Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Gaming lunch: how USU research aims to improve nutrition in schools

Editor's Note: After being named the college's top researcher, Gregory Madden was recognized as Faculty Researcher of the Year at the Utah State University Robins Awards. Here's a peek at some of his latest research.

By JoLynne Lyon

Utah State University’s Dr. Gregory Madden is a behavioral economist.

It’s important to say that up front, because his latest published research involves heroes, villains, space adventures, interactive storylines, marketing—and vegetables.

picture of Lynx
Lynx is one of the
FIT Game heros
The objective: Use a cliffhanger story to encourage elementary school children to eat nutritious foods in the cafeteria. The FIT Game allows elementary school students to take part in an ongoing battle between four heroic characters (the FITs) and the Vegetable Annihilation Team (VAT), a band of villains who seek to destroy all vegetation in the universe. If the students meet their goal and eat enough fruits and vegetables, they get to hear what happens next in this story of good versus evil.  If they exceed their goal, they receive bonus incentives, like virtual currency or fuel that will help the heroes in their quest to capture a VAT member.

It was an effective strategy. Children at the Bear River Charter School in Logan Utah increased their fruit consumption by 66 percent and ate 44 percent more vegetables after playing the FIT Game. Six months later, when researchers returned to the school for another round, they were surprised to find students were still eating 45 percent more fruit than the prior year’s baseline.

During the second round, researchers added a “competition” that challenged students to eat more than their counterparts in fictitious schools on other planets. The students responded by doubling the amount of vegetables eaten and increasing fruit consumption by an additional 44 percent.

photo of children
School children interacted with the
plot--for example they chose which
planet to visit next.
The goal of the FIT Game is to give children a low-cost incentive to eat better, without overburdening teachers. The results have just been published in PLoS ONE, in a paper authored by Brooke Jones, a USU graduate assistant; Madden, a professor in the USU Psychology department; Heidi Wengreen of USU’s Nutrition and Food Science Department, Sheryl S. Aguilar of Applied Nutrition Research at USU, and Anne Desjardins, the Bear River Charter School’s principal.

The game keeps evolving. The next phase of the FIT Game took place at Edith Bowen Laboratory School at Utah State University. There, Madden said the children were already eating about two-thirds of the fruits and vegetables they were supposed to eat at lunchtime, but when they played the FIT Game their consumption increased to recommended levels and beyond.

Fallon Farokhi, a teacher at Edith Bowen, liked the intervention, especially how easy it was to implement in her classroom. “I just had the students read the update out loud.”

photo of Brooke Jones
Brooke Jones
Her fourth-grade students wanted to know what happened next. “They were making predictions, they were asking questions.”

She liked that the competitions pitted the whole school against fictional schools. “It was nice because everyone had to band together,” she said.

illustration of Sloog
Sloog is one of the VAT villains. 
Jones, a doctoral candidate in experimental and applied psychological science, was in the schools working with teachers and cafeteria staff. She also worked with Madden on the narrative. He wrote it, and she helped with the editing.

“I was really surprised at how much the kids were interested in the story,” she said. If they missed a segment they found Jones and asked her what happened.

The results from the FIT Game at Edith Bowen have been written up and accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, but the article has not yet rolled off the press.

What happens next? The researchers are experimenting with presenting the story’s episodes in comic book pages, which are posted on a bulletin board. The comic book sets up a narrative in which the children play mini-games by eating more fruits and vegetables.

The comic book version of the FIT Game can be played without interrupting classroom activities. The
photo of Greg Madden
Dr. Greg Madden
initial results are encouraging, as students ate a full serving of vegetables on average when they played a mini-game.

Madden and his colleagues’ research is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture. They are eager to work with more schools whose staff members are interested in improving healthy behavior in their school.

To find out how to involve your school, email Dr. Madden: greg.madden[at]

Thursday, April 17, 2014

New resource for gifted & talented education

Dr. Scott Hunsaker requested that the Adele & Dale Young Education Technology Center (The YETC) put together a resource website for his class on gifted and talented education.  We were happy to oblige.

So, on this new website - - you'll find resources relating to the curriculum areas of science, math, technology, language arts, fine arts, social sciences, physical education, recreation, and health.  As well, you'll find resources on grants, new technologies, and much more!  It is still a work in progress, but we invite you to explore the resources we've added to it so far.  We would also invite you to share any wonderful gifted and talented resources with us by contacting us through the "About" section of the website.

