$1.6 million grant to fund neuroscience program

Dylan Thomas

A group of middle school students came to the University to watch a sheep brain dissection Wednesday as part of a department of neuroscience outreach program that has recently received a five-year, $1.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The grant will expand existing educational programs and fund a new program called Bringing Resources, Activities and Inquiry in Neuroscience. Run by the department of neuroscience and the Science Museum of Minnesota, the program aims to teach students and teachers about neuroscience and how it affects their lives.

Carrie MacNabb, department of neuroscience outreach education coordinator, led middle school students from Minneapolis’ Crawford School through the dissection.

“It’s kind of hard to have a poor response when you’ve got a real brain on the desk,” she said.

Even kids disgusted by the sight of the brain can rarely resist touching it, MacNabb said.

Ninth-grader Paris Lambert, 15, was one of those kids.

“It was cool, because at first I wouldn’t touch no dead animal, or nothing like that, but it was cool,” Lambert said.

MacNabb said the outreach program “is trying to give students and teachers more information about the brain and how it works so that they can make more informed decisions” about brain-related issues.

She said being more informed about how the brain works helps students to understand brain-related issues such as depression, learning disabilities and Alzheimer’s – conditions that might affect them or people they know.

“Kids, even younger kids, are involved with brain-related material in their daily lives,” MacNabb said.

She said the neuroscience department and the science museum began their outreach program in 1995 when they initiated Brain Awareness Week, funded by a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Every year in March, University program members go out to fourth and fifth grade classrooms and give one-hour presentations on the brain, MacNabb said.

The University and the science museum applied for the new National Institutes of Health grant to allow for more in-depth outreach activities, specifically with middle school students, MacNabb said.

The program has several components.

In the summer, the University hosts BrainU, a two-week workshop for middle school teachers. Now in its third year, the workshop is a crash course in neuroscience that helps teachers develop a neuroscience curriculum for their classes.

During the school year, the Science Museum of Minnesota hosts brain exhibits and activities. They also provide teachers with “brain trunks” containing materials and resources about what they learned at the BrainU workshop over the summer.

MacNabb said the department applied for the grant in response to strong teacher interest in more workshops. The money will extend the BrainU program to three consecutive summers instead of one and will also provide greater support from outreach coordinators who travel to classrooms to help teachers.

During the second summer, teachers will learn more about neuroscience and will also get instruction in peer mentoring so they can work with other teachers to develop curriculum based on the program, MacNabb said.

The third summer will give teachers even more information and will also allow them to evaluate the program.

MacNabb said the reaction from teachers and students has been positive. People are just innately curious about their brains, she said.

Amy Elverum teaches seventh through 12th grade science at Crawford and led the middle school students on the field trip to the University for the sheep brain dissection.

Elverum said the program teaches students “that by getting exposure to new opportunities and new things, you’re able to change your brain, and pretty much your potential is unlimited if you’re willing to put forth the effort.

“This is a program that I’m going to look forward into incorporating into my curriculum,” Elverum said. As part of the program, her class will go to the science museum in two weeks.


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