First Year Students Conduct Brain Outreach with North Chicago Elementary Schools

In Fall 2010, on November 30 and December 2, twenty-eight students of the two sections of the FIYS106 Medical Mysteries: Neuroscience in Chicago course, taught by Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Shubhik DebBurman, partnered with the student organization SYNAPSE and the college’s North Chicago Partners program, and conducted an innovative capstone brain outreach with elementary school children from North Chicago that replaced the traditional final exam for that course and exposed young eager minds to the amazing human brain and its mysteries.

This event served as the final leg of diverse academic outreach activities of the 2010 Brain Awareness Campaign at Lake Forest College.

Lake Forest College first-year students partnered with fourth and fifth graders of the Forrestal Elementary School and AJ Katzenmeier Elementary Schools of North Chicago. Each school sent 20-25 children during their after-school hours to the college where they spent nearly two hours  (3-4:45 pm) with our students.

The first-year students taught these children the three central functions of the nervous system:
1) how does the brain sense?
2) How does the brain integrate information?
3) How does the brain act?

The first-year students had learned these basic neuroscience through lectures, videos, textbook and other materials earlier in the semester.

To help the first year students become effective teachers, Dr. Anne Grall Reichel from the Education dept led an interactive teaching practices workshop in October with the students teaching them the theory and practical issues of how to effectively teach fourth and fifth graders. The fourteen students of the fall semester BIO362 Mechanisms of Brain Dysfunction students served as peer mentors to the FIYS students throughout the semester for many projects including this final one. The workshop and the long-term peer mentoring were critical to the outreach success.

The actual outreach had two components.

1) First, Professor DebBurman lead an “Introduction to the Amazing Brain” human brain anatomy session for 20 minutes with the elementary school children. These students wore white labcoats, lab goggles, and gloves and they were allowed to touch and feel several preserved brain specimens (from Sheep, cows, and humans).

2) Second, the students visited three teaching stations spaced sequentially on the Johnson Science Building Bridge. At each station, students 1) first engaged them with1-3 hand-on activities to make them aware of the skills (to either sense, integrate or act) they were using, followed by an interactive discussion with students on how the brain is specifically used for that set of functions.

Each first-year student group made and used a brain poster to teach students the main concept and also gave a goodie bag to each child to practice some of their interactive activities at home. So, each child went home with three goodie bags.  Each child also got a book about the nervous system to read and learn from later.

They spent 15 minutes at each station, where groups of five FIYS students engaged the children in how:

THE BRAIN FIRST SENSES:

THE BRAIN THEN INTEGRATES:

THE BRAIN FINALLY ACTS.

Both afternoons of outreach ended with an ice cream social and the young children were treated to a visit with Boomer the Bear, the college mascot.

Professor DebBurman’s perspective on the young children:

“The little children were absolutely wonderful to interact with and teach.  They were very curious and excited and asked wonderfully intelligent questions both of students and me.  They engaged easily in all the hands-on activities carefully planned by my students.  Their thoughtful responses (which were critical to our success) help generate engaging discussions, which then allowed my students to use the children’s responses to teach them about how their brain work to sense (hear, see, smell, taste and touch), to integrate (remember and memorize, plan and make decisions, pay attention, and communicate), and act (to move, voluntarily and involuntarily).
The students got engaged in the material and demonstrated a joy for learning. I am confident that we left a positive impression the minds of the young children about our college and what it might be like to interact with college students and professors. I am even more confident that we empowered theses young minds in realizing that they are bright and engaged because their responses were directly integrated into the discussions of our brain works.”

Professor DebBurman’s reflections on FIYS students
“The FIYS106 students were the actual teachers of the children. They worked hard to make this event work effectively.  They had all been very excited about this outreach for a few weeks, despite a particularly grueling semester for them. They effectively  incorporated the ideas that Anne Reichel had taught them to create simple, yet effective hands-on activities. They did two practice runs before their class peers and myself, before the actual event.
I was very proud of my students because they did put their heart and mind into it and it showed in the product.  They demonstrated to me that they clearly understood the content of what they taught.  But their brilliance came through in how they interacted with the children, managing both their energy and curiosity. It is not easily to make 25 children get through 4-5 activities and teach them scientific material all in one hour. But they did it!!!
I would partner with the North Chicago schools again in a heartbeat. From a pedagogical perspective, it was an excellent way for me to observe and assess how well my students had learned what I had taught them earlier in the semester. As a non-traditional final exam for the students, it was far more interesting than a final paper or test.  Both the process of preparation and the actual outcome made me realize that the first year students had indeed mastered and developed awareness of:
1) basic neuroscience
2) how young children learn
3) how to teach young children what they learned in my classroom”

Some FIYS student perspectives:

Tyler Hogstrom ‘14:

“I found the most rewarding aspect of the North Chicago outreach was giving the elementary schoolers a taste of college. I think its incredibly important to give children, especially those who have not entered middle school or high school, who normally would not think about college. If we could have showed the value of college to even one or two of those elementary schoolers, it would have been worth the work we put in.
Teaching a very short outreach about neurobiology to 4th and 5th graders really forced us to think about the most important aspects of what we learned this semester. It forces my group to brain storm and spend a good amount of time condensing and synthesizing information.
I think that more first year study classes should have the opportunity for outreach. But I think that they should have more time with the kids to really make the impact worth the time we put in as college students. It would be nice to have a bigger space like the sports center so we could do activities that involve running, team building, etc.”

Anhar Mohamed ‘14:

“The most rewarding part of the outreach was seeing all our preparation come together to really excite the little kids about learning. The teaching outreach made us take what we had learned and turn it into something very simple and easy to comprehend for the children - teaching is always the best way to learn. The college should, but not so close to finals. It definitely took away from focus in other classes that were really starting to crack down on end of the semester material”


Suah Cho’s Perspective (Site Administrator, Boys & Girls Club of Lake County):
“The students had a great time learning about the functions of the brain.  The experience of putting on goggles and lab coats and rubber gloves provided first-hand experience for the students. They were intrigued by Dr. D’s presentation especially with all the visual aids.  The students really enjoyed touching real brains and while some were afraid and hesitant at first, the students took the courage to touch real brains and the LFC students helped to identify different parts of the brain.  For the second part of the trip, the first year students led students through handouts, hands-on activities, memory games, and motor skills challenges which all enhanced academic learning for the students.  At the end of the day, one student went up to Dr. D and gave him a big hug for his hospitality and arrangements for the trip.  The students raved about the trip to parents and teachers who later expressed whether there are other field trips such as the one with Dr. D planned for the future.”