A Network of Neurons: College Students Collaborate to Teach Middle Schoolers about the Brain
“I want to be a neuroscientist!” Ronnie, a 6thgrader from Sabin Middle School, exclaimed after taking part in a new neuroscience outreach program started by PSU Adjunct Professor Bill Griesar.
Griesar, who teaches neuroscience classes to over 450 students at four colleges, found a way to collaborate across campuses and spread his enthusiasm for science, the brain, and behavior into a new program that promotes teaching and learning.
At PSU, Griesar teaches Neurophysiological Psychology at the undergraduate level. His students, fascinated by the links between physiology and behavior, continued to ask him questions about neuroscience at the graduate level. Griesar, also an Affiliate Graduate Faculty at neighboring Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU) and an adjunct professor at Washington State University–Vancouver (WSU–V), had an idea: bring his graduate students down from OHSU and WSU-V to teach a three-week seminar, in their research area, to his undergraduate students. The graduate students would gain valuable teaching experience, and the undergraduate students would see the progression of learning in neuroscience and be able to ask questions about graduate school to current students.
The first tri-university collaboration last spring was a success—but it didn’t stop there. The PSU students were so enthused about teaching neuroscience that they approached Griesar about what else they could do. Together, a group of nine undergraduate students, two graduate students, and Griesar, decided to design Brain and Behavior workshops for middle school students.
The group landed a partnership with Sabin K-8, a Multnomah County SUN School. SUN, which sponsors an opt-in summer program for underserved students, was excited to have Griesar and his students teach a four-week summer course to 25 middle schoolers.
“This collaboration has been great because they [undergraduate and graduate students] already have the enthusiasm for neuroscience, but they are learning the teaching aspect— how to take their terminology and knowledge for the subject and make it accessible for middle school students.” – Bill Griesar
Each week during the summer program, PSU undergraduate students volunteered to design and teach lessons about the brain that incorporated science, art, and hands-on activities. Students modeled clay brains; played the Midlflex Duel, which detects patterns of brain activity and moves a ball in response; and saw, touched, and asked questions about real, animal and human brains that Griesar brought to the class.
Three PSU students who volunteered over the summer have continued to teach neuroscience-themed classes at Sabin during the school year as part of the SUN program. With the positive response from students of all ages, Griesar has focused his attention to developing a plan for a more comprehensive program that would offer paid student jobs for those teaching in the summer, and on expanding the program’s outreach to include more K-8 Schools.
For more information about the Neuroscience Outreach Program, contact
Bill Griesar, PhD
Story written by Chelsea Pfund, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences