Our school is so lucky to be in a small college town. Many of our parents work at the university, and are involved in research. This allows us to have very interesting presentations by experts to enrich the curriculum.
So far this year we have had a presentation by a Mom who worked at NASA on developing food for the space program. Then we had a dad share his knowledge of native edible plants that tied in very nicely with a study of the fundamental needs of humans, the need for food, and hunter-gatherers! Yesterday we also had a parent working on neuroscience present information about the brain.
We used a KWL model to structure the presentation, starting with what we already KNOW, followed by listing WHAT we wanted to know, and ending with what we LEARNED. When we combined our knowledge, we already knew a lot! Take a look at this list!We wanted to learn:
- What does our brain look like? What color is it?
- What makes us laugh?
- How does our brain grow?
- How do scientists learn about the brain?
- How do we think and learn?
We soon found out what our brains looked like as our visiting scientist brought three brains for us to look at and contrast and compare. We looked at a half of a brain of a human, a sheep and a rat. Of course that led to lots of other questions about how she had the brains, and what happened to the person and animals that owned the brains. Our scientist explained that the person and animals had died before the brains were removed, and in the case of the person, the person had said before dying that he or she wanted to donate his or her brain to science, for students to learn.
We noticed that the human brain was much larger and heavier than the other brains, and had a lot more curves and coils on the outside. The rat brain was almost smooth on the outside. We saw that all three brains had a brain stem. We decided that the bigger size and the more curves were needed by humans because we store more information and memories in our brains than sheep or rats.
We looked at pictures showing details of the brain seen up close through a microscope. We also tried out a few tests to show that when we practice a skill, our brains learn and grow better at the skill. As an example, a student volunteer used a pencil to draw a route through a maze, and was timed from start to finish. Each time the student repeated the activity, he got faster and more accurate.
By the end of the presentation, we had all learned so much, including the classroom teachers. Our visiting scientist gave each student a gift of a brain-shaped eraser as a reminder that mistakes are important because the brain learns by trying new things, making mistakes and then correcting the mistake. If we only do things we already know how to do, we might not make many mistakes, but we won’t learn new things and help our brains grow.
Our scientist ended by saying that there still needs to be much research done on the brain so we can learn and understand more. She told us that one of our questions – “Why do people laugh, and how does the brain find things funny?” – is one of the questions researchers are working on, because right now we don’t know for sure! Perhaps one of our students will find out through research!