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Third Graders Evaluate Neuroscience Work

IMG_0737When Maxine Hobson, programcoordinator of Penn’s Biological Basis of Behavior program (BBB) invitedschools to this year’s Penn KidsJudge! Neuroscience Fair, she explained thatthe third graders would not only be learning through hand-on activities, butthey would also judge the work of Penn undergraduate and graduate students. Oneof the third graders cautiously took on this responsibility, expressing toprogram leaders that he “didn’t want to give one of the Penn students a badgrade.”

With great enthusiasm, the approximately 150third graders from two nearby schools -- Global Leadership Academy Charter School and Saint FrancisDeSales School -- showed they were ready to evaluate the exhibits before them in HoustonHall. The neuroscience fair’s projects at this science-fair switcheroo were createdby undergraduate BBB majors and graduate neuroscience students.After visitors participated in all projects, they were asked to vote for thosethey enjoyed and learned from most.

“For me, the highlight of this is that it’sstudents teaching students, and then students evaluating students,” said Marc Schmidt, director of the BBBprogram. “They’re close in age, sort of role models, and some kids think, ‘theyare young, smart, and teaching us cool stuff about the brain.’”

A few exhibit examples:

  • Brainapalooza:Faculty and students let the student judges learn about and touch brains fromvarious animals.
  • Save-A-Head: BrainDamage exhibit shows the fragility of the brain inside its skull and theimportance of protecting it with helmets when hard impacts are possible.
  • Spin City: First, kidsrun a relay race before and after spinning around to show how the vestibular(balance) system functions. Next, kids watch an animated explanation of how thevestibular system functions. Finally, the kids watch a movie of a rollercoaster on a large screen which demonstrates how other neurological pathwayscan influence the vestibular system and make the students feel dizzy eventhough they’re sitting on a floor the entire time.
  • Magic Berries: Kids try sour tasting foods, thentaste a lollipop with the protein miraculin in it, and then experience the oncesour tasting foods taste sweet

“I think the biggest challenge for us issimplifying what we know for a third grader,” said Ceren Ozek, third year student in Penn’s neuroscience PhDprogram, who showed kids various parts of differentbrains and the role those parts serve.

The annual Penn KidsJudge! Neuroscience Fair ispart of a national education program aimed at making scientists bettercommunicators and elementary school children better scientists. Penn’s Mahoney Institute of NeurologicalSciences, the Biological Basis ofBehavior Program, and grants from the NationalKids Judge! Partnership, the DanaAlliance for Brain Initiatives, and NationalInstitute on Drug Abuse fund the event.

“It’s pretty cool to see the inspiration on thekid’s faces as they realize when science comes alive and is part of everydaylife,” said Leonardo Guercio, who isnow in the neuroscience PhD program at Penn.

After the exhibits, the winning groups wereannounced at a pizza party for all.  Kids sang along to BBBlecturer-turned-DJ Mike Kaplan’s “Brain in aJar” song to cap off the event.

“They learn so much,” said Hobson. “I get lettersfrom teachers saying their kids remember the neuroscience they learn here.”

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