When Engineering junior Doug Glanville explained gravity to 10 fifth-graders at Samuel Huey Public Elementary School, the children, mouths full with cookies, stared back at him in disbelief. "If I drop a Mack truck and a pea off a cliff, they land at the same time," Glanville explained. "I know you don't believe me." Then for the next hour, Glanville gave a lesson in gravity to the students as part of the year-old PENNlincs program. PENNlincs, an elementary science mentoring project, consists of 20 teams of University students mentoring weekly in nine elementary schools in scientific fields. And although the program is just one-year old, both organizers and teachers have praised it saying both mentors and students learn from each other. Program director Jean Roberts, however, said that the University students do not tutor the children, but rather expose the children to science and science related fields without pressures of a school room environment. She added that since the children can relate better to the mentors than to their teachers, they develop a greater interest in science. Roberts, who said she has been amazed at the demand for PENNlinc mentors at several Philadelphia public schools, plans to expand the program in the coming years to include more public schools and more universities. "It's terribly sad to turn children away from the program," she said earlier this week. "We have to do that a lot." Plans are being made to extend the program to Drexel University, Temple University, Chestnut Hill College, and Villanova University. PENNlincs is now funded through a three year, $900,000 grant from the National Science Foundation and hopes to institutionalize the program in the future. But currently, the program has been successful on its small scale. Wednesday afternoon at the Huey School, located at 52nd and Pine, was just another example of the program at work. Students at the Huey school enthusiastically trooped up to the science room Wednesday afternoon to learn about Sir Isaac Newton and gravity from College sophomore Shashwatee Bagchi and Glanville -- who plays on the varsity baseball team. But the children, perching on the miniature chairs in the science room cluttered with plants and astronomy charts, had trouble understanding the concept of a vacuum. Many wanted to know how people could breathe in a vacuum and could not comprehend how objects of different weights could fall at the same rate. Glanville tried to clear up matters with a piece of paper and a baseball while most children watched with interest. Alexis Hamilton, a fifth grader at the school, proudly displayed her one page essay on gravity, complete with illustrations of the sun with people floating next to it. "Gravity is a substance that keeps us from floating off the earth," Hamilton wrote. "If you get very close to the sun, it will burn you to a crisp like a piece of burnt toast." Hamilton said later that the program allows her to have fun with science. "I like experiments and taking things apart and putting them back together," Hamilton added. Fifth grader Samantha Beverly, who said she wanted to be a scientist or lawyer, joined the program because her aunt and sister often talked about science experiments. "I want to cut open a frog," said Beverly, "but I have to wait until the eighth grade." Huey School Program Supervisor Rita Arrington, a science teacher at the school, said that it is too early to tell if the program will have positive, long lasting effects on the children. But she quickly added that it offers the children a chance to find out what really interests them. "PENNlincs gives them an opportunity to interact with adults in science," said Arrington. "They have interests, but getting them to pursue them is a different matter." PENNlincs mentor Bagchi, who has been with the group for two semesters added, "Most things can be made interesting if you just get it on their level."Comments powered by Disqus
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