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ECU's FoodMASTER program receives $504,000 NIH grant

GREENVILLE, N.C.   (Oct. 31, 2008)   —   East Carolina University researchers have received a $504,000 grant to study how K-12 students can use food to learn science, math and nutrition concepts.

The National Center for Research Resources, a part of the National Institutes of Health, awarded the grant, which is a 2008 Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA).

The money will fund Phase II of the FoodMASTER initiative, a program that brings science, math and nutrition concepts to life through the use of common items such as measuring cups and spoons, cereals, flour, fruits, vegetables and milk.

“FoodMASTER is intended to demonstrate that K-12 students who are engaged in hands-on, inquiry-based learning activities using food as a tool are better prepared to demonstrate and apply scientific knowledge and understand how research can help extend healthy life,” said Melani Duffrin, professor of nutrition and dietetics at ECU.

Duffrin developed the FoodMASTER program at Ohio University in 2005 with elementary school teacher Sharon Phillips.

In Phase I of the project, Duffrin, Phillips and Jana Hovland, FoodMASTER associate director for Ohio, created a 45-lesson FoodMASTER curriculum for third- through fifth-grade students. The lesson plans use food preparation and handling to improve students’ math and science skills. An interactive, computer version of the program was also developed.

In Phase II, Duffrin and ECU colleagues David Rivera of Hospitality Management and Michael Bosse of Mathematics and Science Education, will use the new grant to research the effects of the FoodMASTER multimedia materials and investigate how best to share the curriculum with teachers.

“Children love anything to do with food and food preparation,” Duffrin said. “We’ve been watching enthusiastic, young students engage in scientific processes such as measurement, data collection, critical thinking and comparative analysis in very natural self directed ways, and it’s exciting.”

The NIH Science Education Partnership Awards support learning that stimulates interest in science, advances public understanding of health issues, and encourages the next generation of health and science professionals. With an emphasis on reducing health disparities, the program's K-12 projects target minorities and students in rural and underserved communities.

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Contact: Peggy Novotny | 252-328-2882