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Using Props to Enhance Education

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posted by Research Admin 1 on 14 February 2020

Food & Nutrition magazine, 13 February, 2020

Nutrition education is a dynamic tool used to empower people to make healthful food and beverage choices. Effective nutrition educators enhance learning by tailoring messages to the needs of their audience(s).

As graduate students, we’ve had the opportunity to educate individuals of varying ages and abilities who seek nutrition information, lifestyle change and/or health improvement. Understanding that separate strategies are necessary to engage people with varied learning styles, we created a 3D atherosclerosis simulator to engage kinesthetic learners in studying heart health. 

Inspired by a large-scale display at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, PA, the arteries were constructed using clear PVC pipes, PVC pipe caps, white silicone caulking, red glass gems and mineral oil. The flexible PVC pipes represent arterial walls and the silicone caulking represents rigid plaque accumulation. Inside, the red glass gems represent red blood cells while the mineral oil serves as blood plasma. The simulator shows (in real time) that blood flows more slowly in atherosclerotic arteries due to the presence of arterial plaque.

By building props, we were able to present pathophysiology with a relatable, easy-to-understand visual. This ‘hands-on’ approach helped spectators grasp key concepts and spark behavior change.

The simulators are currently being used by the Department of Sports Medicine and Nutrition to enhance nutrition education at the University of Pittsburgh and its neighboring communities.

Jessica Rea is completing her second year in the Dietitian Nutritionist Program (MS) at the University of Pittsburgh. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Nutrition & Dietetics at the University of Pittsburgh. Her professional areas of interest include chronic disease management, health education, and food access. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Madeline Hric is a dietetic intern and graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, completing her rotations at St. Clair Hospital. Her undergraduate degree in Exercise Science fueled her interest in sports nutrition. Her other interest areas include oncology nutrition. Connect with her on LinkedIn.