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ColoradoSPH Faculty Empowers Grad Students to Gamify Lessons for Local High School Public Health Practicum

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When Madiha Abdel-Maksoud, MD, PhD, MSPH, a physician and researcher, saw the latest data about high school students in Colorado and risky behavior, she knew she had to do something, not only as a public health professional but as a mother of a daughter who graduated from the Denver Public School (DPS) system. 

Some of those statistics* include:

  • 30% of high school students are sexually active
  • 91% of students don’t use contraception
  • One in three students has a diagnosed anxiety disorder

As a clinical teaching associate professor at Colorado School of Public Health and director of the Epidemiology MPH and the Global Health Programs, she knew she was well positioned to do something to address those challenges.

While she has volunteered at career panels and helped with school fairs and more over the years, Abdel-Maksoud wanted to closely align her work in public health with meeting the needs of high school students.

“If we don’t do something, who is going to take action?” she said.

She approached administrators at Denver’s largest high school, George Washington (GW) High School, which has more than 1,200 students, 61% of whom are minorities and 41% of whom are economically disadvantaged. This is important to Abdel-Maksoud, who is most interested in helping underserved populations.

In partnership with five students from various MPH concentrations, she helped to develop several curricula that would address some of the statistics mentioned above and also provide an engaging way to learn. Abdel-Maksoud asked her daughter, then 17, what her most engaging lessons were. Her daughter mentioned Kahoot!, a game-based learning platform that students use on their smart devices to answer questions in a gamified way. The platform promotes competition between classmates to answer questions more quickly than one another.

The MPH students used that methodology, as well as interactive teaching platforms, to create engaging 30-minute lessons for their students about healthy nutrition, smoking and vaping, oral health, anxiety, depression, physical activity, sleep, social media, bullying, cultural stereotypes, teen dating violence, safe sex, injury prevention, and domestic violence. They taught the lessons over two semesters. For example, in one lesson, students were prompted to answer the question, “How do you want to be treated in a relationship?” Students answers ranged from “with trust,” and “with love,” to “like a person not an object.”

Overall, the feedback, from both the high school and graduate students, was positive.

“This project was such a wonderful experience. The students at GW were lovely to work with and incredibly receptive to the presentations. They engaged with the materials in a way that really impressed me. Thank you for all your kindness and guidance with this project. I learned so much and developed some great skills that I can use in the future,” said Theodore Greiner, an MPH student.

While survey results and analysis are still underway by Abdel-Maksoud and team, she believes that some data about both cyber bullying and in-school bullying will be illuminative.

Abdel-Maksould plans to continue offering the curriculum throughout DPS and hopes to eventually expand it to other public school districts as well.