Touching Brains to Inspire Minds

BAW Brain Awareness Week enBloomA young woman with highlighted two-strand twist puts on a pair of large sunglasses with dark lenses turns on some music and begins dancing enthusiastically to a song with a funky beat.  She invites the small crowd of students who belong to a home schooling club to join her. The students are reluctant and the volunteer-for-the-day gets no response.  Removing the shades and turning off the music having garnered the students’ attention, she begins.

“How do we hear?” she asks. After a jumble of several responses from the now eager students she follows with a second question. “How do we listen?”  Taking a tuning fork from her arsenal of teaching aids, she strikes it then places it on the bridge of a willing student’s nose. “We hear through our nose?” she questions. She strikes the fork once again, this time placing it against another student’s forehead. “We hear through our forehead?” Striking the fork a third time, she places it against still another  student’s wrist. “We hear through our wrist? I thought we could only hear through our ears?”

The students’ attention turns to the model of the ear as they learn about conduction of sound vibration through air and bone. And so progresses the Hearing, A Pathway to the Brain demonstration station run by Brain Awareness Week volunteers from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for Audiology and Speech Clinic. This was one of several learning stations that made up the 14th Annual Brain Awareness Week celebration at the National Museum of Health and Medicine held from March 11 through March 15, 2013 in Silver Spring, Maryland.  The program was first conceived and implemented by scientists Archibald Fobbs and Ben Walker. Georgetown University, the St. Louis Science Center and Albany, New York are all past sites for the program, but it makes its permanent home with the museum.

“It gives kids an opportunity in a very unique way to come in contact with neuroscientists and become immersed in the material,” explains Dr. Fobbs who is also referred to as the museum’s brain collector.

Boasting the world’s largest collection of brains amid a massive 25 million anatomical items in total, the museum is the ideal setting for hosting a Brain Awareness Week event targeting middle school aged students. The week-long observance has developed enduring popularity as both the community partners and participating schools return year after year according to Andrea Schierkolk, Public Programs Manager. Organizations including the National Institutes of Health, Howard University, Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center and Rutgers University send employees with their wealth of expertise to staff the many stations that make up the symposium of interactive activities in the neurosciences.  I observed students learn important anatomical landmarks of the brain, the basics of spinal cord development, the challenges of communication after brain injury, and the phenomena of optical illusions. Like the station exploring hearing, each forced the students to use what they saw, heard and did to learn about neuroscience. Through my own experiences teaching, I’ve learned this is the only way to effectively teach any of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects. Year after year, the National Museum of Health and Medicine is working to inspire the next generation of neuroscientists with it’s diverse community partners and the DANA Alliance as collaborators.

Brain Awareness Week volunteer from Rutgers University demonstrates and a group of home school students observe optical illusions when a strobe light is cast upon moving fan blades, each having letters and words written on them.

Student holds human brain as Dr. Fobb, a museum collection manager points out anatomical landmarks.

Student holds human brain as Dr. Archibald Fobbs, a museum collections manager points out anatomical landmarks.

Awareness Week volunteer from the Walter Reed Auditory & Speech Clinic has students stand on foam with their eyes closed and then open to demonstrate how vision influence balance.  She then repeats the demo after spinning students on a stool.

Brain Awareness Week volunteer from the Walter Reed Auditory & Speech Clinic explains the vestibular system. She then has students stand on foam with their eyes closed and then open to demonstrate how vision influence balance. She repeats the demo after spinning students on a stool.

Jewish Primary Day School students look at human embryo under magnification.

Dr. Elizabeth Lockett, a museum collections manager manipulates modeling clay to demonstrate brain and neural tube development in the human embryo. Students then look at a preserved embryo under magnification.

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  1. […] Read how a local museum with area institutions of higher learning pay it forward by Touching Brains to Inspire Minds. […]



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