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Local kids judge neuroscience students' projects at college fair

Local children learn about neuroscience through hands-on activities
Local children learn about neuroscience through hands-on activities

At Connecticut College's recent "Fifth Annual Kids Judge Neuroscience Fair," behavioral neuroscience students Kelsey Taylor '11, Faye McKenna '11 and Haley Goodwill '11 helped local elementary students discover the differences between sheep, human and rat brain specimens and let them color their own "brain maps" on latex swim caps.

Their classmates, Liz FineSmith '11 and Becky McIntosh '10, taught the children about the different parts and functions of a neuron by helping them create models out of candy, while Keith Winking '11 and Jess Lasher '11 emphasized the importance of wearing a bicycle helmet by having them build and test miniature helmets to protect raw eggs using a Styrofoam cup, packing peanuts, bubble wrap and sponges.

"This potentially messy learning activity turned out not to be messy at all, as the kids designed some very effective egg-protecting helmets," said Neuroscience Professor Joseph Schroeder.

View a slide show from the fair.

Schroeder developed the idea for the fair five years ago, and he and his students have hosted it every December since. Each year, his students create interactive demonstrations, crafts and games focused on vision, memory, taste, balance, visual illusions, neural communication and the relationships between brain areas and functions, and are tasked with presenting the projects to children in grades four through six. The children are then asked to rate each project and evaluate the student presenter.

"We provide the kids with a name tag, a 'judge' ribbon and a clipboard with rating forms for each of the projects," Schroeder said. "We've found that when we give the kids this perceived sense of authority, they take their responsibility very seriously and pay much better attention to the presentations."

While Schroeder doesn´t use the children's ratings to assign grades, he does review the comments with his students and says it is often clear which presentations were the most effective. The students, he added, benefit from the challenge presented by the fair.

"They must explain what can be very complex concepts to kids with little or no background knowledge on the topic, and it reinforces their own understanding of the material," Schroeder said.

January 11, 2010