Strong minds start with strong bodies and one out of three California fifth, seventh, and ninth graders is doing well in this area based on results from the latest annual statewide Physical Fitness Test results. Enhanced STEM education would help the remaining two-thirds.
It’s well known that science, technology, engineering and math — or STEM — education is increasingly critical to the state, which will have nearly 1.2 million STEM-related jobs to fill within the next five years.
A growing body of research also supports STEM education as a way to improve students’ health. Healthy adults typically formed good habits as children. Those habits start with understanding how the body works — and how to help it work better.
Innovators are using STEM education as an interdisciplinary approach to help students translate classroom learning into hands-on strategies for alleviating societal challenges including health-related issues such as childhood obesity.
Researchers at Purdue University, for example, have just been given the green light to expand a pilot program, Teaching Engineering Concepts to Harness Future Innovators and Technologists, or TECHFIT, that helps students apply their STEM knowledge toward technology-based fitness games called exergames, inspired by popular interactive games such as Wii Fit and Dance Dance Revolution.
Professors at Clemson University’s College of Health, Education, and Human Development have also designed subject-by-subject STEM lesson plans that reinforce core academic concepts with physical activities in the classroom. For example, students learning about the solar system divide into pairs, select question cards about the planets, and foot dribble a ball to the correct planet station until the class has visited all the planets. Activities such as this one help reinforce healthy mind/body habits in students.
Nearly 500 students from four North Carolina school systems recently participated in the BioMoto program sponsored by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. Through BioMoto, students applied lessons from core STEM subjects to improve their physical fitness through biotechnology and motor sports.
Not only did students gain valuable knowledge and skills related to their potential future careers, their overall health improved, including greater muscular strength, reduced body fat and aerobic and anaerobic fitness.
As many opportunities as there are to improve California students’ physical fitness outside the classroom, we must not overlook in-classroom opportunities to link fitness with STEM education, which can help students excel in both mind and body throughout their lives.