New project pairs technology with fitness

Created on: October 21, 2013

A new project by Purdue professors Brad Harriger and Alka Harriger combines two of the nation’s grand challenges: increasing interest in STEM programs and fighting childhood obesity.

The National Science Foundation has awarded $1.2 million to the Harrigers and their research partners for support of their three-year project titled Teaching Engineering Concepts to Harness Future Innovators and Technologists (TECHFIT). It is being funded as part of NSF’s Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program.

The TECHFIT program will teach middle school teachers how to deliver a 10-week afterschool program that uses technology to create fitness games. At the end of the program, participating teams will gather to show off their fitness innovations. Teachers who successfully complete and implement the program will be eligible for a stipend and professional development credit

“We looked at existing systems like Dance Dance Revolution and Wii Fit and wondered how we could use something similar to get kids excited about our academic fields,” said Brad Harriger, professor of mechanical engineering technology, and principal investigator for the project.  “We really liked the idea of tying in fitness.”

Other researchers on the project are Mike Flynn, chair of the Department of Health and Human Performance at the College of Charleston (S.C.), and Susan Flynn, instructor in the departments of Teacher Education and Health and Human Performance at the College of Charleston. The Flynns are former Purdue professors. (See coverage of the Flynns in the Charleston Post and Courier.)

The four researchers met several years ago when their sons competed on the same high school wrestling team. As they attended practices and meets, they started brainstorming projects that could incorporate each of their areas of expertise: controls, computing, and health and kinesiology. TECHFIT is the result of their time together.

“We conducted a pilot study in 2009 at a local middle school and got positive feedback from students, parents and teachers,” said Alka Harriger, a professor of computer and information technology. “We are very happy that our perseverance and strong belief in the concept paid off.”.

Nine schools will participate in the first year of the program – four in Indiana and five in South Carolina. The goal is to involve 180 6th-8th graders, 20 at each school. Each team will have the same goal using the same technology: create an innovative, technology-based fitness game (aka exergame).

The first workshops for teachers will be offered in Summer 2014 followed by afterschool program implementation during the 2014-15 school year.

Interested teachers should contact Brad Harriger (bcharriger@purdue.edu) or Alka Harriger (harrigea@purdue.edu) for more information.

Read the NSF Award Abstract.

(Photo: Brad Harriger and student Dustin Wise (MFET '09) demonstrate for middle schoolers the technology behind a fitness game.)

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