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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?


Hopped The Pond for FENS 2018

The Open Hardware Symposium and our Exhibit Generated Excitement, Smiles, and Inspiration

Every year, Backyard Brains reaches farther and farther with our quest to spread DIY neuroscience, and this year, we hopped the pond to the largest neuroscience conference in Europe! Our experiments were a hit at the Forum of European Neuroscience (FENS) held in Berlin, Germany from July 7-11, 2018. Hosted by the German Neuroscience Society, the FENS conference brought together some of the greatest minds into the CityCube Berlin convention center for a week of brain-pumping excitement. Beginning with a presentation at the “Open Hardware Summit,” Backyard Brains set up shop for four days and sincerely WOWed hundreds of visitors. Will, our resident BYB mouthpiece, collected some social media highlights of the experience.

This was BYB’s first year attending the conference and we think we made a bit of a splash… Dr. Gage’s talk at the Open Hardware Summit generated a lot of excitement, which resulted in a lot of visits to our exhibit!

Following the caffeine drought of the first day (Seriously only one coffee kiosk in three halls? Thanks CityCube…) we found the energy to keep our neurons firing, doing demos and talking neurosci with all the incredibly passionate attendees at the show.

Fan Favorite for #SciComm:
Human-Human-Interface

If we had to pick a best in show, our Human-Human-Interface was tweeted and tagged over and over again #SCICOMM.

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!

A Neuroscientist’s Social Media Game is Fire…

But we weren’t the only ones showing off our experiments! Social Media was ablaze with @BackyardBrains tags as attendees and their colleagues shared videos of our experiments with their networks. We are a collective which prizes citizen science and grassroots, social-sharing of neuroscience like this is what we live for!

Here are some of the hits:

An Intentional Aesthetic?

We had a lack of tables, so we had to get creative…very DIY, very on-brand. We’ll call it an intentional design choice…. We are so grateful t0 everyone who paid us a visit and rolled up their sleeves for science, and we hope you keep Backyard Brains in mind for the future for any of your #SciComm, Outreach, K12 or Undergraduate Neuroscience Needs! Feel free to email us at hello@backyardbrains.com with any questions, comments, or new ideas!

Will // The Plant Life Chose Me


Why are Neuroscientists Interested in… plants?

But Why Plants?

Recording an Action Potential from a Sensitive Mimosa!

With the Introduction of the The Plant SpikerBox, you can, for the first time ever, explore plant behavior and electrophysiology at home or in the classroom. But wait…. Plants? Why are neuroscientists interested in… plants…?

What has a brain?

When we work with young students, we often begin by asking them “What has a brain?” You get your typical responses, like “I have a brain,” “my dog,” “my cat,” etc. Then we ask them to clarify, how are they defining that category, and often we hear the response “They move on their own!” This is true, and the mechanics behind movement in brained creatures is a fundamental element of neuroscience and electrophysiology. But, there are living creatures without neurons that move: Plants!

Certainly you’ve seen a plant growing towards the sun, opening up its leaves or petals during the day for better exposure or pollination, but what’s more, there are some plants which exhibit rapid movements in response to direct stimulation. We created the Plant SpikerBox to record the electrical activity of these plants! Like the Neuron or Muscle SpikerBox, the Plant SpikerBox is a kit which is designed to make electrophysiology preps easy, so that students and teachers can focus on the science and experiments and not be bogged down by technical issues.

Disclaimer: Venus Flytraps do not have subterranean brains.

We proved this to be an idea worth spreading… Our 2017 TED Talk (Vancouver, BC) introduces viewers to this little-known world of plant electrophysiology. On the TED main stage, our CEO Greg Gage explains the principal elements of electrophysiology research, demonstrating that the electrical signals which control our own bodies are also present in plants! He proves this through a number of demonstrations, first by visualizing his heartbeat with our Heart and Brain SpikerShield, before moving onto the plants.

You can see the TED talk here!

To return specifically to the Plant SpikerBox, we encourage users to first find a Venus Flytrap, the plant that Darwin called “One of the most delightful plants in the world,” and investigate its eating behavior…

Venus Flytrap

In order to supplement its nutrition, Venus Flytraps capture and “eat” insects. In order to do so, they have to snap their traps shut quickly so their prey doesn’t escape. But how does the plant know when to snap its trap shut and how do the mechanics of this action work? 

Stimulating a Trigger Hair in a Venus Flytrap

Just like humans and animals, Venus Flytraps use electrical activity to move! Recording this signal with the Plant SpikerBox reveals that, like us, plants use “Action Potentials” to send movement signals! In the TED talk, Greg demonstrates how Venus Flytraps distinguish between false alarms and real prey. These are the amazing plants which inspired our interest in plant electrophysiology, we hope you find them as incredible as we do! Check out this experimental write-up to learn more!

Sensitive Mimosa

Anatomy of a Sensitive Mimosa and its Behaviors

Another interesting, rapidly moving plant is the Sensitive Mimosa, or Mimosa Pudica. Also known as the “shy,” or “bashful” plant, the Sensitive Mimosa will fold up its leaves and branches when it is touched or flicked. Using the Plant SpikerBox, you can experiment with the Sensitive Mimosa and discover how Action Potentials are responsible, again, for the dramatic movement response when you flick the stem of the plant. On the TED stage, Greg demonstrates these two kinds of behaviors, showing how the leaves fold up with soft touches, but entire branches fold when flicked. See the experiment here!

The Sensitive Mimosa has also received some attention lately following the announcement of the 2017 Novel Prizes! This year’s prize for Physiology or Medicine went to researchers who study circadian rhythms, or sleep cycles, which were originally discovered in the Sensitive Mimosa! For a great explanation, check out the Nobel Prize website!

Interspecies Plant-Plant-Communicator

But perhaps the most exciting experiment you can perform with your Plant SpikerBox is the Interspecies Plant-Plant-Communicator experiment. To demonstrate the ubiquitous nature of the action potential, Greg uses the Plant SpikerBox on the TED stage to capture a signal from a Venus Flytrap and send it into a Sensitive Mimosa…

Screencapture taken just a moment before Interspecies Plant-Plant-Communication is achieved…

The Plant SpikerBox and Plant Sciences have a lot of potentials (ha!). There are countless other experiments to be performed on these plants alone, but investigating other plants opens a world of opportunities. Perhaps the Trigger Plant or the Telegraph Plant are hiding electrical signals? Perform your own experiments! Let us know what you discover!

The Plant SpikerBox is available in our store, and the companion recording software, SpikeRecorder, is free to download.

What will you discover?