Thinking About Learning and Learning About Thinking
Since 2001, University of Scranton students have hosted the Kids Judge! Neuroscience program, which creates interactive neuroscience projects that are judged by fifth- and sixth-grade Girl Scouts.
How are memories stored? What is the relationship between your brain and behavior? How do we engage children in understanding functions they take for granted?
The University of Scranton’s Neuroscience program offers two outreach opportunities for the greater northeastern Pennsylvania community to explore and learn about the powerful motor that controls our bodies, behavior and thoughts: Brain Bee and Kids Judge! Neuroscience. The two programs have different focuses. The Brain Bee tests high school students’ knowledge of the brain and its functions, while the Kids Judge! Neuroscience program provides fifth- and sixth-graders the opportunity to critique projects constructed by University students about the nervous system. As a result, the Brain Bee gives high school students the opportunity to apply their study of neuroscience and demonstrate this knowledge in local, national and international competitions. Kids Judge! Neuroscience prepares University students to create and synthesize their classroom knowledge into real world learning situations.
The University participates in the national Brain Bee by coordinating this region’s competition, organized by Timothy Cannon, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Scranton. The event draws students from public and private schools, as well as home-schooled students, from NEPA and New Jersey. This is the 13th year the University has participated in the competition and it is one of more than 70 local Brain Bees. The local competition consists of two parts: a written and an oral competition. High school students take a pencil-and-paper test and then proceed to a competition not unlike a spelling bee competition. Students prepare for the competition by studying “Brain Facts,” a guide provided by the Society of Neuroscience. As students advance to national and international levels, the competition becomes more intensive involving identifying structures in dissected human brains and interviewing actors trained to exhibit symptoms of neurological disorders. For more information, visit sfn.org/brainfacts.
The Kids Judge! Neuroscience program has been at the University since 2001 and partners with the Northeast Pennsylvania Area Health Education Center. Kids Judge! Neuroscience, originated by Deborah L. Colbern, Ph.D., is designed to help teach neuroscience principles. Remember your science fairs in grade school? This fair is a reverse science fair. University students create interactive neuroscience projects that are judged by fifth- and sixth-grade Girl Scouts. Taste, vision and motion are the topics, and M & M’s, dominoes, ping pong balls and straws are the instruments of experimentation. Dr. Cannon has his neuroscience students “parasite back to former Kids Judge! projects” and improve them through more current research and more creative techniques that will engage children.
Besides the pride he takes in offering such community programs, Dr. Cannon gains much delight in the accomplishments of his students who have participated in these undertakings as Girl Scouts and later as his own students. Teaching Assistant Morgan Mayenshein was a Girl Scout judge and later helped coordinate the program. University of Scranton graduate and Kids Judge! Neuroscience organizer Kim Maguschak ’01 completed her doctorate in neuroscience at Emory University and is now a post-doctoral fellow with Guoping Feng at MIT. These programs not only serve as outreach education opportunities for the community, they also serve as foundational experiences and inspirations in career decisions for University students.