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Neuroscience for Everyone!

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Meet MS-LS1-8 Easy with Hands-On Neuroscience

The Dreaded MS-LS1-8

Use the standards as an opportunity to inspire your students with Hands-On Neuroscience!

Heads up: This one’s for our Middle School Science teachers working to meet NGSS. It’s also for anyone interested in how Neuroscience labs can be used to meet your own curriculum standards!

MS-LS1-8 is a reportedly tough standard to address. It is on an island, so to speak, as it doesn’t neatly tie in with the other standards and teachers we talk to say it is one of the trickier ones for them to plan classes and labs around.

Today we’re going to share a few labs and experimental tools which won’t just meet the standard, but will expose your students to advanced science made simple and open up new potential avenues for their future learning.

Introducing Neurons and Action Potentials

Step one, we’re throwing that “assessment boundary” out the window. Neurons aren’t just for your advanced students, they’re for all your students (After all, they are who they are because of their neurons)!

The “mechanism for the transmission of this information” is truly a very finite and demonstrable concept and is well within the scope of a MS Science Classroom. We believe, and have seen time and time again, that by first introducing students to Neurons, Action Potentials, and the concept of Rate Coding, they will be better prepared to think about how stimuli are processed by living creatures.

Introducing Neurons and Action Potentials

Neurons are responsible for the flow of information in vertebrate and invertebrate creatures. They process external stimuli and send signals to different parts of the body to issue commands.

With a few simple classroom activities, we can demonstrate these principals LIVE. It’s not just a video (Though the below TED talk is a great Primer). This is a real, hands-on neuroscience lab that has been freed from the tethers of higher-ed and made accessible to Middle School teachers like you.

Activity 1: Requirements 1a – Observing Live Action Potentials

Using our Neuron SpikerBox, you can record Action Potentials in your classroom and introduce your students to the basic chemical principals which are responsible for this phenomena. Here students will address requirements 1a and 1b as they study and learn about Neurons from the demonstration, our experiment page, and an educational site (.edu) of their choosing.

Activity 2: Requirements 1b – The Dancing Cockroach Leg

Following their introduction, students can perform their very own “Galvani Volta” microstimulation experiment (like you saw in the TED talk above). This is designed to get them to understand the causal relationship between received stimuli and behavior.

Activity 3: Requirement 2 – Report your Findings!

As you might have guessed from our TED talks, we think teaching is an important part of learning! The second requirement of MS-LS1-8 offers students the opportunity to synthesize what they’ve learned from their experiments and present their findings to the class. Who knows, maybe they’ll want to take their project to the next level and continue their research for a Science Fair!

Required Kit: Neuron SpikerBox

The Neuron Spikerbox (or, for the discerning educator, the Neuron SpikerBox Pro) is designed to replace a $40,000 rack of graduate lab equipment… We believe that by making technology like this more affordable (at $130, that’s about a 99.7% discount) and accessible, we can inspire a new generation of neuroscientists and make a positive impact on students’ scientific literacy, making them more informed consumers of scientific information and opening up avenues of study they might not have even known existed. Join us in the Neuro-Revolution!

No Bugs? No Problem!

While we truly believe in introducing these concepts with the framing of a model organism, many of these same principles may also be illustrated in humans. You’ll want to check out the above video and the Human-Human-Interface. Trust me, it’ll blow your students away.

But wait, there’s more… More Standards!

There are other opportunities to begin tackling the standards with hands-on neuroscience. Starting with students as young as 4th grade, these real-world experiments can be brought to life in the classroom to give your students a foundation in several important fields of science while also keeping the bureaucrats happy!

The Muscle SpikerBox and Neuron SpikerBox labs can also be used to meet these following standards:

DCI: LS1.A, LS1.D

NGSS: 4-LS1-1, 4-LS1-2, MS-LS1-1, MS-LS1-2, MS-LS1-3

What will you and your students discover?


Impress your Grant Providers with DIY Neuroscience

Grant Funded Science!


Just a hop and a skip away from our home office in Ann Arbor Michigan, Biology teachers at Okemos High School requested and received grant funding to introduce several Human-Human-Interfaces into their classrooms. The results left their students stunned…

“‘This feels so weird!’ was a common exclamation. Most students laughed during the experience. A few disliked the sensation, but all left the lesson with a much clearer understanding of how our neurons, brain, and muscles work together.

Past teacher’s have described our kits and experiments as “grant-bait,” and they meant that in the best way possible. By combining elements of Neuroscience, Biomedical Engineering, and Project-Based Learning, students can be exposed to cutting-edge concepts in advanced scientific fields without breaking the budget. 

