You never know what might capture a students’ attention and passion… Maybe the recent photo of a black hole inspires a student to learn about astrophysics, or maybe an experiment involving cockroaches inspires a student to want to learn more about neuroscience!
Recently, we heard word from two graduating high school seniors in Ohio who started a “Cockroach Club.” This after-school club is dedicated to neuroscience and invertebrate electrophysiology! Two students, Emma and Krista, were introduced to neuroscience in one of their PLTW classes with the Neuron SpikerBox, Roboroach, The Claw, and the Human-Human Interface.
Emma and Krista were fascinated by the labs, and wanted to learn more! But, as need not be said, the PLTW curriculum doesn’t leave a lot of room for digression: So, they started an after-school club to pursue Neuroscience! Enough from me though, let’s hear about it in their words.
From Krista, 12th grade; Passionate about art, music, and biology.
Cockroach club is a student-led learning group we put together following the ever-increasing amount of questions we had for my biology teacher. She prompted us to get together after school to talk about science and biology, and she also suggested we take a look at a cool kit she had made by Backyard Brains where we could create and control a cyborg cockroach (The Roboroach). Ever since then, we’ve had numerous club meetings and we have all learned a lot about science as well as teamwork!
When I first saw the cockroaches, I wasn’t too fond of them. They were little bugs that moved a little too fast for me. After our many experiments and working with the insects for so long, I have taken a liking to them. I help feed and care for the roaches from time to time. We’ve even given a few of them names. They’re pretty cool, but I still refuse to touch them myself (I let other members of the club handle them!)
Although we have learned a bit about neuroscience in school, the Roboroach was one of the first times I was able to see it in action, along with the human to human interface. I knew that neuroscience was super interesting and has a lot of potential, but after seeing it up close and personal, my curiosity and interest in the field has definitely increased.
This was my senior year, and I was not planning on pursuing neuroscience or engineering, but cockroach club and PLTW have helped me learn about a lot of different topics in science and biology fields. They not only exposed me to an extensive number of topics but also encouraged my love for science and biology. Cockroach club and PLTW allowed me to cultivate my curiosity and ask more questions than I ever have.
From Emma, 12th grade; Passionate about dancing, biology, art, reading/writing.
Cockroach club allows us to use the science equipment available in class for personal projects and other things. For example, we can mount slides with things we want to look at under a microscope but that aren’t relevant to in-class topics. Our teacher supervises all of our work so that we do things safely and correctly.
The cockroaches made me a bit uncomfortable at first. But, as with most things in biology, after I learned a little more about their biology, saw them more often, and accidentally touched them a couple times, I was okay with handling them. Not before initial anesthesia though; I’m not afraid of the roaches, but I am afraid of losing them!
In class, the more mechanical parts of neuroscience aren’t discussed as in-depth, so using neuroscience technology in tandem with the body’s nervous system was something I hadn’t thought about until we started using the tech in cockroach club.
One quick experiment we came up with was using the human-to-human interface on a fellow student’s eyelid as opposed to on his arm (with his consent and complete knowledge) and it worked out well. We were able to twitch his eyelids shut with another student’s arm.
I am graduating this year too, and I’m still super undecided about everything because of how far apart my interests are from one another but in general, PLTW and Cockroach Club combined have inspired me to look towards the sciences for my future.
Cockroach Club’s Future
With many members of Cockroach Club graduating, the club’s advisor and the remaining members are working to rally interest for the club for next year. The goal is to continue to offer the opportunity for students to pursue their personal science interests in the club, but perhaps the pursuit of the interests could turn into formal research projects! We’ll be sure to keep you updated of how this fantastic example of student-driven learning continues next year!
In an effort to make neuroscience education accessible to everyone, we are always keeping our eyes peeled for grant funding opportunities! We are constantly on the lookout for programs we can recommend to teachers and admins who are excited about Neuroscience and STEM, but might not have the funding for right now.
The Toshiba America Foundation offers several very generous grant cycles throughout the school year and, as you can see in the tweet above, someone on the Toshiba judging panel is as excited about K12 Neurosci Ed as these students are!
There is a deadline approaching quickly for K-5 grants, and there are several other grants throughout the year (staggered every few months) which offer funding for Middle and High School students.
Lowe’s Toolbox for Education
Lowe’s Toolbox for Education – Awarding up to $5,000 to schools for projects ranging from new gardens to STEM projects, Lowe’s offers generous funding for creative K12 projects of all design.
Need help applying to a grant?
You don’t have to go it alone
If you’re looking for help finding or applying for grants, our partners and friends at Ward’s Science have a free grant support service. From finding the grants to writing winning applications, they can help you with the whole process.
