Precious GEMS: Program makes science 'fun'

By Angela Williams, Army Flier Staff WriterJune 21, 2012

Precious GEMS: Program makes science 'fun'
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (June 21, 2012) -- A group of children surrounded every table, each one leaning in to help their mentor connect wires, batteries and other electronics to transform a plastic cup into a stereo speaker.

"We've had tons of fun!" exclaimed one of the students, Alexander Harbaugh, as he briefly turned away from the group to demonstrate the morning's lessons on magnets and "water orbs."

"The water orbs grow in hot water," he explained. "And the magnets can work through a table."

The group of 25 children was participating in the Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science Program offered through Fort Rucker's U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory. The GEMS program, offered four times throughout the summer, aims to help children develop a stronger interest in math and science through hands-on activities and interaction, said Sarah Thiel, GEMS lead resource teacher.

"It's a great program for kids to further their science knowledge," she explained. "It's all done in a fun way. They don't have to sit in front of a textbook and listen to a lecture all day.

"I just love doing this," she added.

Students had to fill out an application and write an essay to be accepted into the program. June 18-22 and June 25-29, fifth- and sixth-grade participants will learn about the five senses. Then, July 9-13 and July 16-20, seventh- and eighth-grade students will focus on chemistry, biology and biochemistry experiments, according to Catherine Davis, USAARL GEMS public affairs specialist.

During the week of June 18-22, the students completed a taste test to identify different flavors and see how the senses of taste and smell are related. They dissected a cow eye and then made a model of a human eye with a fish bowl and flashlight. And they learned about touch by identifying various objects in a "mystery box" that prevented them from seeing what they were touching, Thiel said.

On June 22, the students will learn about the brain and how all the senses work together, she said. They will also tour USAARL to see how the experiments they did during the week apply to "science in the real world."

Thiel said she tries to manage the curriculum so the students learn, but they don't realize they are learning because they are having so much fun.

"Some of the students had an interest in math and science, so that's why they were interested in coming," she explained. "But others, basically, their parents made them come because they either aren't doing well in science or don't have an interest in it.

"This is to let them know that science is cool. It's not just for nerds," she said. "It's also about making friends and having fun for the week."

To learn more about the GEMS program, visit