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A gem of a week: Local students have fun with science

Connor Morriss, military Family member, works his way through a maze using only his sense of touch while his friend, John Peters, civilian, looks on during the 2014 GEMS program at USAARL July 31. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Connor Morriss, military Family member, works his way through a maze using only his sense of touch while his friend, John Peters, civilian, looks on during the 2014 GEMS program at USAARL July 31. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Published: August 7, 2014

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (August 7, 2014) -- As summer winds down and children start heading back to school, one group of youth are off to a head start through the Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science program.

The program, hosted by the U.S. Aeromedical Research Laboratory, provides a platform for children to learn through hands-on interaction, and wrapped up its final week Aug. 1 with lessons in neuroscience, said Kristen Simpson, GEMS resource teacher.

“These past three weeks the children have been learning all about neuroscience and studying all of the five senses,” she said. “They’ve learned about hearing, taste, smell, vision and touch, and how they all relate.”

Kaleigh Gillespie, military Family member, and Clayton Peters, civilian, were among those to participate in the program, and both said that the experience was one they fully enjoyed and wouldn’t soon forget.

As well as having similar experiences, their reasons for signing up both stemmed from an interest in science.

“I wanted to participate because I knew it was going to be about neuroscience and I want to be a registered nurse when I grow up,” said Gillespie. “I thought it would be cool learning about the five senses and everything else that goes along with it.”

“I’ve always been interested in science, so my mom told me about it and that we were going to do different science experiments and I thought that would be fun, and it was,” added Peters. “I wish I could stay here the whole time.”

Gillespie also said her brother participated in GEMS twice with robotics and chemistry, and hearing about his experience in the program piqued her interest even further.

“When he told me about everything he was doing, it sounded fun, so I wanted to give it a try and it’s been really fun,” she said.

Each day throughout the week, the children would learn about a different sense. When learning about hearing, the children not only learned about different parts of the ear and how people hear sounds, but they also were able to visit the Acoustics Research Facility, which included the anechoic and reverberation chambers.

In those chambers, Simpson said that children were able to learn about acoustics and how sound either bounces off of surfaces or is absorbed by them.

“We got to visit the chamber where the sound would get trapped in one corner or echo loudly in another,” said Gillespie. “Then we visited another room that was covered in triangle-shaped sponges, and you could yell at the wall and you could barely hear it.”

“Someone would talk to you when you were standing in there, and if they turned around, you could barely hear them – it sounded like they were whispering,” added Peters.

Through that process, the children learned about acoustics and how the shapes of the sponges absorb the sound.

One of the most hands-on experiments that the students got to participate in was when they dissected a cow eye to literally see how we see, said Simpson.

“It’s the favorite activity for most of the kids,” she said, “and this allowed the children to see how the inner eye works, similar to the human eye.”

Peters said it was the cow eye that was his favorite part of the program, and although some students were taken aback, he remained undeterred.

“Some people were grossed out by it, but it was pretty cool to me,” he said, “and it helped us learn about the different parts of the eye.”

“It was really cool because they have the same parts that we have,” added Gillespie.

Some of the more tame lessons involved experiments with the sensation of touch, where children had to use only their sense of touch to determine the differences in textures on different parts of their body, such as their arm, face or fingertips.

Despite which lessons made children squeamish or tickled, the goal is to provide a learning experience that children can retain, said Simpson.

“This program really helps by learning through a hands-on approach, as well as listening and reading,” she said. “In classrooms, students get a lot of audio learning – listening to the teacher talk, reading from a textbook and things like that.

“That type of learning is great for some children, but for others it’s really tough to learn just by listening or reading, and it’s more easily absorbed if they see and feel how it works,” she said. “The more senses you can involve in learning, the better chances you have at retaining that information.”

This article was originally published at

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