Mind matters: Learning about the brain

Published: March 9, 2016
Students learning about the brain

“Whoa, I can’t see anything!” said a fourth-grader at Columbine Elementary School, as she tried to land a bean bag inside a hoop on the floor. “This is hard!”

Twenty-five energetic bodies took turns throwing bean bags at a target, first without vision-distorting goggles, then with them. The activity demonstrated neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to change and adapt to new situations.

“We’re getting to the kids early,” said Michael Persinger, a junior who is studying integrated physiology, sociology and public health at CU-Boulder. “The brain is their most important organ, and by helping them learn more, we are hopefully guiding them down a better path.”

Persinger is one of 13 CU-Boulder students who are part of the Intermountain Neuroimaging Consortium (INC) Classroom Outreach. The program sends teams into local schools to teach kids about the brain. They provide lessons on sleep, nutrition for the brain, emotions, head injury and general brain structure.

“Many schools do not have psychology and neuroscience topics incorporated into their curricula, even though topics such as learning, memory and brain health are critically important to students’ academic success,” said Nicole Speer, INC Director of Operations and program manager for INC Classroom Outreach.

This semester alone, the program will reach more than 1,000 K-12 students throughout the metro area.

“A lot of students are not getting this information at home,” said Brenda Ortiz Torres, a junior and the student coordinator for INC Classroom Outreach. “We go into less privileged schools and demonstrate activities they can do to keep their brains healthier without buying anything.”

INC Classroom Outreach is an extension of a large-scale effort to increase public awareness of brain research. From March 13-18, INC will host Brain Awareness Week, which will include activities like those taught in the schools.

“Neuroscientists and psychologists are making enormous progress in understanding how our brains work and how we can get them to work better,” said Speer. “Brain Awareness Week enables scientists to share this progress with the larger community and generate excitement for neuroscience and psychology research.”

Brain Awareness Week begins with Community Brain Day, held at the Center for Innovation and Creativity (1777 Exposition Drive, 80309) on Sunday, March 13, from 2 to 4 p.m. This “get to know your brain day” will offer free hands-on activities and demonstrations for all ages.

Additional events—including lectures, guided meditation sessions and movement-based stress management workshops—will be held throughout the week. For a full schedule, visit the Intermountain Neuroimaging Consortium website.