By Mark Lynch
An NUI Galway-based medical device research centre is encouraging more secondary school girls to become interested in science, while also aiming to increase their participation in exercise.
CÚRAM, the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Research Centre for Medical Devices based at NUI Galway, is launching cross-curricular resources for secondary school teachers to increase teenage girls’ interest in both learning science and participating in exercise. The ‘Strength in Science’ project is funded by SFI’s Discover Programme, and is a collaboration of researchers, science teachers, physical education (PE) teachers, and fitness instructors.
Just 8% of female secondary school students in Ireland receive 60 minutes of PE per week, which is the amount recommended by the Department of Education and Skills. The most common reason given for the shortage of PE time was time pressure due to schoolwork. By strongly linking PE lessons to the science curriculum through the launch of the cross-curricular resources, CÚRAM hopes that educators will not feel as if the time dedicated to PE is taking away from preparing for exams.
Four lesson plan kits are available for secondary school teachers, all of which are linked to the Junior Cycle PE and Science curricula, but can also be used for Senior Cycle and later primary school students. The kits integrate the work of world-leading, Irish researchers with the scientific effects of exercise on different areas of the body to prevent vascular disease, osteoporosis, stroke, and neurodegenerative disorders. NUI Galway researchers featured include vascular surgeon Ms Niamh Hynes, biomedical engineer Professor Laoise McNamara, and neuroscientists Dr Karen Doyle, Dr Séan Fitzgerald, Dr Una FitzGerald, Dr Jill McMahon, and Enrico Bagnoli.
Each kit includes a lesson plan for teachers, a short video, and a flyer covering the topic for students to share with family members. Additionally, a booklet is available describing unique extra–curricular exercises available in Ireland such as cheerleading, Zumba, dance, circus performance, yoga, and CrossFit. Fitness professionals contributing to the project include Donna Larkin from CrossFit Galway/French Vanoli, Stuntworx Elite Gymnastics and Cheer, Classes Withmel, FITTSteps Training, Ashtanga Yoga Galway, 4M Dance Centre and Galway Community Circus.
Clair Hogan, a PE teacher at Salerno Secondary School, expressed her delight at the newly available resources, saying, “This is a wonderful pack for the classroom. The lesson plans are fun and easy to implement. The videos are excellent and visually allow the students to link the scientific facts they learn in their science lessons to the benefits they get in their bodies when exercising”.
Professor Abhay Pandit, Scientific Director of CÚRAM at NUI Galway, outlined his optimism, stating, “We hope that students will be able to contextualise scientific concepts by understanding the effects of physical activity on their bodies and how it can prevent chronic illnesses. We want to make science more personal and relevant to teenagers by linking how the biology and physics involved in exercise affects their health”.