Nathan Smith, Director of the YETC

Image - Gifted and Talented Resources website
Image - Gifted and Talented Resources website

Monday, April 14, 2014

Research spurs discussion on sport, pressure and parents

By JoLynne Lyon

If money can’t buy a young athlete’s love, what can it buy?

Sports equipment, maybe. A tournament entry fee. A personal trainer. But it all may come with a hidden cost: The child’s perception of parental pressure.

Over the last year, Family, Consumer, and Human Development Assistant Professor Travis Dorsch led a research team to study the relationship between sport spending and a child athlete’s enjoyment. They discovered good things — parental support was a significant, positive factor in a child’s enjoyment and motivation to continue.

But they also found an indirect correlation between high sport spending on the family’s part and lower enjoyment for the child athlete.

The study is still being submitted for publication, but it’s generating some buzz in the media world (and over dinner tables). While the study is about family spending, it is also about pressure, which child athletes seem to feel at younger and younger ages.

“I don’t think a parent would put in the money and pressure their kid to do something they didn’t want to do,” said Kevin Rothlisberger, one of the undergraduate researchers who worked on the study. “All the parents reported that they didn’t feel like they were pressuring their child.”

But sometimes the children perceived it differently. “What the child may call pressure, the parent may call support,” said Dorsch.

Those parents may hope that the money spent on sports now may result in a payoff later: a scholarship or a professional career. “But for every child who gets a scholarship or plays professionally there are probably a thousand families that don’t get anything.”

You can read more about the study in Forbes, Yahoo!, KSL, the University Herald and Utah State Today.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

21 CEHS researchers honored at USU awards gala

photo of Greg Madden
Dr. Gregory Madden
Gregory Madden has been named the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services Researcher of the Year for 2014.

He was honored on April 8 at Utah State University's 2104 Research Awards Gala. Dean Beth Foley accepted his award in his behalf, because he is currently on sabbatical.

The event also honored 20 other  college researchers (more on that below).

Gregory served as the editor of the Journal of Experimental Analysis of Behavior and is currently acting as the editor-in-chief of the two-volume APA Handbook of Behavior Analysis. He has demonstrated invaluable leadership within the field of psychology.

He serves on several advisory committees and ad-hoc grant review panels, and his peer-reviewed publications have been cited more than 3000 times.

Gregory's research is largely focused on the behavioral economics of addiction and health decision-making, specifically on impulsive decision-making.

Another line of his research explores behavioral economic approaches to influencing the dietary choices of children.

His research endeavors are supported by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the US Department of Agriculture.

"Not only is Dr. Madden a prolific researcher, but he is a wonderful mentor to students whom he involves in his research work," said Gretchen Peacock, the Psychology department head.

"Greg is a true academic," said Michael Twohig, a psychology associate professor who coedited a special issue of the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior with Madden. "He researches to learn how things work and to make a difference; he publishes papers to share his findings."

In addition, these CEHS researchers were honored:

Large grant recipients

faculty who have received more than $1 million in external funding in 2013

photo of Ann Austin
Ann Austin
Family, Consumer, and Human Development

Dr. Austin is a professor of child development at Utah State University and founding director of the Center for Women and Gender. She has an active research program focusing on the child care quality of centers where children on state subsidies are usually found, preschool children's development of mathematics understanding, and child development and mothering in the developing world. She has served as major professor for more than 50 masters and doctoral students and was nominated by undergraduate students in 2010 to give the "Last Lecture."

photo of John Copenhaver
John Copenhaver
Center for Persons with Disabilities

John D. Copenhaver is the director of the Center for Technical Assistance for Excellence in Special Education (TAESE) at the Center for Persons with Disabilities. TAESE is located at the Innovations Campus and has contracts to provide technical assistance in special education to twenty states across the country, from Georgia to Alaska. He has been at TAESE for the past 22 years. He has also served in many capacities, including special education teacher, school psychologist, and school administration. He has extensive experience working with children with disabilities and Native American children. He serves on several state and national advisory boards.

photo of Bryce Fifield
Bryce Fifield
Center for Persons with Disabilities

Dr. Bryce Fifield is the director of USU's Center for Persons with Disabilities. His research focuses on developing effective approaches to increase the inclusion and independence of people with disabilities and their families. Among his current efforts are projects providing disability services to Native American children and youth in the Four Corners area, developing habilitative environments using smart home technologies, and documenting the lives and experiences of early Utah pioneers who had disabilities. Dr. Fifield also serves on several local, state, and national advisory and governance committees serving the disability community.

