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Spring SAVY 2023: Neuroscience Navigators (Feller) for Grades 3 & 4

Posted by on Monday, February 6, 2023 in blog, SAVY, Uncategorized.

Day 3: Saturday, February 11

Hi parents!

Today was a bittersweet ending to the Spring SAVY session. I am genuinely grateful for having such an outstanding group of students and will miss having them in my class. Each of your kids demonstrated impressive curiosity, determination, and generosity toward their instructors and fellow students. You and your neuroscience navigators should be extremely proud of all they accomplished.

Today, we rounded out the course by discussing neurological disorders and neuroscience research. During the morning session, the students had an opportunity to choose their own adventure! Their options were to dive deeper into neurological disorders with Dr. Zach, or immerse themselves in neuroanatomical methods and animal research with me. The students in my group got to observe me dissecting a real sheep brain, where I guided them through the identification of structures we discussed in the first two Saturday classes. The students had the opportunity to hold and examine the brain up close; many of them really enjoyed this part! After our dissection, we talked about how neuroscientists use animal models to study neurophysiology and behavior, too. We watched a video showing a macaque monkey playing a fine-motor-skill video game while scientists simultaneously recorded the neurons in the monkey’s motor cortex. We learned that this type of research can help us understand how the brain controls our body movements and how this research can help create human prosthetics for people with paralysis.

In the afternoon session, we joined forces with Dr. Zach’s class and started our afternoon with some neuroscience review. We tested our knowledge by playing neuroscience bingo, where we had several winners! We also learned a little bit more about neuroscience research, focusing mainly on how we study the human brain. Next, Dr. Zach talked us through the scientific method and a few examples of how we use the scientific method in neuroscience. We finished off our class with a valuable group-work activity. The students worked in groups of four to design their own neuroscience experiments. Each group independently picked a topic and brainstormed a scientific question, hypothesis, participant population, list of materials, list of variables, and experimental design. Zach, Sara, Rachel, and I were very impressed by the creativity and innovation the students brought to their projects!

There were so many more activities I wanted to explore with your navigators, but we just didn’t have the time. Luckily, many of these activities can be completed at home, either independently or with their family and friends!

Example Neuroscience Activities:

  • Each student was given a neuroscience activity book with their certificate on the last day of class. This book is filled with coloring pages, crosswords, activity worksheets, etc. for the students to work on.
  • Neuroscience Guess Who: There is a “Guess Who” board in their activity book. Make a copy for another player and have each player sit on opposite sides of a divider so they can’t see each other’s boards. Each player chooses a neuroscience term from their board and circles it. This will be similar to the original Guess Who game, but instead of asking questions like “Does your person have brown hair?,” each player will take turns asking things like “Is your term one of the cerebral lobes.”
  • Neuroscience Charades: Write down a different brain function (i.e., hearing, vision, taste, smell, pain, temperature sensation, touch, attention, planning, decision-making, language, movement, learning, etc.) on a small piece of paper and put all pieces of paper in a hat or container. Each player must pick a piece of paper and act out the brain function while the other players guess the answer. Bonus points if the guesser can say which part of the brain controls that function.
    Brain Comparison Game: Make a list of items (i.e., radio, noodles, jello, worms, computer, balloon, camera, book, robot, etc.) and think of as many similarities and differences as you can between that item and the brain.
  • Write and illustrate a story book about a neuron as the main character. Where is the neuron at the beginning of the book (what brain area)? Where will the neuron go (which neural pathway will they take)? What other neurons will they send messages to? Will they “tell” other neurons to spread more messages or less messages? Will the neuron encourage more activity (excitation) or less activity (inhibition)? Students can use the example neural pathways in their activity book to guide their story.
  • Neuroscience Poem/Song/Rap: One way to remember complex material is to rehearse it. Have your student write a poem, song, or rap about something they’ve learned that will help them remember that neuroscience concept.
  • Additional Resources:

Thank you all for choosing to sign your kids up for Neuroscience Navigators! I loved getting to know them!


Miss Jessica

Day 2: Saturday, February 4

Hi parents!

