The Science of Hands-On Learning

Would you drink 14 teaspoons of sugar mixed with water to quench your thirst? Fifth and sixth grade students participating in Anatomy Academy discovered that’s close to what they consume in a 32 oz. bottle of Gatorade — a drink widely considered “healthy.”

Anatomy Academy is a five- to seven-week educational outreach program that helps combat childhood obesity through the support of the BYU-Public School Partnership. Founded by associate professor Jonathan Wisco of the College of Life Sciences during his time at UCLA, Anatomy Academy has now extended to 21 classrooms in seven Utah elementary schools. In this program, university student mentors from a variety of majors teach elementary students about their bodies.

BYU mentoring grants obtained through the McKay School’s Center for the Improvement of Teacher Education and Schooling (CITES), and the College of Nursing fund Anatomy Academy’s student coordinators and supplies. The coordinators recruit and train student mentors who teach fifth and sixth grade students about anatomy, nutrition, and physiology through interactive and hands-on lessons. Mentors from the University of Utah and Utah Valley University also participate in the program.

Anatomy Academy kindles students’ fascination and excitement for science and for healthy living as they learn how to give cranial nerve exams, read nutrition labels, and even measure fat content with congealed scrambled eggs. These experiences, according to Steven Baugh, Director of CITES, benefit both students and mentors.

“Students are engaged—they’re having fun, and they’re learning at the same time,” Baugh said. “Mentors see the light come on in the students’ eyes, and they’re feeling that they’re really giving something of their knowledge for the benefit of others. I think it helps them in terms of that feeling of ‘I’m doing something to help someone else,’ and ‘I can use my knowledge to benefit someone else.’”

BYU nursing major Janeen Williamson, an Anatomy Academy mentor, said she views the program as an important public health intervention—one that also helps her further develop her interpersonal and teaching skills as she shares her passion for science with others.

“You’re teaching all these young kids how to take care of themselves so that they can be healthy in the future, and they won’t have to go to the hospital,” Williamson said. “I’m really interested in the body, and I think it’s awesome to teach people about it, especially kids because they’re so excited, and I love to teach.”

After a successful first year in Utah, Anatomy Academy will continue through the summer and into the fall, extending its reach to Mana Charter Academy in West Valley. Mentors are already being recruited, and volunteers will continue to be accepted through the fall. Wisco said the program is first and foremost about the connections developed between students and mentors and the mutual learning that takes place.

“This isn’t just about books, it’s not just about the grades, it’s about those relationships,” Wisco said. “That’s very very exciting to me, and I’m glad we’re able to provide this opportunity to everybody.”