Purdue profs use gaming to spark kids' STEM interest, improve physical fitness

November 5, 2013  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A team of Purdue technology researchers will use a $1.2 million National Science Foundation grant to tackle two national challenges: increasing children's interest in science, technology, engineering and math; and decreasing childhood obesity.

The three-year Teaching Engineering Concepts to Harness Future Innovators and Technologists (TECHFIT) project parlays kids' innate interest in video games and solving big problems to inspire them to gain the STEM skills needed to create technology-based fitness games. College of Technology professors Brad and Alka Harriger will train Indiana middle school teachers how to help their students create exergames that require players to get up and move. Getting young gamers more active can help reduce rampant childhood obesity in the United States. More importantly, showing how STEM knowledge and skills help address societal problems such obesity can get more children to study STEM subjects.

"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 the project's principal investigator.  "We really liked the idea of tying in fitness."

TECHFIT teacher workshops begin in the summer of 2014. Those teachers will return to their schools to teach 10-week afterschool programs that use technology to create fitness games. At the end of the program, participating teams will gather to show off their fitness innovations.

Brad and Alka Harriger, a professor of computer information technology, will work with teachers from four Indiana schools who will each instruct 20 students. Brad and Alka have partnered with former Purdue professors Mike and Susan Flynn, now at the College of Charleston, to similarly train five South Carolina schools.

The four professors met while watching their sons wrestle for a local high school. While brainstorming, they conceived TECHFIT, which incorporates each of their areas of expertise: controls, computing, and health and kinesiology.

The Purdue researchers conducted a pilot study at a local middle school in 2009.

"We received positive feedback from students, parents and teachers," said Alka Harriger. "We are very happy that our perseverance and strong belief in the concept paid off."

Interested teachers should contact Brad Harriger at bcharrig@purdue.edu or Alka Harriger at harrigea@purdue.edu for more information.

Writer: Jim Schenke, 765-494-6262, jschenke@purdue.edu

Sources: Brad Harriger, 765-494-7515, bcharrig@purdue.edu

Alka Harriger, 765-494-2565, harrigea@purdue.edu

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