Brain Awareness Week

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baw
teaching

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Brain Awareness Week 2018 just ended. I hope you had an opportunity to participate. I’d love to hear about the events other groups did. Please share below. For those of you who didn’t hold and event, feel free to live vicariously through my experience.

Our BAW event started early morning on Pi Day. Four graduate students piled into a car and filled the trunk with human brains, mini e-phys equipment, and even a few cockroaches. We went to an inner city middle school in Baltimore and took over the science classroom. We started by introducing ourselves and in very basic terms what we study.

The classes broke into three stations. The students got to spend time holding fixed human brains and comparing them to mouse and rat brains. We brought slides for them to observe and compare. The second station used the backyard brains spiker box to make a cockroach leg “dance” to music. We used the frequency of the bass to stimulate the nerves in the leg. They learned how we use electrophysiology to study action potentials and record neuronal activity. Finally, they used a simple EMG to control each other’s fingers. They discussed how our bodies use electricity and the principles behind robotic limbs.

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At the end of each class we saved time to discuss with students careers in science. For many of them, they had never considered anything beyond being a doctor. Many of the students had not considered they could financially afford a PhD versus an MD. The most rewarding part is always seeing a student suddenly realize science is more than just a textbook filled with simplified drawings of complex cells. Hopefully we have inspired some of them to explore their passion for science.

Having worked with middle schools, high schools, and elementary schools, we have found middle school is the easiest to work with. Most of the high school students seemed to have already made up their mind and were not interested in changing their plans. The elementary students love the break, but we struggle to think of simple activities that last long enough to keep them occupied. The middle school students were old enough to understand what a neuron was, but young enough to still be open to new ideas. I’m interested in hearing others’ experiences. Which age group do you prefer working with? What activities worked the best for you? Please share your ideas below!