Photo of Brian Higginbotham
Dr. Brian Higginbotham
Family, Consumer, and Human Development

Dr. Brian Higginbotham is the associate vice president of USU Extension and a faculty member in the Deartment of Family, Consumer, and Human Development. He researches programs that promote relationship knowledge, skills and satisfaction. He has received funding for relationship education programming, including Smart Steps for Stepfamilies, Love and Logic, and How to Avoid Falling for a Jerk/Jerkette. Additionally, his co-authored Marriage Handbook is used in high schools around the state and is distributed by county clerks when couples receive marriage licenses.

Judith Holt
Center for Persons with Disabilities

Dr. Judith Hold was appointed as the director of the Interdisciplinary Training Division in March 2000. She has extensive experience in designing, implementing, and evaluating supports and services for children, youth and adults with disabilities and their families and support systems. Dr. Holt is a strong advocate for consumer direction and choice. She has developed numerous educational materials that focus on the key concepts of independent living. She currently directs numerous grants and contracts including the Utah Regional Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (URLEND).

Mark Innocenti
Center for Persons with Disabilities

Mark is a director for the Research and Evaluation Division at the Center for Persons with Disabilities, and an associate professor in psychology. Mark has over 30 years of experience working with infants and young children at-risk and with disabilities. He also works with their families. He has headed up multiple research projects and has conducted research and evaluation on various aspects of home visiting and preschool intervention services.

photo of Eric Packenham
Eric Packenham
School of Teacher Education and Leadership

Eric D. Packenham is the principal investigator and project director for all aspects of the USU GEAR UP program. He is a senior lecturer in science education in the School of Teacher Education and Leadership, specializing in science teacher development and science career access. Packenham's work in science education has focused on the professional development of science teachers and coordinating enrichment programs in mathematics and science for female and minority students. He has presented at numerous national conferences and served on national advisory boards and panels throughout his years in science education, been on several review teams and panels for the National Science Foundation, has co-authored a book chapter, and has been active in education for more than twenty years.

Photo of Cyndi Rowland
Cyndi Rowland
Center for Persons with Disabilities

Cyndi is the associate director at the Center for Persons with Disabilities, where she has engaged in research, tool development, education and policy and standards work at both the national and international level for more than 20 years. She is the director of the New Mexico i3 validation project "StartSmart K-3 Plus," which is assessing outcomes of an innovative educational program. As part of the National Center of Disability and Access to Education, Cynci is principal investigator on a project to assist postsecondary institutions as they make a decision to commit to enterprise-wide web accessibility.

Karl White
National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management

Psychology professor Dr. Karl White is the founding director of the $50 million of competitively funded research at USU. He is recognized as one of the world's leading authorities on early identification and treatment of heaering loss and has been recognized with awards from various organizations around the world. He has hundreds of publications and presentations at scholarly meetings and has been an invited speaker to more than 35 countries. He also serves on many national and international advisory groups for organizations such as the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the World Health Organization, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

2013 Fellows

Fellows of scientific societies are typically associated with the top 5 percent of their society and are recognized by their peers as a leader with a career of work in their fields.

Sandra Gillam
Communicative Disorders and Deaf Education

Maria Norton
Family, Consumer, and Human Development 

2014 undergraduate research faculty mentor

Elizabeth Fauth
Family, Consumer, and Human Development

2013 Sunrise Session Presenter

Maria Norton
Family, Consumer, and Human Development

Faculty NSF Career Awardees

Brian Belland
Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences

Victor Lee
Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences

Jessica Hunt
Special Education and Rehabilitation

Faculty Authors

Gina Cook
Center for Persons with Disabilities

Deborah A. Fields
Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences

Mark S. Innocenti

Robert L. Morgan
Special Education and Rehabilitation

D. Ray Reutzel
School of Teacher Education and Leadership

Lori A. Roggman
Family, Consumer, and Human Development

Monday, April 7, 2014

Financial Health Celebration

Utah State Treasurer Richard K. Ellis
By Sue Reeves

What began as a single thought by Lucy Delgadillo, an associate professor in the Department of Family, Consumer and Human Development, culminated in a Common Hour presentation on Wednesday, April 2 and a declaration by Gov. Gary Herbert designating April as Financial Health Month in Utah.

Utah State Treasurer Richard K. Ellis urged students to start saving for retirement with their very first paycheck.

“You may not be thinking about retirement now, but it will be here before you know it,” Ellis said. “You have to save 15 percent of every paycheck you earn as soon as you start working or you won’t have enough for retirement.”

Ellis said that about half of the people age 64-75 have less than $70,000 in a retirement account. If they are used to living on $50,000 a year, that retirement fund will only last for a year and a half.

