CardioHEADS Program Sparks Interest in Science
Dr. Samantha Messier is an associate director for the Biological Sciences Initiative (BSI), a partnership between the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. BSI's mission is to increase the number of students interested in careers in the biological or medical sciences, to strengthen biology education, and to encourage minority and women students to enter the sciences.
Dr. Messier recently wrote a grant that supplied three under-resourced middle schools in the Denver Public School System with Apple science carts and PASCO probes.
We wanted to provide them with some very engaging activities that would capture their attention and help them stay interested.
Dr. Samantha Messier
"BSI has been successful in reaching a lot of students and teachers and bringing activities into classrooms, but the next step for us would be to try to combine some successful outreach programs and focus them at a small number of schools and hope we could create some kind of more permanent change," she said.
Dr. Messier especially wanted to work with middle schools. "Middle school tends to be the age at which students lose interest in science," she said. "We wanted to provide them with some very engaging activities that would capture their attention and help them stay interested."
The three middle schools were given Apple Science Carts containing 15 iBook computers, 10 sets of PASCO USB Links (PS-2100A) and EKG (PS-2111), Heart Rate (PS-2105) and CO2 (PS-2110) sensors. The computers and sensors are being used as part of a program called CardioHEADS, which involves hands-on activities that focus on cardiovascular health and disease. In all, the program is reaching nearly 2,500 students and over 20 teachers.
Sixth graders involved in the program are using Heart Rate Sensors to measure how exercise affects heart rate. A culminating activity allows them to design their own experiment to test how another variable of their choosing (such as caffeine) affects heart rate. Seventh graders are using CO2 sensors to examine how a mixture of yeast, sugar and water produce carbon dioxide. They also measure the CO2 in their breath before and after they exercise and design an experiment to determine what variable will affect the rate of CO2 production in yeast. Finally, eighth graders are using EKG sensors to examine heart function.
"The feedback has been extremely positive," said Dr. Messier. "The students really enjoy working with the computers and working with the sensors."
Dr. Messier and her colleagues at BSI are currently in the process of analyzing the effects of the use of the technology in the classroom. Although the study is not yet complete, Dr, Messier says she has already seen positive change among students.
"So many students perceive science as just a conglomeration of facts they have to memorize. They don't realize that it's a process that can be fun," she said. "Getting them engaged in inquiry helps to heighten their interest in science. I think it also serves to improve their critical thinking skills because they have to ask their own questions, so they're really learning how to use their brains."
Dr. Messier referred to a quote from a student at Kepner Middle School in Denver to illustrate the program's affect on students. "I want to thank you for everything you have done for us," the student wrote. "Also to tell you that you made me smarter by actually providing the things instead of pictures. I think throughout the past weeks I really learned something and I might ... go to college for cardiology because your program inspired me to do something I'd thought I would never do."
Dr. Messier said the Denver Public School System is already interested in seeing the program expand beyond the three pilot schools, and she also hopes to see the program move in that direction.
"We don't expect all these kids to go on to become scientists," she said. "What we want to do is give them a better understanding of what science is and help them understand aspects of health science so that they can be empowered to make better lifestyle decisions."
For more information on BSI or CardioHEADS, visit the University of Colorado at Boulder - BSI.