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Khan Academy contest offers MASSIVE Scholarship for Student Videos “Explaining Challenging Concepts”

The Khan Academy “2020 Breakthrough Junior Challenge” comes at a time when student engagement in STEM is more critical than ever. If you are a remote student or are a professional (or maybe parent!) educator attempting to transition rapidly into remote/home teaching strategies, this could be an excellent opportunity to turn an at-home-assignment into a tremendous opportunity for your students!

Khan Academy’s 2020 Breakthrough Junior Challenge

This challenge encourages students to investigate a complex idea and then create a video that explains it in an interesting, accessible, and eloquent way!

Here is a description direct from Khan Academy:

“We’re proud to partner with the Breakthrough Junior Challenge video contest again this year. Students ages 13 through 18 are invited to create a short (under three minutes) video explaining a challenging concept in physics, mathematics, or the life sciences in an engaging, illuminating, and creative way. This year, there is an additional COVID-19 category, and students are encouraged to help educate the world about this global health crisis by sharing the science or math behind the causes, impacts and potential solutions. If you win, you’ll receive the college scholarship, your teacher will receive a $50,000 prize, and your school will get a new $100,000 science lab!”

You read that last sentence right: The winning student will receive a $250,000 scholarship, their teacher will win $50,000 worth of funding, and the school will receive $100,000 worth of funding for the renovation or development of a new science lab!

Making Complex Ideas Simple

Pre-Teen Hacker explaining her neuroscience-inspired Hackathon Project to a Judge

he mission to take the complexity out of science education is the heart of our work at Backyard Brains. Working with students from first grade through graduate school, Science Communication (or #SciComm) is at the forefront of our minds and work.

If it tickles your fancy, we encourage you to create a submission for the Khan Academy contest featuring an explanation related to Neuroscience (Perhaps even with hands-on demonstrations using our kits)!

If you are a student or a teacher who is seriously interested in using our resources to help create a powerful submission video, do feel free to email us at hello@backyardbrains.com and we will do what we can to coach and support you!

The TED Talk Approach

When we work with student research fellows, public presentations of their research are a part of the gig. In fact, “teaching” a subject you are attempting to master is a necessary learning tool! Attempting to explain a concept to someone else makes you realize your own knowledge-gaps (There isn’t an educator alive who hasn’t been stopped dead in their tracks by a seemingly simple question).

Here are 3 tips to a successful “science explanation” that will keep things fun, fascinating, and snappy:

  • Focus on the phenomenon
  • Use simple language
  • Emphasize the Importance and Urgency of your topic

Can you see how Dr. Gage used those three tips in action in the video above? It works!

Additional Example Resources

For some inspiration, ideas, and to learn from example, check out some of our video resources below, with a few different kinds of examples!


NGSS Aligned Neuroscience

It can’t be avoided: the standards must be met! While we encourage educators everywhere to break free from the shackles of bureaucratic granularity in education… we also admit that education standards perform a necessary function. There are educational and developmental milestones that all students should achieve, and it is the goal of the standards to ensure our nation’s youth reach them! TL;DR? Read to the bottom to see the NGSS alignment chart!

For educators on the outset, the standards help you develop your scope and sequence. The NGSS, in particular, are great as they focus on “three-dimensional learning” and hands-on inquiry, offering students the opportunity to be scientists. This can help any teacher develop a curriculum that will encourage skepticism and problem-solving.

But for the teachers who want to develop radical new lesson plans, experiences, and who may even want their students to “Fail”
(in the best way!) over and over again as they tackle an incredibly tough problem, there may be hours of content in the course that don’t meet a specific standard, despite the fact that students are learning valuable lessons about what it means to be a scientist, to perform their own research, to fail, fail fail, and finally achieve something unique and new. But, in order to help your students earn this experience, while still ticking every box on your standards, it requires you to be very economical with their class time.

Our kits and experiments at Backyard Brains offer a great opportunity for you to meet tricky standards in a meaningful way (like MS LS1-8). The same kits are also powerful tools for teachers looking to buck the trend and throw their students into uncharted territories, like encouraging your middle school and high school students to perform and present their own independent research projects!