You need to educate yourselves on a day to day basis to feel confident when you retire,” he said. “It starts today when you’re a college student. The decisions you make today will affect your life. It can be peaceful or full of stress. It’s never too late or too early for good financial habits.”

“Financial health is important,” Delgadillo said. “It’s a process that is also a destination. We have to recognize that finances are part of our life’s journey.”

Much emphasis has been placed on the numerical part of finances, Delgadillo said, but financial health also includes an emotional component—the attitudes we have about money, security, status and spending.

Delgadillo said the event was an invitation to be informed about financial health and to foster a dialogue with significant others to have better understanding and more control of finances in their lives.

As part of the celebration, finance students staffed informational tables outside the lecture hall after the presentation to help fellow students understand more about credit card debt, student loans, mortgages and investments. Fortune cookies, complete with predictions about your future financial health, were given away.

Check out more about the event in The Herald Journal and on our Facebook page.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Celebrate your Financial Health for Life

photo of event poster
Celebrate your Financial Health for Life during the Common Hour on Wednesday, April 2 at the Eccles Science Learning Center.

The event begins with an address from USU officials and State Treasury Secretary Richard Ellis at 11:30 in ESLC Room 130. 

Following the presentation, 20 Family Finance seniors will be available to offer free financial consultations on student loans, credit card debt, credit scores, mortgages, investments for retirement, free financial evaluations and assessments. 

“If we believe life is a journey, personal and family finances need to be part of it,” said Lucy Delgadillo, an associate professor who successfully petitioned the governor’s office to declare April as Utah’s first ever Financial Health Month. 

“When people have a better understanding of their money habits, biases and the emotional triggers that foster overspending, they will be more in control of their own finances.”

The student counselors will address topics like these:
  • There are organizations that will help pay off your student debt if you do volunteer work.
  • If you make less than 200 percent of the poverty level for your family, you can put up to $400 into your child’s Utah Educational Savings Plan and receive a dollar for dollar match.
  • Most financial “aid” is in the form of a loan.
  • You can open a savings account for your child as soon as you have their social security number.
Sign-ups for free financial counseling and free financial coaching will also be available.

 For more information contact Lucy Delgadillo at 435-797-7204.

Friday, March 21, 2014

CEHS researchers: Math digital learning programs make a difference

By JoLynne Lyon

When the state of Utah had the chance to test-drive some math digital learning programs earlier in the school year, the Active LearningLab at Utah State University began evaluating the results.

And so far, it’s looking like digital learning programs designed to give students individual math instrcuction are helpful.

Several vendors donated their products to the STEM Action Center of Utah, which were then used in a pilot program by 5,722 students in 46 selected Utah schools.

The researchers from the Active Learning Lab started tracking and analyzing the results among students who used the new products. Preliminary numbers became available earlier this month.

graph of results

Active Learning Lab Associate Director Sarah Brasiel presented the team’s findings to the Utah Legislature. Students using ALEKS, Successmaker and Math 180 made as much progress as is normally expected in a whole year, according to the report. ST Math turned in only slightly lower results. Grade 10 students using EdReady made five times the progress expected.

Students who used Think Through Math did not experience the same gains, but the researchers did find that people who used it liked it. “Due to positive teacher and student responses to the use of Think Through Math, it is important to wait to draw conclusions about its effectiveness until the state assessment results are available,” the paper recommended.

The results come with some clarifications. The Math 180 and Ed Ready data didn’t include a control group, and gains made by students may be unrelated to the curriculum used. Different methodologies were used to study some of the curricula, due to differing data sets and student assessment methods.

When all the limitations were taken together, ALEKS was the only products where a statistically significant difference was found (meaning students who used it outperformed those who did not). The study covers only a short period of time, so the data will be understood better at the end of the year assessment, Brasiel said.

Two products new to Utah in 2012-13 were also assessed using data from last school year. Significant differences were found for Grade 8 students who used ConnectEd and Mathia digital learning programs compared to similar students who did not.

The study represents a rare opportunity to independently review and evaluate math digital learning programs. Data on the effectiveness of a curriculum isn’t always easy to find, said Taylor Martin, the Active Learning Lab’s director.

The evaluation by the Active Learning Lab will help educators to make decisions based on how the digital learning program performs. What’s more, the pilot allowed for feedback from students and teachers, so that people who select curricula can know not only what worked according to numbers, but also what teachers liked. “This is the kind of practice that’s being called for across the nation,” Brasiel said.

The Utah Legislature voted to give the STEM Action Center $20 million in funding when it approved HB 150. The bill currently awaits Governor Herbert’s signature.

Related links: