Start the presses! Backyard Brains has a new publication! Our Neurorobot paper is titled “Neurorobotics Workshop for High School Students Promotes Competence and Confidence in Computational Neuroscience.” You can read the article in its entirety on the Frontiers in Neurorobotics website–because we believe neuroscience knowledge is for everyone, and no one should have to pay for access! The paper details our recent work developing the methodologies essential for making neurorobotics accessible in high school classrooms.
We began the Neurorobot project in 2018, when notable neuroscientist Christopher Harris joined the team with his gaggle of “brain-based rugrats” in tow. The Neurorobot aimed to bring neurorobotics more enticing to high school learners, and we quickly started to brainstorm (pun intended!) how we would implement such experiments in schools.
The Neurorobot Workshops
Chris ran the workshop at 2 high schools, sharing his 1-week Neurorobot workshop with nearly 300 students total. The students piloted the Neurorobot App developed for controlling the bots, and were able to provide feedback on the successes and shortcomings of the workshops.
The workshops were targeted to give students a base of knowledge and increase their confidence on the scientific topics studied. Both prior to and after the week-long sessions, students were presented a quiz, and their responses were analyzed for retention and comfort level. We found a significant improvement on all content questions, showcasing the effectiveness of our learning tools.
The Neurorobot Fellowship Project
If you recall, one of our fellows spent his summer working on the Neurorobot project. Ilya worked on coding the machine learning and computer vision aspects of the bot. Throughout the summer, he made progress posts, which can be found below:
There is nothing like hands-on application to showcase room for improvement, and our Neurorobotics Workshop definitely did so! We ran into some unexpected issues and tried to adapt on the fly, and we are so excited to keep this momentum going. Based on our successes, we hope to pilot more Neurorobotics programs in the future! Is your school interested? If you would like more information on how to get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org!
New from Backyard Brains: An in-depth summer training experience to help bring NGSS-aligned neuroscience lessons into your classroom. Do you want to learn how the brains of animals like crawdads or praying mantises work? Do you want to develop your own innovative experiments to take back to your students? Would you like to learn to communicate those stunning results with your peers and public through presentations, TED Talks and peer-reviewed articles? Maybe even all of the above? Then you’re in luck!
Call for Science Teachers:
The Backyard Brains Summer Teacher Fellowship program is our latest iteration of our successful neuroscience training program. This year we are inviting 5th to 12th grade teachers to participate in hands-on neuroscience research and experiment design with award winning neuroscientists. This paid summer fellowship will run from June 22, 2020 to July 31, 2020 in Ann Arbor, MI. During your time, you will develop a project-based lesson plan based on cutting-edge neuroscience, using all DIY tools. All applications must be received by noon eastern time (12:00 PM, EST) on April 20, 2020 to be eligible. Then, we will be notifying applicants of their status by April 27, 2020.
The program is open to teachers of Michigan and beyond, so Apply today!
This is our 7th iteration of the program, and like a fine wine, it just gets better every year. Our fellowship is run much like a graduate school laboratory. All participants will be working on their own independent research projects for the whole summer. We will have daily journal clubs to go over key papers and expand knowledge in the area, and each participant will be trained how to develop their own experiments and to build their own devices to perform those experiments. To this end, you will be collecting data, analyzing it, and preparing the experiment for your classroom. The goal of the fellowship is for you to implement your research in your school next fall.
This is a great way to experience running multiple project based learning projects in a single classroom! We will be working with education researchers from Purdue University to assist with the standards alignment.
The end result of your summer fellowship will be a publishable experiment and video for our website, as well as an actionable teaching plan for neuroscience in your classroom! Moving forward this year, we want more manuscripts to be published in teaching peer-reviewed journals. Continuing Education Credits should be available.
We believe in engaging with the scientific community at all levels, and we’ve had some great press coverage for our past fellowship projects. One especially exciting collaboration was our DIY Neuroscience show with TED. Each DIY Neuroscience episode focused on a fellow and their summer projects, and can be viewed below or on TED’s website.
