Science in the Summer delights and challenges young minds
By J. Chambless
From left: Brady, Sophie, Ella and Maddox probe the chambers of the sheep heart with chopsticks. (Photo by Chris Barber)
There’s no homework and there are no tests for the week-long Science in the Summer program that returns each summer. Still, kids in grades second through fifth get an increased appreciation and knowledge of the world from this course sponsored by Glaxo-Smith Kline and the Franklin Institute.
The programs take place in activity rooms of libraries throughout the region, and are staffed by teachers who have a knack of drawing kids into the subject matter through hands-on lessons.
Recently, Bill Turner, a retired elementary school science teacher, led two classes of students in a week-long study of the human body at the Oxford Public Library. The younger class came at 9:45 a.m., and the older ones arrived at 11 a.m.
Using everyday objects made into tools of scientific investigation, he presented the systems and operations of the human body in terms that were engaging and active.
Turner, 67, who has taught Science in the Summer for the past 17 years, has a background in the West Chester School District, from which he retired two years ago. He taught both science and fifth grade. He said he loves science and has observed that children seem to like it as well. He’s one of four teachers who cover the Chester County libraries this summer, with a theme this year of “The Science of Me.”
Keying off the topic that explores the human body structure and functions, he invited his young subjects to stretch a 27-foot string across the room to visualize the length of human intestines. They also mashed up Rice Chex cereal in liquid to understand how food is processed during digestion.
On Tuesday, he set up a hiking course during which several of the students stood still as body parts in different areas of the room and the rest processed through the route as blood cells, picking up oxygen at the lung station and motion force at the heart station.
To help the students understand the components of the blood, Turner gave out salad spinners rigged with styrofoam to hold test tubes full of fake blood. The kids took turns spinning the devices to simulate a centrifuge.
When the liquid in the tubes was held up for view, the students saw how the medical profession analyzes the components that have been separated into layers.
Commenting on the use of everyday objects as learning tools, Turner said, “You can buy a lot of learning stuff, but if you are smart and creative, you can put together a lot, especially from kitchen utensils.”
Later Turner engaged the kids in examining and even poking around a preserved sheep’s heart.
One student, holding the dissected heart in his hand, said, “This is the coolest thing I’ve ever done.”
Turner said he really believes in hands-on learning, and thinks the students excel in their understanding of science when they learn that way. He said a staff member at the Franklin Institute designs the courses and themes every year. Glaxo SmithKline provides the funding. The topics range around space, sports medicine and primitive machines, among other things.
His favorite, he said, is space.
This educational science course at the libraries is free and well attended. The limit is 16 students enrolled in each class. Children’s librarian Faith Dopirak said she starts advertising it to the public in the spring, and it fills up fast. “It’s wildly popular, and I have to turn some people away,” she said.
Local teen volunteers assist with distributing the equipment and other general logistics.