School may be out for the summer but learning about science remains active in the greater Philadelphia area.
Thanks to a free educational program, coordinated by the Franklin Institute and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), students entering second through sixth grades are able to interact in a small group setting and learn more about various aspects of science.
Libraries throughout Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties invited children to register in the spring and chose participants on a first-come-first-serve basis for the Science in the Summer program.
The program spans over a four-day period with several classes offered to different age groups throughout each day. Children in a second to third grade education range met from 10-10:45 a.m. or 1-1:45 p.m. and fourth to sixth graders met 11:15 a.m.-noon or 2:15-3 p.m.
Each county had a target area of science that was taught by a certified teacher. Science topics ranged from chemistry, simple machines, oceanography and physical science/electricity to genetics. Bucks County pursued physical science/electricity and the Quakertown Public Library on W. Mill Street offered the program from July 14-17. Retired teacher Rosemary Carr was the instructor and has been involved in the science program for 18 of its 28 years.
"We are trying to encourage science education and behaviors through the program and not only have the students talk the language of science but understand it as well," Carr explained.
Each instructor is also provided an assistant which most often is a teen volunteer. Quakertown High School senior Annabelle Pham is in her fourth year of volunteering but said it would sadly be her last as she is off to college next year.
Quakertown participants of the program were offered hands-on, experiment oriented opportunities regarding magnetism, static electricity, electrical currents and circuits. Last Thursday children active in the 11 a.m. class (grades 4-6) had a few minutes of instruction time by Carr and then went on to the experiments.
Each of the 16 participants were given a balloon and cloth, and asked to demonstrate how to create a static charge. With little luck in this aspect of the experiment, the children were asked what step to take next.
Joey, grade 4, and Lucas, grade 5, found success with rubbing the balloon on the tops of their heads. The static charge created allowed them to stick their balloon to the wall and not have it fall to the floor.
Children went on to another experiment using a plastic spoon, salt and pepper. After rubbing their spoons with the cloth or their clothing, a static charge was developed and with the spoon placed slightly above the plate with salt and pepper, they discovered it would lift from the plate to stick to their spoons.
The hands-on experiments certainly left the participants very excited, yelling and smiling at their own success. "It's coming up! It's coming up!" Joey remarked when watching the salt and pepper rise up to his spoon.
During each step of the experiments Carr asked the group questions on how to improve or why things occurred they way they did. "Why do you think the pepper goes up quicker to the spoon then the salt?"
Fifth-grader Destiny replied, "Because the pepper is lighter than the salt."
Carr provided encouragement to the children as well by explaining that not all experiments are successful even for scientists. The important factor, per Carr, is to keep trying and not to get frustrated with a failed experiment.
The highlight for the group was the use of a Van de Graaff machine, or electrostatic generator. When plugged in the machine creates a large amount of electrons that are released when someone or something touches the top of the machine's dome. Each child that agreed to try the experiment was directed to touch the dome and experience the feeling of static electricity which left many laughing as fellow participants had their hair stand on end.
Explosive laughter and shouts from the crowd of children proved this particular portion of the experiment a success.
Noah, grade 5, explained the experiment as "making him feel fuzzy," especially in his fingertips.
When asked what made them feel like true scientists, the general consensus was being able to do the hands-on work through the experiments. Haunah, grade 5, remarked that she would be back for next year's program and that she learned to look at the experiments at eye level while they were being performed.
Participants walked away with a better understanding of physical science and electricity as well as the value of teamwork and working independently to produce a result whether successful or not.
Each child received a workbook on their program topic, goggles, certificate, and a free day pass for themselves and siblings to visit the Franklin Institute on the date of their choice.
For more information on the Science in the Summer program visit www.scienceinthesummer.com.