This March, the Atlanta Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience will take preserved brains, presentations and activities to schools in Atlanta during Brain Awareness Month as part of an annual effort to teach the nation’s youth about neuroscience and the functions of the brain.
“The mission of the Society for Neuroscience is to facilitate communication,” explained Katy Shepard, a graduate student in the Neuroscience Department at Emory and a coordinator for Brain Awareness Month. “The general function is to educate everyone, not just scientists, about the things you can take away from neuroscience.”
Neuroscience research, she added, can contribute to improving one’s everyday life, such as by providing information about brain function during sleep and other day-to-day activities.
College senior Remy Weinberger, who taught first through fifth graders last year and is planning on volunteering again this year, wrote in an email to the Wheel that it is particularly important to introduce neuroscience to younger kids.
“Neuroscience can sometimes be perceived as too complex to teach young students, especially those of the elementary school age, so it is left out of school curriculums,” she explained, adding that the students should not be underestimated because many, she wrote, already knew the anatomy of a neuron and its basic functions.
According to Weinberger, educating about neuroscience research is important because it is a body of work that is continuously growing as scientists learn more about the brain.
“The field of neurosciencce is constantly evolving, and there are many things we currently do no know about the brain and its functions, as well as the pathophysiology behind many neurological disorders,” Weinberger wrote.
Atlanta’s Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience, which has participated in Brain Awareness Month for almost a decade, uses interesting and often interactive lessons to draw students in, according to Shepard. One lesson plan, she said, introduces the story of Phineas Gage, an American railroad worker who survived an accident during which an iron rod went through his head.
Because only the frontal lobe of his brain was destroyed, the only injury Gage suffered was a change in personality, she explained, but he maintained his physical and mental abilities.
During her lessons, Weinberger wrote, she uses hands-on activities and allows students to discuss information with one another.
“The students were very eager to share what they knew about the brain, so I let them teach each other,” she wrote.
Shepard said she hopes students whose classrooms she visits are able to begin relating to and learning from neuroscience research.
“It’s important to have an appreciation for what we can gain from scientific research, especially now when our country is in a rut where there is a sense of elitism around science,” Shepard said.
Weinberger wrote that she hopes her students learn “an interesting fact or two about neuroscience,” but that it’s equally as important for them to have had fun while doing so.
“It was great to see their reactions when they saw a real brain for the first time, and I hope this is a memory they will be able to remember,” she wrote.
Established in 1996 by the Dana Alliance, an organization that aims to raise public awareness about neuroscience research, Brain Awareness Month is a national campaign during which researchers, university faculty members, graduate students and undergraduate students visit local universities and K-12 classrooms to educate others about the benefits of brain research.
The Atlanta Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience opened in 1976 and is one of the most successful chapters in the nation, reaching more than 5,000 students last year, according to Shepard.
— Contact Alice Chen.