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.
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!
Backyard Brains is now in its second year of interns from the University of Santiago de Chile (affectionately called Usach). Last year we had a project recording the ganglia of snails – and this we will continue our voyage in the world of invertebrates with an old favorite and a new favorite. Cockroaches and Clams.
The ElectrocardioCLAM Hi, my name is Eduardo Isla, and I am in my final year as a student of biochemistry working at both USACH and UChile (Universidad de Chile). I am completing my undergraduate thesis right now as well as working for two months at the Backyard Brains Chile office. My thesis is in a quite different area (virology) working on epitranscriptomics of HIV-2. In my spare time I like to play MMORPG games as well as explore outdoor photography.
A lot of high school students like Backyard Brains’ Neuropharmacology experiment, as you can indirectly study synaptic activity in crickets, but it is time for an upgrade. First, a little bit about neurotransmitters Did you know that neurotransmitters were discovered working on frog hearts? Everything began in 1921, when an Austrian scientist named Otto Loewi discovered the first neurotransmitter. In his experiment, he used two frog hearts. Heart 1 was still connected to the vagus nerve, and Heart 1 was placed in a chamber that was filled with Ringers solution. This chamber was connected to a second chamber that contained Heart 2. So, fluid from chamber 1 could flow into chamber 2. Electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve (which was attached to Heart 1) caused Heart 1 to slow down its heart rate. Loewi observed that after a delay, Heart 2 also slowed down. From this experiment, Loewi hypothesized that electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve released a chemical into the fluid of chamber 1 that flowed into chamber 2. He called this chemical “Vagusstoff”. We now know this chemical as the neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. It is also interesting to know English scientist Henry Hallet Dale had previously isolated acetylcholine. So, they both shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1936. For the Backyard Brains neuropharmacology upgrade I will use some Clams, yes Clams. We eat them, but they are animals too, and believe or not they have a heart. So, I’m trying to adapt Loewi’s experiments into much simpler animals, easier to access/buy and less traumatic to work on. These experiments consist of using the Backyard Brains Heart and Brain SpikerBox to make recordings of electrocardiograms on clam hearts and the effects of different compounds. For this, first of all I need to record an electrocardiogram of the heart of clams. Afterwards, I will then treat them with various compounds to attempt to alter the heart rate. I also need to ensure that the record that we actually obtain is EKG and not movement of the electrodes. In these first few days I am trying to optimize the preparation, opening the clam while keeping the cardiovascular system intact.
The Quantified RoboRoach
Hi, my name is Claudio Moreno, and I am also in my final year working at USach in the lab of Neuroscience. I am doing my thesis in ion channel physiology, studying TRPM8 channels. TRP channels are the body’s temperature transducers, and TRPM8 is responsible for the feeling of coldness. In Chile we get cranky when the temperature gets below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (I know, nothing like Michigan), and we can thank our TRPM8 channels for that.
When not studying TRPM8 channels I enjoy going playing video games and guitar. I’ve being playing guitar for 13 years and it has been one of the best things I have done to get my mind distracted during moments of high stress. I also like to travel to different cities and countries. I have travelled to many cities here on Chile (my country), and it’s really beautiful, so if you have an opportunity to come here, trust me, you won’t regret it.
The RoboRoach is one of Backyard Brains’ original inventions where you can control cockroach locomotion by electrically stimulating the antenna, but, strangely, Backyard Brains has never systematically measured the adaptation rate. Until now. To do this experiment we are doing a bunch of RoboRoach surgeries, so we can have a high enough sample size to compare sensory adaptation rate.
Once a RoboRoach is recovered from the surgery, we can start to see if we can control our RoboRoach and measure turning responses with time! And for that we built a lego tower, which has a floating ball the cockroach walks on, along with an optical mouse to read the floating ball’s movements. When the antenna neurons are activated with electrical stimuli, they will send this electrical information (called spikes) to the cockroach brain, stimulating the neural-motor reactions. The cockroach will change direction, and we can measure this change.
The YouTube ID of is invalid.
This contraption allows us to measure precisely the turning of the cockroach in response to stimulation of the antenna, so we can see how it adapts over time. Now it is time to collect the data and finally say with some degree of certainty the adaptation rates across cockroaches. Like all kinds of animals with a central neural system, you can expect that neurons can adapt to a stimulus (which Backyard Brains has anecdotally observed many times in the RoboRoach). Now it is time to quantify! I am starting to get skilled at the surgery, and below you can see my first successful antenna nerve recording!
Every year in late March, scientists across the world band together to participate in Brain Awareness week, an extended event created by The Society for Neuroscience and Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives to expose kids to neuroscience research. It is a week-long celebration of the brain, really, with participants ranging from universities to government agencies in over 120 countries! Here at Backyard Brains, we are all about hands-on neuroscience education, so we’ve put together a list of some of our Greatest Hits experiments to spice up your week!
There are a lot of typical experiments used as a go-to for talking about the brain and introducing kids to thinking about it, like looking at cross-sections of sheep brains or listening to a talk on neurons, but what if you don’t have any sheep brains on hand? We have found that the best way to get kids excited about the brain is to get them into really interactive experiments, ones where they can move things and see reactions in real time, and this is the basis of our Muscle/Neuroengineering line of products.
At Backyard Brains, we are always striving to make neuroscience accessible, and our demonstrations are some of the best ways to do that! Often when we are at conferences, we call on civilians approaching our booth to help us out as we showcase a new experiment, proving that neuroscience is truly for everyone. Here are some experiments that we have noticed are some of the biggest crowd-pleasers.