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Computer App Whets Children's Appetites For Eco-Friendly Meals

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Students from University Laboratory High School use the Food for Thought app on a 55-inch touch-screen computer.

An educational software application under development at the University of Illinois is introducing middle school students to the topic of climate change and showing them how their dietary choices affect the planet.

Credit: Emma Mercier

An educational software application is being developed by researchers at the University of Illinois to show middle-school students how their dietary choices affect climate change.

The Food for Thought app displays the nutritional data and carbon footprint associated with each food item a student selects.

"There are two learning goals here: make kids aware of the causes and impacts of climate change, and help them become data literate--that is, knowledgeable consumers of the media," says University of Illinois professor Emma Mercier. Her team videotaped groups of students from University Laboratory High School as they investigated climate change issues at local and global levels.

The students examined graphs, representations, and images supplied via traditional learning materials and on 27-inch multitouch screens, while the researchers monitored how much support they needed to interpret the data and how they used the information.

The activity culminated with a visit to the Illinois Digital Ecologies and Learning Laboratory, where the students used Food for Thought on the lab's multitouch tabletop computer screens. They were able to view the carbon footprints associated with their food intake by entering their food diary data.

University Laboratory High School teacher Sharlene Denos says the app "can really empower the students to keep thinking about environmental issues and keep the conversation going with their families and friends."

From University of Illinois News Bureau
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