Madonna University students promote brain awareness through interactive learning

November 09, 2015

LIVONIA, Mich. – What does a dendrite look like? What chemical do brain cells use to “talk” to each other? How big is the human brain?

The average person might not know the answers, but some area fourth- and fifth-graders do after the Madonna University Psychology Club hosted a “Brain Awareness: Sparking Scientific Inquiry” co-curricular service project at Garfield Elementary in Wyandotte, and Sayre Elementary in South Lyon.

The elementary school students spent a day at “Brain Stations,” where they built a model neuron, dissected a sheep’s brain, and tried to complete normal tasks with vision-impairing goggles, among other activities. Students also received brain-shaped erasers and information coloring books as mementos.

The idea of the brain outreach program is to get students thinking about what the brain does and why we should protect it, explained Madonna University assistant professor of psychology Kenneth Thiel, Ph.D. Neuroscience isn’t usually a topic covered in the grade-school science curriculum, but presented simply enough, he’s found that kids love it.

“We’re planting that seed, at a young age, of just how important and valuable the brain is,” he said.

Students were quizzed before and after the day on their knowledge of the brain, and improved their results for every question. Thiel presented a summary of the day, including the before-and-after quiz results, during the poster session of a recent Society for Neuroscience conference.

This year, the group was able to use funds from a Michigan Campus Compact Venture Grant to buy supplies, such as kid-sized lab coats, that can be used for a future Brain Awareness Day. Thiel hopes to make Brain Awareness Day a regular project of the Psychology Club, whose members are psychology undergraduate or master’s students, or students studying a related science, such as biology.

Catherine Crombez, Psychology Club member, described the project as a learning experience for both the mentors and the children. “I enjoy teaching as much as I do learning, so this was a great way to take the knowledge I have learned at Madonna and share it with young minds.”

Thiel attributes the success of the project to the children’s eagerness to learn. “They were definitely excited about the topic,” he said. “I think our future is really bright with respect to the next generation of young scientists.”