Your neuroscience navigators and I are continuing to explore the brain and apply our knowledge with new, creative activities. Today, we navigated beyond the surface of the cerebral lobes into the depths of the cerebrum where we discovered the functions of the thalamus, hypothalamus, hippocampus, and amygdala. We learned how these structures were major players in the limbic system and help to control important aspects of our memory and emotions. We also dug a little deeper into cellular neuroscience and learned about how neurons communicate with one another.

During the morning session, we created our own model brains using playdoh so we could practice quizzing ourselves on the location and functions of the four cerebral lobes, the cerebellum, and the brainstem. We then spent some time in the hippocampus, where we played memory games and learned first-hand how difficult it is to remember a list of 7 items after 3 minutes, compared to after 15 seconds. We learned that our short-term memory only has a capacity of about 7 items and lasts between 15-30 seconds. When we want to utilize our long-term memory (> ~30 seconds), we often have to rehearse those 7 items and/or attend to them. In order to remember a list of words, we had to rehearse them while also blocking out the kids bop music and dance party we had in the interim 3 minutes between seeing the list and recalling the items. We rounded out the morning in the amygdala, where we worked with groups to brainstorm a long list of human emotions. We watched a 13-minute clip from the movie Inside Out and wrote down all the ways the movie compared to what we had learned in class about neuroscience, memory, and emotions. Through class discussion, we realized the storage room of memory orbs in the movie was a good representation of the hippocampus. The control center in the movie might be representing the frontal lobe, and the characters Joy, Anger, Disgust, Sadness, and Fear might live together in the amygdala.

During the afternoon session, we created our own model neurons using pipe cleaners for the dendrites, cell body, axon, and axon terminals and beads for the myelin sheath. We then emphasized the importance of the myelin sheath and nodes of Ranvier by playing a game. In the first session, a student was asked to transmit a neural signal (a ping pong ball) down an unmyelinated axon (a hallway) to the axon terminal (a plastic cup). Unsurprisingly, it was very difficult for the signal to quickly and accurately get into the axon terminal. In the second session, we added a myelin sheath (whole pool noodles) to either side of the axon. This made it easier to get the signal into the axon terminal, but it still wasn’t moving very quickly. In the third session, we added myelin (partial pool noodles) and nodes of Ranvier (gaps between pool noodles) where the signal could be boosted (by students using their hands to push the ball toward the cup). This allowed us to get the signal down the axon accurately and quickly, just like myelin and nodes and Ranvier do in the neuron! We then learned how signals travel from one neuron to the next via neurotransmitters. We lined up 16 neurons (students) and passed a neurotransmitter (ping pong ball) from the dendrite (student’s right hand) to the axon terminal (student’s left hand) to the dendrite of the next neuron (right hand of next student). If we dropped the signal, the neurotransmitter would be “lost” to reuptake by a neurotransmitter transporter, and we had to restart with a new neurotransmitter. In the end, we successfully passed the signal at a speed of 3 ft/second; but we learned that real neurons can travel up to 268 miles/hour! In our last lesson and activity of the day, we learned that neurotransmitters have specific neuroreceptors that they “fit” with, similar to the classic shape sorting cube where different shaped blocks fit into similarly shaped holes in the cube. Each student was given either a shaped piece of paper (neurotransmitter) or a piece of paper with a shape cut out (neuroreceptor). They had to walk around the room to find their match. The chemical message would only work to send a signal to the next neuron if the neuroreceptor on the dendrite of Neuron 2 was a match for the neurotransmitter released from the axon terminal of Neuron 1. In the second round, students were encouraged to find a different match. Some students found another, because some neurotransmitters have more than one neuroreceptor that they fit with.

Reflection and discussion questions:

  • What are your five favorite facts about the brain?
  • What was your favorite activity you did in class, and what did you learn from it?
  • What did you learn in class that surprised you the most?
  • What new questions do you have about the brain?

Additional resources:

Have a wonderful evening, and I can’t wait to see your navigators next Saturday!


Miss Jessica

Day 1: Saturday, January 28

Please see the post here: