Learning to love science, kid style

— Sci­ence in the Sum­mer was foun­ded 26 years ago to spark an in­terest in the sub­ject among girls and minor­it­ies.

Nick Ly­don ex­am­ins a sample of salt dur­ing a sum­mer ocean­o­graphy pro­gram at Bustleton Lib­rary, Tues­day, Ju­ly 10, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)


“We nev­er drink any­thing in the sci­ence lab!” Tienne My­ers told the young mar­ine bio­lo­gists gathered on Bustleton Av­en­ue.

But some of My­ers’ 16 grade-school sci­ent­ists really wanted to take some sips of the salty green or red li­quids in front of them on tables in the Bustleton branch of the Free Lib­rary. When they were told they couldn’t, and shouldn’t, they looked very dis­ap­poin­ted — but only for a mo­ment or so. There were more im­port­ant things to do.

The kids were in the lib­rary’s meet­ing room on Ju­ly 10 and 11 to learn about Earth’s oceans in a Sci­ence in the Sum­mer pro­gram sponsored by Glaxo­S­mithK­line and the Frank­lin In­sti­tute. My­ers, who dur­ing the school year teaches sci­ence at Han­cock Ele­ment­ary School in Mor­rell Park, was there to give them the bird’s-eye low­down.

There is, after all, “more to the ocean than what you see on the beach,” she said. Most of the Earth is covered by oceans that are filled with life, My­ers said.

“You ever taste ocean wa­ter by ac­ci­dent? It’s salty, isn’t it?” My­ers asked the kids.

Lots of little heads nod­ded.

Find­ing out that the ocean’s salt wa­ter is dens­er than fresh — and why — was an easy ex­er­cise for the chil­dren.

My­ers’ aides, Tessy Philip and John Thekkumthala, dis­trib­uted classes of wa­ter to the kids and then some sea salt. The chil­dren, who are in second- through sixth grades, each got two clear plastic cups of wa­ter. They each mixed salt in­to one of their cups.

Which is heav­ier and dens­er, My­ers asked the kids as they eyed their clear cups of fresh wa­ter and cloudy cups of salt wa­ter.

The chil­dren learned the salty wa­ter is the heav­ier with the help of some drops of ve­get­able dye.

A few drops of dye pretty much mixed it­self in with the fresh wa­ter. What’s ve­get­able dye, My­ers asked rhet­or­ic­ally. It’s just wa­ter with a little col­or, so it’s not much dif­fer­ent from plain wa­ter.

De­pend­ing on how much salt was mixed in with each glass, the few drops of ve­get­able dye the kids ad­ded seemed to float on or near the top of the cups of “sea wa­ter.”

It all looked very cool. But when some of the chil­dren asked if they could add a taste test to their little ex­per­i­ment, that’s when My­ers told them — and not for the first time — they were sci­ent­ists and they don’t drink any­thing in the lab.

They were to ob­serve and com­pare, she re­minded them.

They’re also not sup­posed to eat any­thing in the lab, un­less they’re do­ing “kit­chen chem­istry.”

So, where do you think all that salt in sea wa­ter comes from?

The kids thought about that for a while, and learned from My­ers that the salt is washed in­to the seas from the land.

One little boy had his own the­ory. People put salt on their food, he said, and some of that food gets in­to the ocean, mak­ing it salty.

My­ers’ pro­gram was offered twice a day over two days at the Bustleton branch earli­er this month. It is just one of four Sci­ence in the Sum­mer pro­grams that are offered in city and sub­urb­an lib­rar­ies. The free pro­gram, now in its 26th year, runs from late June through early Au­gust and trans­forms lib­rar­ies in­to labs in which young­sters can learn by per­form­ing their own ex­per­i­ments. 

The Sci­ence in the Sum­mer pro­gram was foun­ded in 1986 by former Glaxo­S­mithK­line sci­ent­ist Vir­gin­ia Cun­ning­ham to in­spire young girls and minor­it­ies to find an in­terest in sci­ence, ac­cord­ing to Mary Linda An­drews, the phar­ma­ceut­ic­al com­pany’s dir­ect­or of com­munity part­ner­ships.  The com­pany fully funds the pro­gram.

The pro­gram’s teach­ers are cer­ti­fied act­ive or re­cently re­tired teach­ers, and many have been with the pro­gram for more than 10 years, An­drews told the North­east Times.

Sci­ence in the Sum­mer has a his­tory of mak­ing im­pres­sions on the kids.

“The goal of the pro­gram is to make sci­ence fun, and to spark a lifelong in­terest in sci­ence,” An­drews stated, adding the com­pany has learned that many of the stu­dents plan to take ad­vanced high school math and sci­ence courses, which help them pre­pare for col­lege.

“We have heard that many chil­dren con­tin­ue to play ‘sci­ent­ist’ after the pro­gram, wear­ing their goggles and us­ing the work­books we provide to do ad­di­tion­al activ­it­ies,” An­drews said. “In ad­di­tion, many lib­rar­i­ans tell us that sci­ence how-to books are in tre­mend­ous de­mand dur­ing and after the pro­gram. That’s why, in ad­di­tion to sup­port­ing the classes at loc­al lib­rar­ies, Glaxo­S­mithK­line also provides an an­nu­al grant to each par­ti­cip­at­ing lib­rary to urchase sci­ence books as part of the pro­gram.”

Kids who par­ti­cip­ated in this year’s sci­ence fun will see oth­er pro­grams in suc­ceed­ing years.

“The idea be­hind the ro­tat­ing pro­gram­ming is so that chil­dren will get to learn about a dif­fer­ent area of sci­ence each year they par­ti­cip­ate in the ro­gram,” An­drews stated. “For ex­ample, second-graders start­ing the pro­gram this year will learn about ocean­o­graphy, and if they con­tin­ue to par­ti­cip­ate in Glaxo­S­mithK­line’s Sci­ence in the Sum­mer un­til they are sixth-graders, they will learn about oth­er areas of sci­ence in­clud­ing bios­cience, simple ma­chines, ge­net­ics, phys­ic­al sci­ence and elec­tri­city, and chem­istry.”

Sci­ence in the Sum­mer for Philly kids is ocean­o­graphy this year, and chil­dren in My­ers’ “sci­ence lab” in the Bustleton branch of the lib­rary used mi­cro­scopes and mag­ni­fy­ing glasses and got to look at sponges, cor­al and mol­lusks along with some prin­ted ma­ter­i­al.

They got a few sur­prises, too.

For ex­ample, Nich­olas Ly­don, 11, a St. Al­bert the Great pu­pil, said he didn’t know sharks have scales. Sharks don’t look like they have scales like oth­er fish. Their skin is smooth, right?

Nope. It feels like sand­pa­per, and that’s be­cause a shark’s skin ac­tu­ally is com­posed of tiny, rough scales.

Nich­olas knows that — and, now, so do you. ••

For more in­form­a­tion about Sci­ence in the Sum­mer, vis­it www.sci­encein­thesum­mer.com or call 215-685-0509.


You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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