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College students teach area youth about the brain

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Posted on December 7, 2015 |
By Lisa Bernardin



Discover the Brain Day 1.jpg
CHRISTINA PIL, RIGHT, a senior neuroscience major at Middlebury College, describes the features of a human brain to high school students at a recent “Discover the Brain” event. Below, Isabel Rosenberg, a Middlebury Union High School sophomore, and Hayden Gallo, an Otter Valley freshman, use a hand dynamometer, which measures force or power, to test their grip strength during a presentation on motor control and sensory awareness. Photos by May Martell, Middlebury College Office of Communications

MIDDLEBURY — The recent “Discover the Brain! A Day of Neuroscience for High School Students” event at Middlebury College’s Bicentennial Hall was a wonderful event. Twenty-plus high school students and teachers from seven high schools in Addison and Chittenden counties attended. It is one of the few events — another being the annual Vermont Brain Bee at the University of Vermont — currently focusing on neuroscience education in Vermont.

During the morning, there were four hands-on sessions that the students rotated through with some teachers. Professor Mark Spritzer delivered his talk and demonstration on "Human Electrophysiology" where the students were introduced to the function of the peripheral nervous system. The connections between the nervous system and heart and muscle function were demonstrated using electrocardiograms and electromyograms, respectively. Students were able to directly observe the unique electrical activity in their own hearts and arm muscles.

Christina Pil, a senior Middlebury neuroscience major, did an active demonstration on "Human Brain Anatomy." She used real and plasticized brains to educate the students about the parts of the brain.

Two community speakers from Williston also gave presentations. Bill Eichhorn, a sports massage therapist and somatics educator from Peak Performance, led a discussion on "Motor Control and Sensory Awarenesss." He showed excellent movement examples that were accompanied by slides and activities. For example, if you hold a textbook flat on one hand and then a friend takes it off, your hand rises several inches without you realizing that was going to happen. Then the hand settles back down — that is a "reflex" response.

The fourth presenter, Kimberly Evans, a nutritionist and lecturer from Whole Health Nutrition in Williston, gave an exciting talk on "Nutrition and Neuroscience." She was full of questions and information for her participants and encouraged them to sample a bit of her nutritious kale salad.

A delightful light lunch was provided by donations from the community organizations and appreciation goes out to American Flatbread, Sunrise Orchards, Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op, Hannaford and a mini-grant from the Middlebury College Service Cluster Board.

The mission of the day was to enlighten high school students about the brain and neuroscience. This happened as several Middlebury neuroscience undergraduates helped to get this day off the ground. A big thanks goes to these students, especially Christina Pil, who did a great job along with Mark Spritzer, PhD, and the community speakers, Kim Evans and Bill Eichhorn. 

Finally some words from a few participants: Torey Olsen, a biology teacher from South Burlington who had ventured to Middlebury along with three students, was extremely happy with the outcome of the day: "I was thoroughly impressed with the workshops and the effort from local professionals and college students. My favorite part of the day was the workshops, in particular the nutrition and the EKG and EMG workshop. Every workshop was hands-on and I appreciated that, and I know my students did as well.”

 Erika Barth from Champlain Valley Union High School said, "The Brain Day was great, each speaker was very well prepared and intriguing. The topics tied together well and it was also interesting to learn about some students’ research. Time was well organized and made the day overall enjoyable."

And Claire Armstrong, a senior at Middlebury Union High School, said, "My favorite parts were the interactive activities and I liked the brain dissection.”

More students had similar comments. They left with positive feelings and it's exciting to see these individuals get so enthralled with such an important topic as in neuroscience — the study of the brain and how it functions and how it makes us who we are.

For more information about how high school students can get involved in learning about the brain and participating in the annual Vermont Brain Bee, visit www.vermontbrainbee.com.

Editor’s note: This article was provided by Lisa Bernardin, Vermont Brain Bee coordinator.

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