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Learning by Doing: Teach Reiterative Design with Neuroprosthetics

Failure is an important part of the
Reiterative Design Process!

For some students, dealing with failure can be tough. It’s frustrating to encounter obstacles in science! And for teachers – how do you grade a project when a student puts a lot of effort in, but keeps hitting roadblocks?

Many of you already teach like this, but I wanted to share my own recent example of the Reiterative Design Process. Very few things turn out perfect on your first attempt (like the Orange Chicken I attempted to make last night… Not enough sugar?) and require you to learn from several failures or mistakes.

Many students we are working with now are excited about the growing field of DIY Neuroprosthetics, so to help guide students along in their journey, I’ve been working on creating my own prosthetic hands using materials that are accessible to many Middle and High School students!

Three Generations of NeuroProsthetics

From left to right, you can see that in just three different build models, my design came a long way…
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Alma Schools High School Students Present Research on the Reaction Times of Distracted Drivers

This year, we were excited to release two new kits in concert with our Muscle SpikerBox Pro, kits that are designed to help capture very precise data about reflexes (The Reflex Hammer) and reactions (The Reaction Timer). It didn’t take long for students to start getting their hands on these tools, and we are excited today to present the results of one classroom’s research which was enabled by these tools!

Juli D. and her Anatomy and Physiology class were interested in studying reactions and reflexes, first by studying reaction times in “distracted driving” scenarios, and then by coming up with experimental procedures to see what variables may affect reflexes.

Juli shared a lot of pictures and information about her and her students’ work this summer, made possible by a Michigan education grant from Tri-County Electric! From Juli:

“Tri-County Electric offered us a grant of $2000 to purchase muscle spiker boxes and reaction timers. The purpose was to have students develop a lab that would test how reaction times change with distractions while driving. Backyard Brains graciously worked with us through some kinks and even supplied us with new equipment to expand our research into how reflexes change with different temperatures.

Students experimenting with the Muscle SpikerBox Pro and Reaction Timer
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The Case for Neuroscience Research in the Classroom

Scientific publications are a bit more formal than our preferred mode of “sharing the good word” of DIY Neuroscience–our TED videos are a great example of our normal route. But, scientific publications are a currency of authority, and they do offer the opportunity to lay out, very precisely, why we think that students around the world should study neuroscience!

In the past, we have published the results of our own DIY neuroscience research, as well as the research of our students and fellows, but the publication we are excited to share today is a little bit different!

This argumentative piece by our co-founder Dr. Greg Gage presents an argument for why neuroscience isn’t just a fun and engaging subject in K12, but it is rather a critically important subject that must be addressed if we want to see real progress and change in the future of neuroscience research.

From the paper, Greg argues,

One in five people will have a mental or neurological disorder at some point in their lives (World Health Organization, 2013), and the economic costs of these disorders are staggering. Many of these disorders do not have approved treatments or are in need of newer, more effective ones to be developed. In order to accomplish this, basic and translational research is needed to increase our collective knowledge of the principles that govern brain function. Given the importance of this research to society, it seems odd that the only way to study the nervous system has been to enroll as a neuroscience graduate student. “

Obviously, we think that that’s bogus, which is why we do the work that we do at Backyard Brains. You don’t need grad school to get started learning about neuroscience! In fact, we have lots of examples of students in Middle School and High School tackling big questions in neuroscience!

Check out the whole article here!

And check out these examples of K12 Neuroscience Research and Experience:

And lastly… it’s worth mentioning that if you are a teacher or a student attempting to make YOUR CASE for why your school should be teaching hands-on neuroscience, this is a fantastic resource for you. Take advantage of the journalistic prestige of Neuron and single-author papers to help make your argument. And let us know what we can do to help!