This summer, the GSK Science in the Summer™ program extended its free, hands-on, summer science program nationwide for the first time.
Science in the Summer reached about 12,000 children in 2015 with the addition of 12 science centers and museums from Oregon to Alabama. These institutions joined AAAS, the Franklin Institute, the Morehead Planetarium, and Carnegie Science Center to offer the program in libraries, community centers, and Boys & Girls Clubs in their communities.
The program, now in its 30th year, is sponsored by GSK and administered by AAAS in the DC metro area in partnership with community-based organizations. AAAS organized and implemented the national expansion of the program in 12 cities.
"The purpose is to introduce science to children, mitigate the 'summer slide' and build goodwill for science," said AAAS Project Director Betty Calinger. "With community-based organizations as our partners, AAAS is able to bring Science in the Summer to children in urban, rural, and suburban locations in the greater DC metro area and now across the United States."
"Having Science in the Summer gives the child the opportunity to experience science, see that's it's fun, that it's not scary, that it's interesting and that it applies to everyday life."
Mary Linda Andrews, GSK Director of Community Partnerships
Sheila Poole brought her granddaughter Arwen Gorham, 10, to the program at Lamond-Riggs Library in Washington, D.C. Poole said Science in the Summer engaged her granddaughter in science when she otherwise might not have gravitated towards it.
"I saw a child learning that science is fun. The teacher was so engaging and got them immediately involved in hands on," Poole said. "With this program the kids were so excited and they immediately achieved something. That inspired them."
Programs like Science in the Summer serve a wide range of children, especially those from underserved communities. Some elementary schools are not required to teach science, said Mary Linda Andrews, GSK Director of Community Partnerships.
"Having Science in the Summer gives the child the opportunity to experience science, see that's it's fun, that it's not scary, that it's interesting and that it applies to everyday life," Andrews said. "We think that STEM engagement really has to start early. By taking kids when they're younger, we take advantage of a young child's natural curiosity. That curiosity leads to problem solving, taking guesses, working through trial and error. Those 21st century skills we believe are essential for innovative thinking."
One of the national sites integrated an hour of chemistry each day into a U.S. Forestry Service specialty camp offered to homeless children from Caddo Parish, Louisiana. About 65 children from grades three to six participated in the camp each week.
"This was something completely different, and they really enjoyed it because they got to play and do hands-on science without realizing that they're learning science," said Heather Kleiner, special programs and education grants manager at Sci-Port: Louisiana's Science Center, in Shreveport, Louisiana.
"The kids were having a lot of fun. It was nice to see some light bulbs going off for these kids that might not have gone off otherwise," said Claire Floyd, community engagement manager for Sci-Port. "I don't think they realized what they were doing was chemistry until it was laid out to them — but it's chemistry!"
Sci-Port also brought the curriculum to the Lone Star Camp, held in collaboration with the Boys and Girls Club of the Big Pines in Harrison County, Texas. The Lone Star Camp fills a gap for Texas students who start school later than their neighbors in Louisiana.
Many of the 75 children attending each week are underserved and would otherwise have nowhere to go, Kleiner said. The camp provided them free transportation to Sci-Port as well as lunch.
"This was something completely different, and they really enjoyed it because they got to play and do hands-on science without realizing that they're learning science."
Heather Kleiner, special programs and education grants manager at Sci-Port: Louisiana's Science Center
"Sometimes the kids don't even have shoes on their feet. These are kids who are very needy even if they're not homeless," Kleiner said. "These are some of the kids who may not have a lot of people in their family who went to college or a STEM career. We feel it's really important to engage them when they're young, get them interested and make it fun. We want to give them a chance."
Science in the Summer also reached children more than 1,000 miles away at The Museum of Discovery and Science in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. There, about 175 children from elementary through middle school age participated in hands-on chemistry lessons, which were held every other Monday as part of a camp held by the City of Hallandale Beach.
In one activity, the students learned about acids and bases, using pH strip indicators and spot plates.
"They really felt like they were in chemistry using the pipettes and chemicals. They felt pretty cool and pretty special doing that," said Summer Scarlatelli, STEM Center for Education and Career Development manager for The Museum of Discovery and Science.
For older children, the museum supplemented the curriculum with its own materials from the museum to go into more depth.
"We relate it to everything they can find in their house or their grocery store. When going over acids and bases we talk about if they have an upset stomach, what could they drink to make them feel better, more stuff that they could relate to," Scarlatelli said.
Heather Tole, director of grants and government support at The Museum of Discovery and Science, said the museum is continuing with the Science in the Summer curriculum even after the summer term ended.
"If they offered another program like it next summer, we would absolutely do it again," Tole said.