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26.11. “The Brain Eaters” Interactive Neuroanatomy Lesson. Kathryn A. Weiss, Tyler C. Brown, Timothy C. Marzullo Neuroscience Graduate Program, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA. Fiers. Introduction.

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“The Brain Eaters” Interactive Neuroanatomy Lesson

Kathryn A. Weiss, Tyler C. Brown, Timothy C. Marzullo

Neuroscience Graduate Program, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA



The “Brain Eaters” project is an interactive lesson about neuroanatomy for 5th graders at the Brains Rule! reverse science fair hosted by the Hands On Museum in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “Brain Eaters” was designed as an experiment the students would participate in: learning brain areas, connecting area with function, and experiencing the effect of a lesioned location with loss of function. To demonstrate, we made a paper-maché Frankenstein mask with a bowl in the skull area. In this lesson, each of the major areas of the brain and their functions were taught in a way that combined visual, auditory, tactile and kinesthetic learning. We also demonstrated the cognitive effects of more complex areas such as the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and amygdala.

A second volunteer sits in the transmogrification station and puts on a helmet. With the help of some beeping and blinking lights, Tim transfers the damage from Frankenstein to the student.

Tyler wears the Frankenstein mask, and the ice cream brain is placed in the bowl at the top.

We tell the whole group the eaten area of the brain and the functions it controls, and we label that area on our whiteboard drawing.

Katie helps a student volunteer scoop out a portion of the ice cream brain.

We explain what damage could result from the lesion and give the students a prop to mimic it. Tags are placed around their necks to help them remember the name of the brain area and its function.

For example, damage to the visual cortex would impair sight, so this student wears nerd glasses to distort his vision.

We repeat the activity with a new pair of volunteers, and explain about 8-9 brain areas per 20 minute session.

We repeat the areas and quiz students on the functions to reinforce the information. The last area to be chosen is always the amygdala…

…which controls the fear response, so Tyler jumps up and growls (picture unavailable…but scary!). The students startle, and get a first-hand example of the amygdala’s function.

Success and Appropriateness of Lesson

We designed this lesson to familiarize 5th graders with some of the areas and functions of the brain. Twenty minutes is too short a time for a full neuroanatomy lesson, so our goal was to provide the concept of functional organization and word recognition for the future. Some of the areas such as the auditory cortex were part of subsequent school lessons. Others, such as the hippocampus, will appear in the news or in more advanced study. It is our hope to both create new scientists and inform young people on some basic powerful ideas about the brain!

Based on student and teacher feedback, The Brain Eaters was a success. Each group of students was very engaged in the lesson. They volunteered to participate in the “experiments”, offered answers to our questions, and gladly acted out the lesions for the benefit of their peers. As testament to the effectiveness of the lesson, students awarded our exhibit first prize in both the 2003 and 2004 Brains Rule! fairs. At this time, we estimate that nearly 400 students have participated in our lesson.

We gratefully acknowledge:

Ann Arbor Hands On Museum

Pfizer Inc

UM Neuroscience Program

Dr. Jen McCormick

Dr. Melvin Dickerson

Dr. Jonathan Demb

for financial assistance

First Prize 2003!!!

First Prize 2004!!!

For more information on how to build project, contact Tim Marzullo: tmarzull@umich.edu