Saturday, April 16, 2011


As a musician, nerd, and child of a pediatric neurologist I have always been fascinated by the brain. Though I'm no neuroscientist, keeping up with current brain research, especially as it relates to learning, is one of my favorite hobbies. So when my wonderful Middle School head teacher encouraged me to teach a trimester-long elective all about the brain, I was thrilled! The course is called "Your Brain: A User's Manual," and is loosely based on developmental molecular biologist John Medina's book "Brain Rules," and highly influenced by the book "NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children" by Po Bronsen and Ashley Merryman, among many other sources.

We're now past the halfway point of the trimester, and teaching this class has been as fun and fascinating as I expected! My students range from 5th to 8th grade, and are extremely interested in learning more about their own brains and how to help them function to their maximum potential. They also enjoy learning about the bizarre brain injuries and disorders that have helped teach us about normal brain function, and performing memory and processing experiments on themselves and others.

Here are a few glimpses into our class:
Creating a synaptic network with modeling clay neurons!
To demonstrate the non-linear note-taking and brainstorming technique of mind mapping, we made a class mind map about memory.

We're experimenting with under-desk exercise pedals, hand weights, and Chinese exercise
balls to see if keeping the body active during class improves focus and learning.

We have spent a lot of time recently learning about sleep, and why it is so important to learning and practically every other aspect of human health. We especially liked a 60 Minutes segment on the science of sleep. Some of our students are so fired up about this topic that they want to make a presentation to the entire Middle School, especially the teachers! I can't get the video to embed properly, but you can view it here. It will be well worth your time!

Finally, one of our favorite experiments. This is a Stroop test. Say out loud the name of each color, not the word. Notice how much slower it gets on line 3...
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