Saturday, February 18, 2017
Exhibit Hall (Hynes Convention Center)
Sarah Nakasone, Army Educational Outreach Program, Silver Spring, MD
Despite the public health crises currently affecting the US, public health employment has declined, leaving the field vastly understaffed. Early education can be an effective method of increasing interest in and awareness of the subject but most public health curricula for K-12 students is either confined to paper-and-pencil activities or is too lengthy to be used in classrooms. This study aimed to assess the impact simulation-based learning (lessons that are both brief and ultra-immersive) could have on attempts to introduce middle and high school students to public health topics. Students (n=173) participated in a public health simulation where they were asked to investigate the outbreak of an unidentified disease. During the simulation, students rotated among four stations, collecting clues about the epidemic in order to identify the pathogen. Pre- and post-surveys revealed that all age groups had a statistically significant (p<0.01) increases in their interest in learning about public health (academic interest) as well as their interest in pursuing a career involving public health (career interest) with fairly consistent gains across age groups. 7th and 8th grade students (n=53) reported a 1.25-point increase in academic interest and a 1.11-point increase in career interest. 9th and 10th grade students (n=71) reported increases of 0.83 and 1.28 while 11th and 12th grade students (n=49) reported increases of 0.73 and 1.29 respectively. All of these increases were measured on 11-point Likert scales. Students were also more likely define public health as a broad field (e.g. dealt with more than biological pathogens) but were not more likely to say that public health looks at population-level concerns instead of individual-level ones. Qualitative comments showed that the students generally enjoyed the lesson though the reasons as to why varied by age group. 7th and 8th grade students were more likely to cite the interactivity of the lesson as their favorite part (n=16) while 9th and 10th grade students like the puzzle/mystery aspect (n=15) and 11th and 12th grade students preferred the activities that simulated contact tracing (n=12). Limitations of this study include the inability to follow up with students after the activity. Future studies should be conducted to determine if these gains in interest in public health are long-term as well as to see how to best adapt the lesson for classroom use.