College of Charleston educators win $1.2 million grant for kids to create movement-based video games

A couple of College of Charleston educators are hoping to hook kids on STEM by playing on their interest in popular movement-based video games, such as Dance, Dance Revolution.

How to apply

Charleston area teachers who are interested in participating in the Teaching Engineering Concepts to Harness Future Innovators and Technologists (TECHFIT) project should e-mail Susan Flynn at flynns@cofc.edu for an application.

Susan and Mike Flynn, a husband and wife team who teach at the college, wrote a proposal with two Purdue University professors and landed a $1.2 million National Science Foundation grant this fall. The money will go toward involving local kids in creating and developing exergames, or the kind that get them up and moving.

"This project is important on so many levels, but our main goals are to: provide opportunities for children/youth to explore, learn and engage in activities related to the STEM disciplines; and provide the students the tools and knowledge to learn about being healthy for a lifetime," said Susan Flynn, an instructor at the College of Charleston.

Flynn and her husband used to work at Purdue University in Lafayette, Ind., which is where they developed this proposal. They collaborated with technology faculty members to mesh their experience in information technology and mechanical engineering with the Flynns' expertise in exercise science and sport pedagogy, Susan said.

The result was the Teaching Engineering Concepts to Harness Future Innovators and Technologists (TECHFIT) project. The National Science Foundation funded the grant as part of its Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program, which works to boost students' interest and motivation in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

The college's grant is one of South Carolina's two active awards in the ITEST program. The other recipient is Columbia College in Columbia, S.C., which received a five-year allocation of $132,037.

David Campbell, a program director for the National Science Foundation, said about 20 ITEST projects were funded in 2013, which represents no more than 10 percent of all those who applied.

The foundation tries to fund different grade levels and disciplines, and the TECHFIT project stood out because it used engineering design principals along with computer programming, Campbell said.

A total of nine schools in South Carolina and Indiana will participate in the project starting in 2014-15, and five will be from the Charleston area.

Twenty sixth- through eighth-graders from each school will be involved in a 10-week after-school program during which they come up with a concept for and develop a movement-based video game. Kids also will do activities to track their fitness progress and weave exercise into their game.

Students' teachers will complete a six-day summer training to help them implement the program, and they will be supported by a graduate student who is funded by the grant.

The Flynns plan to target Charleston County schools, but they aren't limited to the district's schools. They are soliciting applications and plan to choose participating schools this spring.

"We are looking for motivated teachers, with support from their administration, who have the enthusiasm and desire to nurture these nascent programs," said Mike Flynn, who chairs the college's department of health and human performance.

The grant is a three-year project, and the goal is to find ways to continue projects at those schools in the future.

The TECHFIT project was tested with a small group of fifth- and sixth-graders in Indiana in 2009, and it showed positive results in engagement, learning and interest from parents, according to researchers.

Grant funds will support teacher training workshops, technology hardware for schools, and after-school programming. Students' fitness levels will be assessed before and after the program, as well as their knowledge of and interest in STEM fields.

"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," Susan Flynn said.

Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or (843) 937-5546.

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