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FoodMASTER adds tasty twist to teaching

July 26, 2007
By George Mauzy

Jennifer Mitchell learned that equal portions of carrots and celery weigh the same. Jan Slattery, who like Mitchell teaches third grade at The Plains Elementary, discovered that mayonnaise is a permanent emulsifier.

Photo by George MauzyThe pair -- and 13 other third-grade teachers who are spending three days this week on the Athens campus -- will happily take those and other lessons back to their classrooms in hopes of making science and math more exciting for their students. The teachers are participating in FoodMASTER, a program that brings science and math to life using common household items such as measuring cups, eggs, milk, grains, fruits, cereals and meats. The FoodMASTER curriculum consists of 10 chapters and 55 lessons that use food as learning tools.

"Carrots appear to be much heavier and much more dense than celery, but we found out that doesn't matter," Mitchell said.

Slattery, it turns out, learned all about emulsifiers, substances that meld two liquids that naturally separate. She discovered mustard and paprika are temporary emulsifiers when mixed with oil and vinegar, while mayonnaise creates a permanent bond between those ingredients because its egg yolks contain lecithin.

"FoodMASTER gives kids a chance to use real-life experiences to learn math, science and good nutrition," said program participant Bob Maher, an Amesville Elementary teacher. "Food is their life, and the more knowledge they have of food, the more relevant it will be in maintaining good health. Kids love hands-on learning, eating and chemical reactions. These are things they get excited about."

Melani Duffrin, an Ohio University adjunct faculty member now with East Carolina University, and Federal Hocking Local School District teacher Sharon Phillips created FoodMASTER seven years ago and, in 2005, received a $600,000 National Institutes of Health-Science Education Partnership Award to fund the project for three years.

Ten of the 15 teachers participating this week are receiving hands-on training in the kitchen. Five of those 10 will receive additional training from FoodMASTER administrators throughout the year. The remaining five will instruct children using the Virtual FoodMASTER computer game, a simulation of the hands-on training. 

Ohio University School of Telecommunications faculty members John Bowditch and Beth Novak and six undergraduate students developed the Virtual FoodMASTER game, which offers the same information as the hands-on training.

At the end of this academic year, Duffrin, project coordinator Sharon Romina and curriculum specialist Jana Hovland will analyze and compare the learning progress and health of students of participating teachers and those of others who did not participate. They also will compare the knowledge levels, health and academic performance of the students of the three groups of teachers who received FoodMASTER training together.

This week's three-day training marks FoodMASTER's official rollout, and big things are planned for the future. In September, program organizers will apply for a $250,000 NIH SEPA Phase II award that would fund the dissemination plan for the program. Duffrin and Phillips would use the money to bring the program to more schools in southeastern Ohio and also offer the program in North Carolina and other states.

"Students are motivated by food because it appeals to all of their senses," said Morrison Elementary teacher Liz Schwarzel. "With continued funding, I can see FoodMASTER becoming very popular in schools around the country. Since childhood obesity is a growing problem in the U.S., these nutritious lessons are most important because many children aren't active enough to keep the weight off."

For more information, visit www.foodmaster.org.


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Published: Jan 3, 2007 9:35:38 AM
 
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