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Psychology Students Teach Preschoolers About Brains

Real brains, rats help convey message

3/24/2008 9:16:12 AM

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March 21, 2008

The following story appeared in the March 21, 2008 edition of the Lynchburg News & Advance . It is reprinted with permission.

By Christa Desrets

Brain Day

Colored brains that Randolph College Nursery School students labeled lie scattered around 4-year-old Kacki Manning’s pair of pink cowboy boots on Friday as the students learned what makes the brain tick as part of Randolph College’s Brain Day.

Photo by Chet White, News & Advance

The dozen Randolph College Nursery School students sat cross-legged in a circle around Gretchen Gotthard.

The Randolph College professor grabbed a cookie sheet from a table.

On it, sat a brain.

A real. Human. Brain.

“You don’t have to touch it if you don’t want to,” Gotthard said, holding it up.

But the children showed no reservations as their gloved hands reached to feel the contours and folds of the grey organ.

It was Brain Day.

“We’re going to learn about the brain and what it helps you do,” Randolph senior Rebecca Mizelle said. “Does anyone know where the brain is?”

The boys and girls pointed to their heads, and Mizelle praised them.

She and fellow Psychology Club students Christina Scheele and Jessie Young taught the group about the four main parts of the brain, called lobes.

The frontal lobe controls movement, Mizelle said. So when she pointed to her forehead, the group karate-chopped their arms through the air to demonstrate an action corresponding to that part of the brain.

Kelly Kirkwood, one of the preschool teachers, said the Randolph students taught the material at a level that the children could understand.

“I think it’s important for them to do activities like this where they get to participate,” she said.

Gotthard and her students organized the event in honor of the Society for Neuroscience’s Brain Awareness Week. That was last week, Gotthard said, but they had to make their event work on their own schedules.

She wanted to use the occasion to teach a young audience about psychology, she said.
For her side of the event, she showed the children actual human, sheep and rat brains.

“This part of the brain makes it so you can be really coordinated and run and jump and fun things like that,” she said, pointing to the region of the brain called the cerebellum.

Gotthard then placed a cage in the circle of children and talked about the use of research rats to learn how the brain works.

When she wanted to learn how rats use their senses to gather food, for example, she buried fruit-flavored cereal in a sandbox for the animals to sniff out.

“They’re smart, but they’re smart in a different way,” she said. “Rats are really, really good at smelling.”

The children took turns dropping bits of cereal into the cages.

Then, they put their parietal lobes, which sense taste, to work. They devoured juice boxes and cream-filled cookies, in reward for using their own brains.

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CONTACT: Brenda Edson, Director of College Relations


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