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Brains rule! : Expo helps ignite middle schoolers' neuroscience curiosity

Tuesday, May 5, 2009 – Jeremy Craig, University Relations

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The seventh graders standing in front of Georgia State University's Michael Black put on purple latex gloves and prepared for what some people would squirm at -- the prospect of touching a real human brain.

But instead of “ewwwwws” and twinging faces, the students from Decatur’s Renfroe Middle School were excited to know even more about each part of the brain — asking Black, a postdoctoral researcher, more about the parts controlling speech, taste and sight, for example.

“It was different than what I was expecting,” said Lyndsay Morrrow. “But I didn't think it was gross. I'd like to touch it again, if I could.”

Morrow joined 170 of her classmates at the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience’s Brains Rule Neuroscience Expo, held April 24 at Zoo Atlanta.

The Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, headquartered at Georgia State, is a consortium of seven metro Atlanta colleges and universities. In addition to neuroscience research, the CBN also directs a comprehensive education program designed to educate the next generation of scientists, including the Neuroscience Expo, which has been produced since 2003.

Pupils had the opportunity to learn more about the brain and senses through several activities, including touching a human brain, exploring a 40-foot neuron model, attempting to walk a straight line and shoot a basketball through a hoop while wearing visual distortion goggles.

“One of our main goals is to raise excitement about science while getting students out of the classroom,” said Kyle Frantz, Neuroscience Expo director and an associate professor of neuroscience at Georgia State University. “All of our activities are required to be hands-on, and include more than presenters lecturing to students. From our data, we know that at the end of the day, the students are more excited about science than they were this morning.”

During the current recession, many schools are unable to send students on field trips, which help to enhance learning beyond the classroom. The Brain Expo is funded by the CBN and gave Renfroe Middle School teachers the opportunity to provide interactive experience that is invaluable for engaging pupils in the sciences.

“We highly enjoy the event,” said Michaelangelo Calhoun, a seventh grade life sciences teacher at Renfroe. “This is the piece de resistance for our school, as we have only one major field trip during the year. So many of our students looked forward to it, and we look forward to continuing this relationship.”

Besides providing an opportunity for the middle schoolers to learn, the expo also was the culmination of preparation by undergraduates and graduate students at Georgia State University, as well as other CBN member institutions, to learn by teaching. A total of 110 volunteers, including students and faculty, helped to put on the event.

“The best way to learn is through teaching,” Frantz said. “By learning how to teach neuroscience, college students can learn more about the field.”

The CBN includes Georgia State University, Emory University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Morehouse School of Medicine and Spelman College. More than 100 neuroscientists are engaged in the research program with the goal of understanding the basic neurobiology of social behaviors.

Other CBN education programs include the winter Brain Bee and summer Brain Camp, as well as the eight-week summer Institute On Neuroscience (ION) for high school students who excel in science. From June 8 to July 31, students will learn about neuroscience through hands-on activities and discussions directed by faculty members, post-doctoral researchers, and undergraduate and graduate students from CBN member institutions, followed by five weeks of mentored laboratory research.

For more information about CBN research and activities, visit www.cbn-atl.org.

 

Laura Carruth, associate professor of neuroscience, works with students