Two new NIH grants give boost to science education in South Texas
San Antonio (Feb. 3, 2004) – Nelda Charles, a teacher at Nimitz Academy in the North East Independent School District, was about to let her students play a game in class. “The reason we’re playing this game is so you don’t end up with the terrible disease osteoporosis,” Charles said to her young charges. The game, called “Os Costs®: Banking on Healthy Bones,” takes children on a life journey from birth to 100, with different colors on the board showing how bones change as we age.
The player with the most coins at the end of the game wins. Knowing facts taught in class about osteoporosis and its prevention causes players to gain “Osteocoins,” tokens that represent calcium levels. Wrong answers cause them to lose Osteocoins.
The Os Costs® game is part of the Positively Aging® curriculum developed at the Sam and Ann Barshop Center for Longevity and Aging Studies at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. “The purpose of Positively Aging® is to bring to the classroom some of the results of aging research, conducted at the Health Science Center, that are relevant to students at this age,” said Linda Pruski, educational development specialist at the Barshop Center. “The students learn about symptoms and risk factors, and they go home and inform their families. It becomes a real network for health promotion and disease prevention.”
The program is so unique that three components of the National Institutes of Health, the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), now fund its expansion into more schools and subject areas. In September 2003, the research group, headed by principal investigator Michael Lichtenstein, M.D., professor of medicine in the division of geriatrics and gerontology, received a five-year, $1.6 million grant from the NCRR and NIA to expand the Positively Aging® program to potentially 60 schools in Bexar and adjacent counties by 2007. Proposed new teaching modules will address mobility, obesity, forces and motion, and clinical research. The full curriculum, teaching materials and all activities are available at positivelyaging.uthscsa.edu.
A second five-year, $1.3 million NHLBI grant will be used to develop the Minority Opportunities in Research Education (M.O.R.E.) curriculum program. New science and math teaching modules will be written and evaluated, including units focusing on cardiovascular and pulmonary health and others focusing on clinical research and inquiry skills. Partnerships will be strengthened between researchers and health professionals from the Health Science Center, the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, and teachers from 15 San Antonio and South Texas school districts serving minority students.
“These two new projects build on the last 10 years of successful educational research conducted by Health Science Center faculty and staff in collaboration with public school teachers,” Dr. Lichtenstein commented. “The last six years have been supported by Science Education Partnership Awards from the NCRR. We feel very fortunate to have developed a track record and then to have successfully competed for these new five-year grants to sustain and grow our programs.”
The grants ensure that the Health Science Center will continue its commitment to improving public school science, math and health education. “There are tremendous opportunities to enrich teachers’ knowledge and skills through professional development and evaluation – figuring out what does and does not work in the classroom,” Dr. Lichtenstein said. “This will translate into improved inquiry-based learning for their students, giving them the tools to live healthy, productive lives.”