The Future Looks Bright

Apr 12, 2024

IMPACT Melanoma and University of North Texas Institute for Integration of Technology into Teaching and Learning

Gerald Knezek, Ph.D. and Regents Professor and Rhonda Christensen, Ph.D., Research Professor, are Co-Directors of the Institute for Integration of Technology into Teaching and Learning (IITTL) at the University of North Texas (UNT). IITTL is chartered by the UNT Council of Deans to conduct research and implement best practices in teaching and learning with technology.

UNT’s College of Education and the IITTL: Context

IITTL works closely with the College of Education to deliver on its mission of integrating technology into teaching and learning. Each year, the College of Education graduates more than 500 new teachers for pre-K through 8th grade classes. During these students’ college career they are working with the IITTL to learn how to integrate technology into their practice teaching and observations.

While there are many fascinating projects (past and present), one of IITTL’s goals is to foster curiosity and to promote engaged learning by incorporating technologies including virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), 2D and 3D design and model creation, robotics, drones, and online simulations to increase the interest in STEM. STEM innovation activities include space weather, Mars, the moon, and heliophysics – the physics of the sun and its connection to the solar system.

While Dr. Knezek learned about MPACT Melanoma through a health fair event on campus more than a year ago, it is with the 2024 solar eclipse that IMPACT Melanoma’s path and Dr. Gerald Knezek’s path crossed.

The Solar Eclipse- April 8, 2024

The solar eclipse is an exciting time for the IITTL to leverage this highly publicized event and for many, the last easily accessible opportunity during many of our lifetimes. For months, the IITTL has been preparing to raise awareness and understanding of this unique event. UNT made classes optional on the afternoon of April 8 to encourage the student population exceeding 40,000 students to use their eclipse glasses and take advantage of this solar event.

While Denton, Texas was predicted to be at 99% totality, many including Dr. Knezek travelled further east to be at the Dallas Arboretum that covers 67 acres and will experience full totality with nearly 4 minutes of darkness.

The timing of the eclipse coincides with a big annual event in Dallas called Dallas Blooms. This annual event was extended in 2024 to include the eclipse on April 8th.  A STEM expo held on the final Saturday of Dallas Blooms which this year was Saturday April 6, focused on eclipse preparation. IITTL representatives exhibited at the event with a table to foster curiosity and interest in STEM with many 2D UV sensitive pinhole viewer medallions for interested students to take and enjoy during the eclipse.

At the Dallas Arboretum, IITTL had four display tables strategically located in the children’s garden of the arboretum offering age-appropriate 2D printed handouts with pinholes to experience the eclipse safely and to generate a fascination and engagement in STEM related areas. An estimated 10,000 flocked to the Dallas Arboretum to experience the eclipse including families, educators, and researchers.

IMPACT Melanoma and IITTL

Over a year ago, Gerald Knezek attended a Health Fair on campus and walked through the various display tables to see what caught his eye. IMPACT Melanoma was at the event, promoting the importance of skin safety including prevention of skin cancer and the importance of early detection. Gerald noticed IMPACT Melanoma’s UV bracelets that were giveaways at the table, made of UV sensitive material that turns purple when exposed to UV rays and white when UV exposure is not detected. Gerald was intrigued as he thought about the eventful year ahead including the April 2024 eclipse.

As IITTL cranked up their preparations for the eclipse as a unique opportunity to arm education students to engage students, he reached out to IMPACT Melanoma. IITTL’s 2D and 3D printers would be working overtime to generate items to educate students including 2D printouts of the United States showing the percent of totality across the county via pinholes. Gerald wanted to leverage some of their grant funds to purchase IMPACT Melanoma’s UV bracelets and UV frisbees as part of their educational materials for UNT students and for exhibiting at the Dallas Blooms STEM expo and at the Dallas Arboretum on the day of the eclipse.

The Future is BrightThe Power of Data Collection and an Incentive to Participate

As the planning neared completion, there were many national organizations and colleges collaborating, including NASA HEAT (NASA’s Heliophysics Education Activation Team) and Oregon State, the evaluator of the NASA HEAT initiative assessing the public’s level of interest in NASA activities leading up to the event.

As would be expected, IMPACT Melanoma’s UV frisbees were not welcome in the midst of all the blooms in the Dallas Arboretum but the UV bracelets were. However, Dr Knezek knew exactly how to leverage the frisbees he procured from IMPACT Melanoma: they would be the incentive for young students leaving the arboretum on Monday April 8th to complete surveys as they headed out; a survey from IITTL to gauge if the event at the Dallas Arboretum improved their interest in STEM as well as the research efforts being conducted by Oregon State to capture data for their evaluation for NASA HEAT.

The Future Looks Bright

While the eclipse is a one-day event, the coverage is expected to increase curiosity throughout the country. With the astounding projected shortage of engineers, it is certainly the hope that the work of the IITTL and educators integrating technology into early education will capture the interest and curiosity of more students.

The intersection of the IITTL and IMPACT Melanoma is education. The importance of educating everyone, but especially the young, to adopt healthy skin care practices including avoiding tanning beds and using sunscreen of SPF of 30 or higher regularly.

Dr Knezek is encouraged that prevention in health curriculum is going to be emphasized more in the requisite health classes for young students. He comments on how useful it is to have a UV bracelet or frisbee to remind us we are exposed to dangerous UV rays when purple, and what that same technology can do for sunscreen.

For many on April 8, 2024, people experienced a remarkable sight and for some there was nearly four minutes of total darkness. UV bracelets and frisbees turned white. Imagine the impact if we can be that cognizant of the importance of protecting one’s skin and eyes regularly from the sun’s powerful and dangerous UV rays?

IMPACT Melanoma looks forward to continued discussions and strategies working with the IITTL and Dr. Gerald Knezek. We seek Partners in Prevention to help us deliver on our mission of making melanoma a thing of the past.

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