NSF Awards Kent State Researchers $1.3 Million to Nourish Children’s Minds, Fill Their Bellies
Science is complex, and it’s difficult to discuss it with children under the best circumstances; it’s even more difficult when they are hungry.
Two Kent State University researchers may have cooked up a way to solve both of those problems, and the National Science Foundation just awarded them a three-year, $1.3 million grant to determine if their recipe works.
Bradley Morris, Ph.D., associate professor of educational psychology in the College of Education, Health and Human Services, and John Dunlosky, Ph.D., professor of psychological sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences — both co-directors of the Science of Learning and Education (SOLE) Center at Kent State — have teamed up to help parents use cooking as an appetizer for engaging their children in conversations about science.
“One of the big barriers to science is that people think ‘I don’t know a lot about science, so how am I going to teach my kids about it?’” Dunlosky said. “Food is a good context because people eat or prepare food all the time, and it’s not necessarily something that has a lot of bad connotations with science.”
Although the project will cater to all families, it focuses on serving those with food insecurity or living in food deserts. To do so, Dunlosky and Morris will partner with the Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC) and Cincinnati-area soup kitchen La Soupe.
At the museum, families will find demonstration carts where a trained cook will put together a simple dish — such as macaroni and cheese or pancakes — and get the children asking “why, what and how” questions about the process.
“The recipe might even fail,” Morris said. “Say the pancakes don’t rise or the mac ’n’ cheese looks horrible, and you’d say ‘well, this is because the mac ’n’ cheese needs an emulsifier,’ and they’d ask ‘what’s an emulsifier, and how does that work?’ Maybe not using those terms but just starting the conversation to get them into asking thoughtful questions at the shallow end of the science pool.”
Every participating family also will take home a “Carry-Out Science” tote bag, containing multiple recipes and guides for parents to engage in meaningful conversations with their children while cooking.
“We want to think about a different way to help parents be engaged,” Morris said. “So you set it up so the parents don’t need to know everything about science; they just need to help their children ask questions like ‘let’s figure out how that might work’ or ‘let’s figure out how to seek information about why this recipe isn’t working.’”
The team also will collaborate with Cincinnati-based soup kitchen La Soupe to work the model into their programs like “Cincinnati Gives a Crock,” a workshop that teaches kids how to make simple recipes in a slower cooker, which they take home – slow cooker and all – to their families.
“One of the major problems with education in the United States is children coming to school hungry; they can’t concentrate, and it’s hard to make progress, not to mention emotional disturbances, just because they’re undernourished,” Dunlosky said. “Not that this particular project will solve all those problems, but it’s just one small step we can take to really support families and children who visit super places like La Soupe and the Cincinnati Museum Center.”
“Cincinnati Museum Center is thrilled to partner with Kent State, La Soupe and the National Science Foundation to explore how food science can benefit our community,” said Whitney Owens, chief learning officer for Cincinnati Museum Center. “This national grant recognizes CMC as a unique and important research site with broad reach, a vibrant partner network, and strong educators and programs. It’s a huge accomplishment to bring this kind of opportunity and attention to our region.”
Cincinnati Museum Center guests should keep an eye out for prototypes of the program beginning this year.
For more information about Kent State’s Science of Learning and Education Center, visit www.kent.edu/sole.
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Kent State: Dan Pompili, firstname.lastname@example.org, 330-672-0731; or Emily Vincent, email@example.com, 330-672-8595
Cincinnati Museum Center: Cody Hefner, firstname.lastname@example.org, 513-287-7054