Check out this map which cross-aligns many of our kits and experiments with NGSS standards and the “Neuroscience Core Concepts,” a set of guiding principals set forth by the “Society for Neuroscience” which offer teachers a roadmap for critical knowledge and skills that can help a K12 student on their way to a career in Neuroscience. Don’t let your “Scope and Sequence” limit you and your students’ potential; rather, leverage these standards and tools like ours to inspire a culture of problem-based learning where your students will still learn the unchanging, fundamental skills and ideas, but then apply that knowledge to new and novel questions.

The Standards

While not completely comprehensive, check out this infographic and following list is to guide you to the kits and experiments which may best fit holes in your current scope and sequence!

Heart and Brain SpikerBox

DIY EEG Recordings from the Human Brain

  • 4-PS4-2
  • 4-LS1-2
  • MS-LS1-1
  • MS-LS1-2
  • MS-LS1-3
  • MS-LS1-4
  • MS-LS1-5
  • MS-LS1-8

Record from the Autonomic Nervous System

  • HS-LS1-2

The P300 Surprise Signal

  • HS-ETS1-1
  • HS-ETS1-2
  • HS-ETS1-3
  • HS-ETS1-4

Muscle SpikerBox Pro

Record Electricity from your Muscles

  • 4-PS4-1
  • 4-PS4-3
  • 4-LS1-2

EMGs During Muscle Fatigue

  • HS-LS1-7

Modeling Rates of Fatigue / Muscle Recruitment While Chewing / Acoustic Brain Response

  • MS-PS3-1
  • MS-PS3-5
  • MS-ETS1-1
  • MS-ETS1-2
  • MS-ETS1-3
  • MS-ETS1-4
  • HS-ETS1-1
  • HS-ETS1-2
  • HS-ETS1-3
  • HS-ETS1-4

How Fast can your Brain React? – Recording the Patellar Reflex

  • HS-ETS1-1
  • HS-ETS1-2
  • HS-ETS1-3
  • HS-ETS1-4
  • 4-PS4-1
  • 4-PS4-3
  • 4-LS1-2

Neuron SpikerBox Pro

Record and Manipulate Live Neurons

  • 4-PS4-1
  • P-PS4-3
  • MS-LS1-1
  • MS-LS1-2
  • MS-LS1-8
  • HS-ETS1-1
  • HS-ETS1-2
  • HS-ETS1-3
  • HS-ETS1-4
  • HS-PS4-5

Record from Agonist and Antagonist Pairs

  • MS-LS1-3

Measuring the Conduction Velocity of a Nerve

  • MS-PS3-1
  • MS-PS3-5
  • MS-ETS1-1
  • MS-ETS1-2
  • MS-ETS1-3
  • MS-ETS1-4
  • HS-ETS1-1
  • HS-ETS1-2
  • HS-ETS1-3
  • HS-ETS1-4

Plant SpikerBox

Venus Flytrap Electrophysiology

  • 4-LS1-1
  • 4-LS1-2
  • 5-LS1-1
  • 5-LS2-1
  • MS-LS1-5

Venus Flytrap ElectrophysiologySensitive Mimosa ElectrophysiologyPlant-Plant Communicator

  • HS-L21-2
  • HS-L21-3
  • HS-L21-5
  • HS-ETS1-1
  • HS-ETS1-2
  • HS-ETS1-3
  • HS-ETS1-4

Human-Human Interface

Advanced NeuroProsthetics: Take Someone’s Free Will

  • MS-LS1-1
  • MS-LS1-2
  • MS-LS1-3
  • MS-LS1-8

Muscle SpikerShield Bundle

All Arduino SpikerShield Labs

  • MS-ETS1-1
  • MS-ETS1-2
  • MS-ETS1-3
  • MS-ETS1-4
  • HS-ETS1-1
  • HS-ETS1-2
  • HS-ETS1-3
  • HS-ETS1-4

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?