Think about it: When was the last time your grant provider thanked YOU for your request?

“The OEF is grateful to the OHS biology teachers for requesting this equipment and helping to inspire our own students here in Okemos.”

The students are excited, the teachers are satisfied, the grant foundation is happy to see their investment put to good use, and everyone was inspired by the power of Neuroscience in education and learned a little bit more about how their brains and bodies worked. Sounds like a good deal to me!

In fact, just recently we received this message in an email this week from a 7th grade Science Teacher who introduced her students to the nervous system with the Human-Human-Interface:

“Everything went perfectly with the tech I ordered from Backyard Brains! My students were extremely engaged; it was a perfect way to introduce the nervous system to them. I have recommended your products to other science teachers in the area and will be looking to order more in the future for my classroom. Thank you for all that you do!

Required Kit: Human-Human-Interface

Featured in a Viral TED talk (Over 8M views) given by our co-founder, the Human-Human-Interface brings the cutting edge of Neuroscience to your classroom. But there is more to it than just one demonstration! Priced at $260, the Human-Human-Interface also allows you to do Arduino projects, Muscle Physiology labs, and independent Neuroscience Research – just see this example from a 12th grader’s research project!

The End of My Summer of Jellyfish (Or is it?)

Hello all! The summer fellowship is officially over, but it’s not quite the end of the line for the jellies and me! In this final(?) update to my blog series I’ll be recalling the findings I’ve made over this summer, showcasing the poster I presented at the UROP Symposium, sharing my road trip back home (with the jellies in tow!!!), and planning my post-fellowship jellyfish-based research!

Final Fellowship Findings:

I’ve learned a lot about clytia hemisphaerica over this fellowship. This ranges from their appearance and life stages (polyp, ephyrae, medusa) to their husbandry and maintenance needs (acceptable salt levels, daily and weekly water changes, feeding requirements). This newfound knowledge also includes their behaviors and abilities, like how they catch and eat prey or how they dart, zig-zag, and make circles in the water. I have collected a decent number of videos for my jellyfish dataset, and I’ve done some basic position tracking on most of that dataset, but unfortunately the fellowship was over before any rigorous analysis could be completed.

However, this is not the end! I will be dedicating time over the next few weeks to progressing my research by adding features to my jellyfish tracking/analysis software to get more usable stats on the videos, by analyzing jelly video stats using unsupervised machine learning for labeling behaviors, and by getting more raw footage of these wonderful jellies to add to the dataset! (But more on that later.)

Poster Presentation:

This first photo is of the poster I made for and presented at the UROP symposium. It gives a brief introduction on clytia hemisphaerica, explains how I created my dataset (video recordings), and shows what observations and findings were made.

This next photo shows the poster and me in action at the symposium!

I got to meet a lot of exciting people and shared endless amounts of unusual jellyfish facts with them. [Example fun fact: Did you know it’s been confirmed that some jellyfish (like the upside down jellyfish) sleep? This finding by researchers at Caltech (http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/09/you-don-t-need-brain-sleep-just-ask-jellyfish) was surprising since jellyfish don’t have brains or even a central nervous system, so sleep must be a more universal activity than previously thought.]

Jelly Road Trip:

The day came much too quickly – the day I had to leave Ann Arbor and go back home to Cincinnati. I spent 7 hours straight packing and loading the car with all the things I’d brought with me or accumulated during my stay.

There was a lot of stuff and it took up a lot of (hard to find) space in my compact-size sedan, but one spot remained clear: the passenger seat.

The passenger seat was reserved for the 2 remaining jellies! I got approval to take them home with me and continue my work in Cincinnati! After 220 miles of highway roads, the jellies finally got to see their new home (and I got to improvise a new DIY tank setup).

Now that the jellies are here, we can start on the post-fellowship jellyfish-based research plans!

Future Work:

Over the next few weeks, I plan to make more recordings of the jellyfish in a wider variety of situations. I’ll try changing environmental variables like lighting, current direction/intensity, salinity, and water temperature.

Some of the features I plan to add to the tracking/analysis software include optical flow options (to track the water current based on the dust particles visible in the videos), ellipse fitting options (to gauge when the jellyfish is actively pulsing), and multiple jelly support (for tracking 2 or more jellyfish at once).

Finally, the machine learning portion of this project will revolve around mostly unsupervised methods in the hopes that behaviors can be found with minimal bias and human error. Some options that were discussed include basic k means clustering as a start followed by other methods like compressing the layers of the neural network to force the algorithm to find patterns that effectively store the original data without losing any information.

This fellowship was a great experience and I’m very excited and grateful for the opportunity to bring my project home with me and continue my research.