Home » NKU, Boone County Schools partner to improve STEM skills and health habits

NKU, Boone County Schools partner to improve STEM skills and health habits

Students will create computer program for middle schools

EDGEWOOD, Ky. (Aug. 11, 2014) — The St. Elizabeth Foundation has received a $50,000 grant from Duke Energy to improve science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills among students while helping them learn better health habits. Students from the Boone County Schools will be paired with Northern Kentucky University College of Informatics students to create a gamification computer program for use in middle schools. The program will be launched in life skills courses at a Boone County middle school during the 2014-15 school year.

stem“NKU is proud to partner with St. Elizabeth and the Boone County School System on this important health initiative,” said NKU President Geoffrey Mearns. “Teaching students to make better health decisions will improve our quality of life and economic competitiveness.”

The information will come to life as students learn ways to make better health choices that prevent or reduce obesity, increase physical activity, and improve nutrition while at the same time providing an opportunity to develop and utilize STEM skills. Gamification techniques leverage students’ natural desires for competition, achievement and status. A relatively new concept, gamification applies game design thinking to non-game applications to make learning more fun and engaging. Health science is the core of the program while math will be integrated into teaching about health-related topics.

“Education priorities and initiatives that emphasize science, technology, engineering and math skills in our schools is a top priority,” says Rhonda Whitaker, District Manager, Government & Community Relations, Duke Energy Kentucky. “We like that this program encourages interest in STEM skills with the added benefit of increasing students’ health awareness.”

The project utilizes a framework called 5-2-1-0, which the Northern Kentucky District Health Department has used for several years. It emphasizes five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, two hours or less of recreational screen time, one hour of physical activity and zero sugary drinks each day.

“We are constantly striving to deliver messages about healthy living in ways that are easy for families to understand and adopt,” said Lynne M. Saddler, MD, MPH, District Director of Health for the Health Department. “This collaboration gives us a chance to evaluate whether kids are more receptive to messages that come in a game format. Depending on the results in Boone County, it could be something that is implemented in future health promotion activities.” “The Boone County School District recognizes the link between student health and academic success,” says Boone County Superintendent Dr. Randy Poe. “Healthy students means healthy minds ready to learn, and is the only way we can ensure every graduate is reading for college, career and life.”

With input from teachers, curriculum supervisors and clinical experts, nutrition, physical activity, and other health-related information will be incorporated into the program content. In addition, the computer program will be designed so that students must utilize STEM skills to reach the next level of the game.

Before health gamification begins, students will be surveyed regarding their knowledge of nutrition, exercise and healthy lifestyle habits. During the 2014-15 school year, the program will be implemented in health classes in a Boone County middle school and students will be taught heart health and obesity reduction skills through gaming. The goal is to increase the number of students whose health knowledge has improved through the use of gamification and the number of students who have an interest in STEM skills. This will be measured by comparing the outcomes of the gamification-taught class as well as the benchmark survey prior to the program.

Being a web-based program will allow a school system to broadcast it over its network and use existing platforms, minimizing equipment costs. The program will also have editing capabilities allowing for updates and alterations to meet specific instructional needs, such as teaching the Hispanic student population. This integrated curriculum may be implemented throughout numerous Northern Kentucky school systems provided additional funding is available.

This project is a collaboration among St. Elizabeth Healthcare, Boone County Schools, Northern Kentucky Independent District Health Department, and Northern Kentucky University College of Informatics. This initiative supports the larger St. Elizabeth Heart & Vascular Institute’s goal of reducing heart-related deaths in Northern Kentucky by 25 percent by 2015.