schaffer

Nearly 4700 students entering 2nd to 6th grades took classes in bioscience, genetics, simple machines, chemistry, and physical science and electricity at 104 libraries in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties this summer. Most programs include four 45-60 minute classes, and are taught by local certified science teachers. Libraries in each county teach a different topic every year, so that local students can experience a new kind of science each summer.

“Each year we continue to reach out to the community to bring children and science together, taking advantage of young children’s natural curiosity and the fact that they learn best by doing,” said Mary Linda Andrews, director of community partnerships for GlaxoSmithKline.

Since 1996, AAAS’s Education and Human Resources program has administered the program for GlaxoSmithKline. AAAS develops materials for the program, helps the library staff implement the program, and works with science teachers to update the program content to reflect the latest science and to align with Pennsylvania school science content standards.

While AAAS provides materials from teaching manuals to student workbooks, the teachers bring their own style and expertise to the program, said Betty Calinger, the AAAS program manager for Science in the Summer. “Everybody puts a little different spin on it,” she said. “They use their own teaching techniques to engage children and add new things. They know what concepts should be taught, and we provide them with activities. But they have leeway in how they deliver the materials.”

“It’s cool to give the kids what I think is an ideal way of learning science, really hands-on, small classroom, and fun,” Nguyen said. “I remember two kids were talking… [and] they said: ‘Our science teacher doesn’t let us touch anything, he’s worried about us breaking things, we don’t have all this stuff.’ ”

Nguyen added: “They can see what science can be, so they don’t lose interest or feel like it’s boring… and they stay invested enough so that they can get to a point where they can do all kinds of amazing things.”

The inquiry-based, hands-on science experiments encourage students “to begin to develop higher-order thinking skills—the very skills that will stay with them throughout their lives,” Andrews agreed.

Andrews and Calinger said some students return to the program summer after summer. When AAAS surveyed students who participated in the program between 1997 and 2007, they found that some of the former summer scientists had gone on to science careers and many remained enthusiastic about science years later.

GlaxoSmithKline also sponsors Science in the Summer in the greater Pittsburgh area in cooperation with the Carnegie Science Center, and North Carolina in cooperation with the University of North Carolina Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. In addition to supporting the classes at local libraries, GlaxoSmithKline also provides an annual grant to each participating library to purchase science books.

“It’s a wonderful partnership with GlaxoSmithKline and the libraries of the greater Philadelphia area,” Calinger said “We see partnering with organizations like these as another piece of AAAS’s mission to bring science to all children and to bring science into the community in many different ways.”


Learn more about Science in the Summer.