Professors Use Exergames and $1.2 Million NSF Grant to Address Childhood Issues

Professors Use Exergames and $1.2 Million NSF Grant to Address Childhood Issues

Two College of Charleston professors are using exergames and a $1.2 million National Science Foundation grant to address two major childhood issues – increasing interest in STEM education and combating childhood obesity. Working with Professors Brad and Alka Harriger from Purdue University, the three-year grant project is known as TECHFIT or Teaching Engineering Concepts to Harness Future Innovators and Technologists.

The project, which is part of the NSF’s Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program, challenges sixth through eighth graders in nine middle schools to concept and program an exergame, a video game that is also a form of exercise.

“Children love fitness and technology, so it makes sense to combine them,” explains Susan Flynn, a teacher education instructor at the College. “This age group loves games like Dance, Dance Revolution and Wii Fit, so we’re challenging them to create/develop new games that get up to 20 students engaged and moving around.”

[Related: Exergames and fitness.]

Of the nine schools that will be part of the grant in 2014, five will be from the Charleston area. Susan Flynn and Mike Flynn, chair of the Department of Health and Human Performance and exercise science professor, will lead the College of Charleston activities for the grant.  At each school, 20 students will be involved in afterschool– and separated into teams like science and lifestyle (ensuring the game meets the fitness goals) and build and technology (responsible for coding). Purdue mechanical engineering professor Brad Harriger has created a toolkit for the students to use in programming their games and the grant funds one technology person to help in each state.

“We will be assessing the students’ fitness levels both before and after the 10-week program,” Flynn explains. “We will also look at whether their knowledge base has improved and whether they are more interested in STEM fields and careers as a result of the program. We would love to track these students for the next five to 10 years to determine if they have more interest in STEM areas than the students who did not participate in the program.”

[Related: Learn more about the Department of Health and Human Performance.]

The concept has been in development since 2008, and was piloted in 2009 at an Indiana middle school where students created five exergames. The pilot study showed positive results in engagement, learning, and interest from parents, which led the NSF to fund a program expansion.

Participating schools will be chosen in spring 2014, workshops for teachers will be held during summer 2014, and the program will begin during the 2014-2015 academic year.

For additional information, contact Susan Flynn at flynns@cofc.edu or 843.953.0815.