Brains to Classrooms

I grew up in a family surrounded by engineers and doctoral degree holders. To say that it was daunting to tell my STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)-obsessed loved ones that I couldn’t fathom a career related to math or science, and to see the looks of disappointment in their faces, was hard. But, they gave their support no matter what, and I happily pursued a career in communications.

I did grow up in classrooms where the emphasis was on rote, rather than hands-on learning. Being a visual person, I now believe that seeing more of that text unfold in physics or chemistry labs, instead of just learning from books in classrooms, may have sparked an interest in those subjects for me. Hindsight is 20/20, of course.

Fast way forward to 2015. I recently had the opportunity to walk into a classroom full of curious third-graders who got to see a human brain. Yup. Gray matter. The real deal. They saw other animal brains, from horse to mouse, too. Looking at them, side by side, they learned about the complexities of each. Seeing, listening, and, most importantly, asking questions. Becoming curious. Wanting to learn more.

That, to me, was the hallmark of this very special visit by scientists and other experts from Banner Sun Health Research Institute in Sun City, Arizona, to a classroom at Parkridge Elementary School in Peoria, Arizona (article on Page 10 of Innovative Care Magazine). You can also check out the video:

The wide-eyed, enthusiastic students familiarized themselves with terms such as “cerebrum,” “cerebellum” and “brainstem” on black-and-white paper hats shaped like a brain.

They participated in a simple Starburst candy experiment that showed how the brain integrates our five senses – hearing, sight, touch, smell and taste.

And they learned it’s as important to nourish your brain with different types of exercises, as it is the rest of your body.

Who knows? Experiences such as these may well trigger the desire in 9-year-old Amelia Cooney or her classmate, Collin Griffin, to go on to become a scientist. One day they may even come up with cures for various brain disorders, even Alzheimer’s! Perhaps, someday, they could even join the experts at Banner Sun Health Research Institute.

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