James River High School
Dana Foundation (DF): When and why did you become involved in Brain Awareness Week (BAW)?
Timothy Crane (TC): I first became involved in BAW in 2002. I had taken over a vertebrate anatomy and physiology course the previous year. One way that I tried to make the course my own was to increase the brain and nervous system content and to add sheep brain and sheep eye dissections. I thought that BAW would be a great way to focus this unit and to assign projects that would be interesting both for my students and for me.
DF: You work closely with your anatomy and physiology students to plan and carry out events during BAW. What do you want your students to learn from the experience?
TC: I have always given the students a great deal of freedom in the format and content of their BAW projects. One memorable Brain Awareness Week project was “Anatomy Idol.” Two students wrote a script for their classmates to play Simon, Paula, Randy, and Ryan, while they sang songs to popular tunes with lyrics about the limbic system. Another great project was a hallway bulletin board showing a day in the life of a student, with information about the parts of the brain involved in each action.
Two of the major requirements are that my students learn from the project and that they teach someone else with the project. This teaching takes different forms, from presenting to their classmates, to creating a school-wide poster campaign, to working with an elementary school class. In general, I like my students to get an appreciation for the brain, for how much we have learned about the brain in recent years, and for how much we have yet to learn.
DF: Leading up to BAW, how do you build awareness of your events and reach out to students who may not be naturally inclined to brain science?
TC: We have used a variety of techniques to reach students over the years, including announcements, bulletin boards, posters, contests, and candy.
DF: How does the student body react to BAW? Has curiosity about brain science been elevated?
TC: We certainly don’t reach everyone in the school, but I do think we have reached quite a few students over the years. I have had students come to me with questions about the brain each year, and I often have students ask when BAW will take place.
DF: What types of events are the most popular with the students at James River?
TC: To be honest, the most popular thing with students was the brain lollipop sale we used to do to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association. Last year, though, we did a BAW lunch in the library, which was very successful. My students set up stations with their projects and with other brain-related information and activities. Students who visited received a passport that they could get stamped at each station. They could turn in their completed passports at the end to enter a drawing for brain-related prizes, such as wind-up walking brains, a thinking cap, and gummi brains.
DF: Do other teachers and school staff participate in the BAW programs?
TC: The primary way the faculty and staff participate is by competing in the brain trivia contest. I send a daily e-mail question to the entire James River faculty and staff. They have until the end of the day to respond with the correct answer. I draw two names from among those who answered correctly and those people win a homemade treat and a pencil with a brain eraser. I have used a variety of questions about brain research and brain anatomy and physiology over the years. A couple of years ago, I adapted all of my questions from the 2009 Progress Report on Brain Research.
Teachers have participated in other ways as well, such as attending the lunch in the library and allowing my students to present projects to their classes.
DF: What do you have planned for this year?
TC: This year is going to be a little different, as we no longer offer the anatomy and physiology class. I teach a Biology 2 class, and those students will be doing BAW projects and learning about the brain and nervous system. The faculty contest will take place as always. One exciting new thing for this year is that a couple of weeks after BAW, some of the students and I will be presenting an introduction to the brain at a Science and Engineering Extravaganza at a local elementary school. Other sessions at the event will feature chemistry, physics, and robotics demonstrations done by other high school students and teachers and by people in industry.
DF: Any advice for teachers who want to implement BAW programs in their schools?
TC: I strongly encourage teachers to implement BAW programs. The week is a great way to introduce neuroscience into your classroom and to reach beyond your classroom walls. I highly recommend that they register as a partner and use the resources provided by the Dana Foundation and the Society for Neuroscience. The Dana publications “It’s Mindboggling!” and “More Mindbogglers!” and the BAW stickers are huge hits with high school students, and I am looking forward to using “The Mindboggling Workbook” with the elementary students at their science night. If teachers are interested in guest speakers, SfN can get them in touch with neuroscientists at local universities. “Brain Facts” from SfN is a good source of basic information. Another helpful resource is the Neuroscience for Kids Web site. It has both ideas and information. There are many other great resources out there right now, from NOVA and Scientific American Frontiers video clips to Web sites, to magazine and newspaper articles. Any teachers interested in creating BAW programs in their schools should go for it!