Last year, our first teacher fellow wrote a peer-reviewed paper on her research that has been accepted for publication in The American Biology Teacher this year! (Currently in Press.) We want to support more of this work with our fellowship this year, and we will work with you to complete a publishable manuscript during and after the fellowship! Other peer-reviewed papers generated as a result of this program are below:
This summer you will be trained by Ph.D. Neuroscientists, inventors, makers, seasoned engineers, and public speakers. With the help of our team, each fellow will complete a compelling demonstration that the public will be interested and delighted to see. For example, see our recent TED talk on some of our fellows’ work. Yours could be next!
Here’s some testimony from a former Fellow:
“The Backyard Brains summer internship is truly a once in a life time experience. Throughout the summer, we got to work as independent researchers on projects that one wouldn’t typically get to experience in a university setting, which allowed us to explore different realms of our scientific interests and grow immensely as scientists and individuals. I feel so fortunate to have been given the experience to pursue such a unique project, under the guidance of arguably the best boss in the entire world, Greg Gage. He provided guidance whenever we needed it while also allowing us the flexibility to execute a project from start to finish on our own terms. By the end of the summer, we were all able to showcase our work on an amazing platform, and conclude our projects feeling so confident in our abilities and excited to pursue whatever lie ahead for all of us as we returned to school/Work/etc.
I left the internship feeling more part of a family than a company and that is something I will have for the rest of my life. If I could do it over again, I would in a heartbeat!” -H. Smith, 2017 Fellow
This year’s projects will be our most interesting and exciting ones yet! We are ironing out the details, but they will deal with a wide variety of organisms and topics including Crawdads, Scallops, Praying Mantis, Clam, Face Paint Paper Wasps, Manduca, Spiders, and human EEG.
Become a BYB Teacher Fellow in 2020, and help bring the NeuroRevolution to classrooms all over!
You will be located at the Backyard Brains headquarters in downtown Ann Arbor (map). We are right next to campus, at the heart of a very walkable city. Our office does not have parking, so you will have to figure out a commute (Parking downtown is expensive and not recommended).
Can international teachers participate?
Yes, we consider all teachers from all continents.
How much are the fellows paid?
How much is housing and can you help us find it?
While we do not pay for your housing, we are happy to inform you that summer housing is notoriously easy to find in Ann Arbor, as students leave for the summer and make available sublets. The price varies, but you can find sublet housing on craigslist for under $400. We recommend that you stay close to downtown/central campus.
Is there time off for vacations?
While you will have ample free time in Ann Arbor, we ask that you make the commitment to stay on project for the entire length of the internship.
Are projects assigned to interns or do the interns get some autonomy in deciding the course of their research?
The summer projects are described above and in the fellowship application. Each fellow will submit the project that they are interested during this process, or can suggest their own ideas. We keep the applicant’s preferences in mind, and we pair fellows with a project early on so that they will have some time to do some background reading and familiarize themselves with the organism/methods. While we have some idea of the direction or end result of a project, we encourage independent thought throughout the process–some of our most successful projects have come from slight deviations from the original goals. We will send out some suggested papers a few weeks before the program starts.
What about this letter of reference?
For the references, we are looking specifically for someone who could provide a reference or a letter of reference for you. There is no real format for the letter of reference, as we’re just looking for someone who has worked for you or instructed you and has some good things to say!
How the SpikerBox Revolutionized K12 STEM Education…
and just what is a SpikerBox?
Backyard Brains exists today because of a once-lofty goal: To turn a $40,000+ rack of graduate-level electronics into a $100 kit that students could use in the classroom to perform real, hands-on neuroscience experiments. A decade later, we have developed four lines of products that can get you involved in many aspects of neuroscience!
Enter the SpikerBox! SpikerBoxes are our name for the educational electronics we developed, a low-cost bioamplifier that can record “spikes,” or action potentials. Spikes are the universal signals which bring life to thought, sensation, movement, behavior, actions, reactions… everything that makes us living creatures!
The SpikerBox: Students say Yes to Neuroscience!
Thanks to SpikerBoxes, more than 45,000 people have seen real, live action potentials, either from their own body, somebody else’s, or from an insect or plant! And those are just the people we’ve counted… Since we began shipping in 2009, nearly 13,000 SpikerBoxes have hit the streets, bringing neuroscience to students, hobbyists, and researchers on every continent and in over 80 countries (Recently, we sent our first kit ever to Cyprus!)
