foodmaster intermediate science book

FoodMASTER curriculum has been supported through funding from the National Institutes of Health: Science Education Partnership Award and the United States Department of Agriculture Higher Education Grant Challenge Award.

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SEPA Award

sponsored by:

USDA Higher Education Grant Challene Award

The FoodMASTER Initiative


In 1999, an elementary school teacher and higher education faculty member began to collectively work together to create activities using food as a tool to teach mathematics and science. They recognized there were few authentic, real-world, science education opportunities for underserved youth. In their attempt to address this issue, their partnership lead to the creation of a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) program called the FoodMASTER Initiative.

The purpose of the FoodMASTER Initiative (FMI) was to create a science education program rooted in constructivist learning theory. Food was selected as the teaching tool because:

  1. students have preexisting experiences with foods,
  2. food is conducive to hands-on activities, and
  3. food concepts can be linked to biology, chemistry, environmental sciences, mathematics, nutrition, and health.

Additional consideration for food included:

  1. food has the potential to establish relevance for the learner,
  2. food is an easily accessible material,
  3. positive science and mathematics learning experiences can be inspired with food, and
  4. food experiences can span across the P-20 learning environment in both formal and informal learning environments.

Given that the foundation of food and nutrition understanding is rooted in mathematics and science subject matter, along with the potential to engage and inspire an individual’s desire for life-long science learning, the FMI team was compelled to examine food and nutrition education teaching and learning. The multidisciplinary team of science, nutrition, and health educators began to discuss the idea of how to create a program for science teachers that would allow for more time spent in the classroom on issues related to food and nutrition while still maintaining learning objectives related to Mathematics Standards Common Core State Initiative and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). 

Instead of teaching food and nutrition from the traditional health education approach, why not address the foundational mathematics and scientific knowledge required to practice good nutrition in the science classroom? The advantage of this approach would:

  1. expand the number of teachers in the school system discussing food and health sciences,
  2. support the acquisition of foundation knowledge that would then enhance the acquisition of knowledge in science and mathematics, and
  3. increase the number of content hours students receive in nutrition science without taking time away from the core subject matter that is required, taught, and assessed with standardized testing.

Program Mission

The core mission of the FMI is to develop and provide teachers with authentic mathematics and science resources that use food to engage students in science learning.  This core mission was established in response to addressing a long-standing issue of a lack of authentic STEM education opportunities for underserved youth which can also exacerbate health disparities. 

While the problem is multifaceted, the FMI research is aware that the STEM learning pipeline for underserved students is an important component of the model for solutions. Long before children are to understand the science career opportunities ahead, underserved youth are often already out of the science learning pipeline due to circumstances beyond their control. While the broken science learning pipelines can be fixed, it is often met with costly and challenging circumstances and limited impact.

Our FMI research team mission and contribution to solving the problem is providing evaluated resources to educators so they can provide authentic STEM education opportunities that will improve underserved youths’ access, knowledge, and attitude towards science education. Maintaining an individual student’s desire to select science and mathematics as a course of study is critical to pipeline success.

The FoodMASTER Team

The FMI administrative locations have included Ohio University 1999-2005, East Carolina University 2006-2018, and Northern Illinois University 2018-Current.

Northern Illinois University
Ohio University

For information on teacher professional development or other programming contact the Northern Illinois University P-20 Center Center for P-20 Engagement, Northern Illinois University.

For information on FoodMASTER Initiative research and program outcomes, contact Melani W. Duffrin, PhD, RDN.

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