“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.EndFragment