Teachers we work with are excited to bring hands-on science experiments into the classroom. We offer free educational materials that pair with all of our kits, and we are developing curricula to help bring neuroscience into specific programs like Next Generation Science Standards and Project Lead The Way! Coming soon, we are expanding our Teacher Portal to help you share Backyard Brains with your students. In addition, we developed a free, open-source spike recording software (Called… you guessed it, SpikeRecorder) that lets you use the tech you already have (Chromebooks, iPads, PC, Android Phones) to record and analyze the signals your SpikerBox is recording. Our SpikerBoxes come in a few flavors, depending on the signal you want to read.
First off, the Neuron SpikerBox. This is the SpikerBox that launched 10,000 ships. Our O.G. product. Before we were a company, we were simply a goal: to create an affordable neuroscience kit to increase accessibility for younger learners, and that goal manifested itself as the Neuron SpikerBox. It allows students to record from the nervous systems of invertebrates, like cockroaches, crickets, and grasshoppers, and perform experiments to learn about how neurons and the nervous system work.
It is also an important segue into using animal models and model organisms to learn about our own nervous systems! We wouldn’t have models without model organisms, as many developments in neuroscience were made by studying the nervous systems of invertebrates and other, relatively “simple,” organisms. It is also an opportunity to talk about ethics: our cockroach prep for the Neuron SpikerBox is non-lethal, but it is invasive. A good conversation to have with any budding scientist is the measured, societal cost-benefit analysis of doing experiments like these.
What can a student learn by performing experiments with the Neuron SpikerBox? They will learn about neurons, action potentials, and how these spikes of electricity become meaningful signals to the organisms in which they are present.
Our Neuron SpikerBox is a fantastic learning tool, but it is also a powerful research tool. We have published several scientific articles featuring data which we recorded from grasshoppers, dragonflies, and other creatures using our Neuron SpikerBox.
After we perfected our bioamplifier for model organisms, we wanted to get a little more personal. After all, what better way to learn about science than to learn how your own body works? The Muscle SpikerBox records spikes in the form of Electromyograms (EMGs). EMGs are recordings of the electrical activity in our muscles! When our brain sends a signal to our muscles to move, there is an electrical synapse where the nerve meets the muscle, and our sensors record that! Used in medicine, sports science, and physiology, EMGs are an exciting way to introduce students to practical science where they are the experiment! For example, a great first experiment is recording varying rates of muscle fatigue. In fact, we had a fifth grader win her district Science Fair by comparing muscle fatigue between her left and right arms!
This SpikerBox gets to the real heart of Neuroscience. It is a multi-functional bioamplifier that focuses on your involuntary nervous system, the automatic responses that keep us going. The heartbeat is the electrical signal that most students are already familiar with through pop culture. Many of them could roughly draw what a heartbeat signal should look like, and they know a flatline is, well, very bad. Drawing from this intuitive knowledge, it’s exciting to show students their heart rates, explain to them what exactly that spikey shape they’ve seen on TV means, and teach them about the electrical impulses which keep our pulse up.
Then, there is the Brain. With this dual-function SpikerBox, you can have students see and experiment with their actual brain waves or Electroencephalograms (EEGs). No, I’m not talking about EMG artefacts or some cheesy “Brain Power” game. Our intro experiment with this kit has students see the activity of their vision center, the occipital lobe. When your eyes are open, they are processing a lot of activity, but when they are closed, that part of the brain calms down. Here we can see Alpha Waves, kind of like the brain’s “on-hold” pattern, emerge. Our co-founders never saw EEG in real life until after they had already received their doctorates. Just let that sink in. Elementary schoolers today have access to tech that was too inconvenient to demonstrate to graduate students just several years ago! Talk about a NeuroRevolution!
Finally, we have our SpikerBox that is harnessing the power of electrophysiology in uncharted territory: plants! When we ask students about what makes us alive, many answer “brains.” When asked to expand on that, many say the fact that we can move around. But what about the Venus Flytrap, a plant that can move in response to stimulation, without an ostensible brain? With this SpikerBox we can unlock the secret electrical language used in plants, demonstrating fundamental neuroscience principles in an unconventional model organism, and spreading the wonder of understanding how living creatures work!
The SpikerBoxes are our way of making advanced neuroscience accessible to the masses. To facilitate this and to cut user costs, all of our experiments, software, and educational materials are available for free! Check out our experiments and figure out which SpikerBox is right for you, your classroom, or your backyard science lab! What will you discover?