NEW HAVEN — Professors from Marshall University’s Biomechanics program visited New Haven Elementary on Friday with their “Biomechanics Roadshow” in an effort to expose students to biomechanics, Marshall and careers in STEM-related fields.
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. MU’s Biomechanics program recently received a Governor’s STEM Mini-Grant, dispersed through the Office of Secretary of Education and the Arts in West Virginia to provide for some of the equipment in the roadshow.
Arriving to meet Kira Northup’s fifth grade science students were Dr. Suzanne Konz, associate professor and program director of Biomechanics at Marshall, and Dr. Steven Leigh, assistant professor of Marshall University Biomechanics.
Biomechanics is a relatively new program at Marshall and is part of the School of Kinesiology and College of Health Professions. When explaining what biomechanics is, Konz said, “it’s science and math as it pertains to how the body moves.”
Konz and Leigh engaged the students with several stations of STEM-based learning.
There was the force plate station where students could jump off the plate to see how much force they could generate at takeoff. A motion sensor detected the students’ movements when they stood on a foam pad to generate the data, at times standing on one leg and blindfolded. This showed the connection between visualization and balance which included an anatomy lesson and a lesson in physics as it pertained to stable and unstable surfaces.
Students also were treated to a radar gun measuring the speed of a wiffle ball being throw at Dr. Leigh and were able to jump into cornstarch to demonstrate measuring foot type and gait, which literally left an imprint on the floor…albeit temporary.
Students were then exposed to a Tendo FitroDyne device which analyzed velocity, force and power by attaching the device to their belt loops and doing a vertical jump.
“Someone who jumps the highest isn’t always going to be the most powerful because it’s about time and speed,” Konz said. “Force divided by time is power…so that (station) got into physics and movement.”
Finally students were video taped while in motion and that footage was analyzed by a specialized analysis software, allowing the professors to determine joint angles, as well as calculate timing and measurements pertaining to how fast a body is moving. Using a gonimoneter was discussed when manually measuring joint angles on the body and counting the number of frames on a camera were other ways to calculate speed.
Konz said she was impressed with the students’ willingness to participate and ask questions – one of those questions coming from a student who asked if she’d be at Marshall in 10 years when he attends.
Besides that question, Konz’s favorite moments of the day included, “the students being able to tell us what they learned…it wasn’t just the activity, it was about them understanding how our bodies move and that everybody moves individually.”
About why he felt the mini-grant and roadshow were important, Leigh stated, “I want to help raise awareness that biomechanics is a discipline, and one that is fun and practical. I also want to help Marshall connect with schools in the local area. To get students thinking about what they might do in college, show that the transition from school is achievable, and recruit for biomechanics as a practical STEM discipline.”
The roadshow next travels to St. Joe’s in Huntington but both Konz and Leigh say they are willing to travel to other area schools in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky as their schedule permits. They hope to do one roadshow a month, schedules permitting, and New Haven just happened to be first on the inaugural tour.
“My students had a blast,” Northup said. “Dr. Konz and Dr. Leigh made them look at their bodies and movement in a whole new way. I feel it is important to introduce our students to STEM activities in the elementary years of school. There are so many career possibilities using those developed skills that our children may not have the opportunity to know if it weren’t for programs such as the one Dr. Konz and Dr. Leigh presented.”
That program can also be tailored for students from elementary school through high school.
One important aspect of the roadshow for Konz is to show young girls they too can have careers in a STEM-based profession, just as she does.
“For me, that bigger piece of why I do this is to show all students but especially young girls there are different forms of STEM than what they’re expecting.”
Contact Dr. Gary McIlvain, chair and professor of the School of Kinesiology, McIlvain2@marshall.edu, 304-696-6490 for information about scheduling a visit from the “Biomechanics Roadshow.”
Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing.