Science & Technology Society & Culture

UGA receives $1.3 million NIH grant to develop science software for elementary students

Athens, Ga. – Researchers at the University of Georgia are developing new science education software to help elementary school students learn about how the body functions and how to make better dietary and exercise choices.

The five-year, $1.3 million grant is part of the Science Education Partnership Award, or SEPA, program funded by the Office of Research Infrastructure Programs at the National Institutes of Health.

Dubbed “SYSTEMS” for Stimulating Young Scientists to Engage, Motivate and Synthesize, the project will cover how different systems of the body function independently of each other as well as together as one large system-and the effects of obesity and diabetes on these systems.

“Students will learn about six systems of the body: the cardiovascular, respiratory, nervous, musculoskeletal, endocrine and digestive systems,” explained the grant’s principal investigator Georgia Hodges, an assistant research scientist in the UGA College of Education. “We will present these systems in an inquiry and problem-solving framework that will allow fifth-graders to learn about the body and also how obesity and diabetes can adversely affect how these systems work.”

The SYSTEMS research team includes Allan Cohen, director of the Georgia Center for Assessment and the Aderhold Professor of Research Methodology in the College of Education, and four faculty members from the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine: Tom Robertson, an associate professor of physiology and pharmacology; Jim Moore, a professor of large animal medicine; Scott Brown, a professor of small animal medicine; and Cynthia Ward, a professor of small animal internal medicine.

Hodges worked with this research team in 2009 during the last year of her doctoral studies on a SEPA grant awarded in 2008 to Steve Oliver, a professor of mathematics and science education in the UGA College of Education. That project marked the team’s foray into the field of using interactive tools to teach science education. Since that time, they have received multiple grants to create a suite of learning tools now being tested and fine-tuned by science educators in high school classrooms throughout Georgia. The interactive tools are expected to be released in 2015.

“I quickly realized that I had become a part of a game-changing team,” Hodges said. “By working closely with teachers, scientists, animators, game designers and computer programmers, we developed a new way to think about and to teach complex biological concepts. Continuing this trend, our goal with SYSTEMS is to engage elementary students with critical thinking, or ‘so what’ questions, related to the human body.”

The project is being funded under grant number 1R25OD016519-01. Oliver’s project on “IDEAL Biology: Interactive 3-Dimensional Education and Learning” was funded under grant number R25RR025061.