GEMS program brings science to life for youth

By Sara E. Martin, Army Flier Staff WriterJuly 20, 2012

GEMS program brings science to life for youth
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (July 19, 2012) -- While a lesson in polymers was under way Fort Rucker youth mixed glue and food-coloring in order to create a Silly Putty-like concoction at the Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science laboratory, July 12.

Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science, known as GEMS, features a summer-camp-like environment, said Catherine Davis, the public affairs specialist of the U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory, adding that the lessons are helpful for mental development because the children can see what they are learning. The class this week was July 9-13 for 12- and 13-year-old students.

This is the second year for GEMS, but the first year for the intermediate program for seventh and eighth grade students. The program strengthens students' grasps on science and math in hands-on activities.

Chloe Wyatt, a returning participant, said she really liked the lessons this year because they added biology and chemistry. "My favorite [lesson] was the wheat germ that we took out of the DNA. That was really neat."

GEMS is especially helpful to those students who may be struggling with science. "It shows them that science can be fun. It's not all reading a book and lectures. It shows them what they are reading and how to apply it," said Sarah Thiel, the lead resource teacher.

"They have the best time and don't even realize that they are learning something. Its super-fun learning," she said.

Each of the five groups consists of four students who get one-on-one attention by a mentor, a college student who oversees each experiment. This ensures that each student can ask questions to fully grasp the lessons, Thiel said.

"One parent told me that their child has learned and retained more here at GEMS than they had all year at school," she said.

The children who participated in last year's program and returned this year are the standout students, she said. "They take the lead in their groups to help the others who may be shy or more reserved."

Collin Robinson enjoyed learning how to make root beer and cheese.

"It wasn't the tastiest cheese I've had," he said, "but it was really awesome to learn how to make it. Who can say they know how to make cheese?"

During lunchtime theatre, the mentors pick topics to discuss with the children, such as what they are studying in school, a hobby, or what the children want to be when they get older.

"Speaking in front of each other and adults is something they can take away from GEMS and apply it once school starts," said Jessica Cumbee lead mentor, and chemistry major at Georgia College. "The hands-on techniques are key to them learning here and getting interested in science."

The children learn team building, self confidence and participate in ice-breaker conversations. They become more independent and even dabble in public speaking.

"I always teach them how to do a proper handshake," Thiel said.

Ryan Nagy said, "I love it. It's the most fun I have had all summer, and I've been to other summer camps. I definitely want to come back next year."

The lead resource teacher said she is thrilled the children enjoy the program.

"I know this program is making a difference in their grades and confidence in school. It's very rewarding. We want to do a third and fourth grade group, so that way we will have three age groups. That's my hope for next year."

The students take home all of their projects as well as receive awards at the end of the week.

"It's so beneficial to the students," Thiel said. "I love this program. Not only are they learning, but they are having fun, and building relationships and making new friends."

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