December 2006 // Volume 44 // Number 6 // Ideas at Work // 6IAW4
Experiential-Based Learning and Peer Teaching Boost Elementary Students' Calcium Intake
This article describes a nutrition education project that exposed students to experiential-based learning activities and peer-teaching models to improve their knowledge and dietary behaviors related to dairy foods. The students engaged in hands-on activities like milking cows, measuring portions, and the Dairy Detective Adventure at the county fair. 4-H club members were included in the project as peer-teachers. Dairy Food Frequency Questionnaires (pre and post program) indicated that students made significant changes in the variety and frequency of dairy food consumed. Upon completion, close to 90% of the students were consuming at least three dairy servings each day.
Widespread calcium deficiency among America's youth is placing them at future risk of major health problems, including osteoporosis. Government data indicate that the diets of children and adolescents fall short of calcium recommendations. Poor food choices, specifically over-consumption of foods with minimal nutritional value and under-consumption of nutrient rich foods such as milk, are partly to blame for the calcium crisis.
Over 70 students, from four classrooms at Reiche and Riverton schools participated in the University of Maine Cooperative Extension's 3 A Day of Dairy Project from September to December 2004. The project objective was to include students in experiential-based learning activities to improve their knowledge and dietary behaviors related to dairy foods. Project activities focused on the entire dairy production process, from farm to table. A connection between dairy farming and dairy products was established through field trips and interactive classroom lessons. The participants came from three 3rd grade classrooms and one English as a Second Language 4th – 5th classroom. Participating students were: 62% female, 38% male, 45% Caucasian, 38% African/African American, 15% Asian, and 2% Hispanic.
As "Dairy Detectives," the students engaged in hands-on activities like milking a cow on their class field trip to Pineland Farms and uncovering clues in the 4-H Exhibition Hall, Dairy Barns, and Food Midway to solve the Dairy Detective Scavenger Hunt held on Maine Agriculture Day at the Cumberland County Fair (Figures 1 and 2). Interactive classroom lessons were designed to help meet the Maine Learning Results for Health and included these topics: Dairy Foods & Dairy Servings, Moo to You: Dairy Origins, Calcium and Bone Health.
Youth Learn How to Milk a Cow on Their Class Field Trip.
Youth Engage in Hands-On Activities at the County Fair.
Each 45-minute classroom lesson included hands-on activities to reinforce the main concepts that were taught. Activities and companion materials were designed for students to share their learning experiences peers and family members, thus empowering them to be advocates for a lifetime of healthy eating. Through writing in the students' Dairy Journals, they were able to: express their opinions about new dairy foods they had tried and dairy foods that they liked, record how many servings they had eaten from the dairy group and answer the dairy question of the week.
Members of the Cumberland County All-Star Dairy 4-H Club were included in the project as peer-teachers. This peer-teaching arrangement fostered greater understanding of dairy farming and Maine's rich agricultural heritage for urban youth, as well as exposed members of the 4-H Dairy Club to Portland's growing ethnic population. Through participation in classroom lessons and field trips and sharing their personal stories of raising dairy cows and becoming pen-pal correspondents, 4-H members served as influential mentors who taught the urban students about raising dairy cows and helped them to gain a better understanding of the dairy food industry. 4-H members identified nine life skills from the 4-H Targeting Life Skills Wheel that they used and improved upon while participating in this project. These life skills included: social skills, sharing, leadership, teamwork, and healthy lifestyle choices.
The project finale included a "Dairy is Delicious" classroom event to share the group projects students had developed. Fellow students were educated and entertained through songs, poems, drawings and skits.
Baseline information indicated that 33% of participating students consumed less than the three recommended servings of dairy foods each day prior to this project. Dairy Food Frequency Questionnaires collected pre and post program indicated that students made significant changes in the variety and frequency of the dairy foods they consumed. At the end of the program, close to 90% of the students were consuming at least three dairy servings each day.
Pre and post assessments of dairy knowledge also demonstrated significant changes (Table 1). A 70% improvement was demonstrated in the students' ability to identify three health benefits of consuming at least three servings of dairy foods each day. Students were also better able to identify dairy foods, dairy serving sizes, daily dairy serving requirements, and dairy production techniques. A 6-month post project assessment was conducted to evaluate the long-term impact and knowledge retention.
|Question||Pre %||Post %||6-Month Post %|
|Identify 3 Dairy Foods||42||100||100|
|Identify 3 Health Benefits||8||78||89|
|Identify Dairy Serving Sizes||9||62||58|
|Identify Dairy Servings/Day||41||79||84|
Participating teachers rated the Dairy is Delicious Project as excellent and indicated that the project helped their students meet Maine Learning Results. The standards this project helped them meet were identified as: Health Education, Science, Social Studies, and Visual and Performing Arts.
To foster project sustainability, eight Dairy is Delicious teaching tool kits were developed and distributed to the four participating teachers and to Regional Supervisors of the Eat Well Program. Over 38 Nutrition Aides have access to these tool kits to deliver elementary level dairy nutrition education lessons. The toolkits contained resources used in the interactive classroom lessons such as books, National Dairy Council materials, and pre/post-test tools.
With national data indicating that two out of three school-age children are not getting the calcium they need, it is important to develop positive eating behaviors through experiential-based learning and peer-teaching programs such as these to improve their overall diet, including 3-A-Day of Dairy.
This project was funded through a Maine Dairy and Nutrition Council 3-A-Day of Dairy Grant awarded to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). (2005). Dietary guidelines for Americans 2005. 5 – 12.