Whether you may be looking for help applying to the Toshiba America Foundation grant, starting a Donor’s Choose campaign, or simply need help finding potential grants, the indomitable Rusti Berent of Ward’s Grant Services is ready to help guide you through the process.
And, if you need any more encouragement to reach out to and work with Ward’s Grant Services, know that they’ve helped schools raise over $1 million dollars in grant funding… also, check out this recent, and very relevant, Grant Winner from their Success Stories Page:
Matthew F., Billerica, MA, Toshiba America Foundation
Engage your students with even more Real-World Science
PLTW is a powerhouse in the STEM Ed movement. Thanks to them, many schools are offering courses in Engineering, Computer Science, and, most exciting to us at BYB, Biomedical Sciences. Thanks to these courses, students have the opportunity to learn about all sorts of incredible career and research fields (Including Biomedical Engineering and Neuroscience!), and the courses are led by inquiry and hands-on activities.
We work with many PLTW teachers who have incorporated Backyard Brains tools and experiments to help enrich their courses and to provide exciting, hands-on labs and materials for some of the trickier to cover concepts. Below I have just a few examples of how to incorporate new and novel labs and demonstrations into your PLTW course to empower and inspire your students.
If you teach a PLTW course, this will be a great resource for you as you seek ways to further engage your students and give them real-world, hands-on experiences. If you don’t teach a PLTW course, well, as they say, steal everything that isn’t nailed down or protected by licensing (none of our materials are!) and use it to improve your own classes!
Unit 3: How to Conquer Cancer
Lesson 3.3: Treating Cancer
In brief, here are a few of the performance objectives for this lesson
Design and create a simple model of an arm that is able to pick up an empty Styrofoam cup.
Complete a laboratory investigation using data acquisition software and probes to explore biofeedback therapy.
Design an experiment to test the effect of relaxation techniques on their heart rate, respiration rate, and skin temperature.
Design and present a comprehensive rehabilitation plan for an assigned patient.
Prosthetics and assistive technologies are really exciting examples of applied sciences. It shows students how they can combine an interest in the life sciences with computer science and engineering. We’ve had many PLTW use Backyard Brains’ The Claw during this lesson to give students a hands-on experiment with a real neuroprosthetic. By recording from the muscles in their arms (or anywhere in their body), students can dynamically control the claw.
Biofeedback is an umbrella which includes neuroprosthetics, but within these objectives, it is being investigated as a therapeutic system. Learning to control or affect certain functions of your body can be hard. Learning to REGAIN control following injury or illness can be even more challenging. The goal of Biofeedback systems is that they provide an external indicator of how the subject is progressing. This includes everything from regaining control of movement in your body, to simply staying calm, managing your heart rate, or meditating with an EEG device!
Check out these Backyard Brains experiments which use the Heart and Brain SpikerBox to explore some of these signals, then your student can design a biofeedback experiment observing EEG, EKG, or even EOG (Eye Potentials).
Sounds like electrophysiology to me! In brief, here are a few of the performance objectives for this lesson
Use an interactive website to manipulate ions in a membrane and generate an action potential in a neuron.
Complete a laboratory investigation using data acquisition software and probes to explore reflexes in the human body.
Design an experiment to test factors that could impact reaction time.
A question with an obvious answer: would you rather your students learn about neurons by making a pipe-cleaner 3D model and clicking through a web-app? Or do you want them to record living neurons from a model organism, turning the introduction of neuroscience into a hands-on, quantitative lab? Much like the NGSS MS-LS1-8, this is an opportunity to introduce students of any age to Neuroscience by performing one of the most fundamental experiments in neuroscience: recording directly from a neuron!
But what about Humans? We believe that using cockroaches and other model organisms to introduce neurons and Action Potentials is an incredibly important and powerful learning experience. But we’re not about to ignore the human element…
When we show students the Human-Human-Interface (seen in the above TED talk), it never fails to amaze and surprise them. It is also an incredibly effective way to illustrate the role that electrical systems play in sending and receiving signals throughout the human body. One PLTW teacher we work with said she usually tries to invite the principal in to be the subject of the experiment, making it especially fun for the students when they get to take control!
In this lesson, there is also an emphasis on understanding reflexes and reaction time – rightfully so! Mental Chronometry is the foundation of modern neuroscience. Before we studied Neurons, we studied reaction times to externally investigate the nervous system. Could you react faster to a sound, a light, or a touch? Differences in these reaction times and, consequently, differences in reflexes, informed an early understanding of neural circuitry, and you too can perform these experiments!
Check out these experiments below which students can get started with before hacking them to create their own projects!
Here are a few of the performance objectives for these lessons
Investigate Muscular Anatomy and learn about the link between Muscles, Neurons, and your Brain
Learn how muscles are composed of units called sarcomeres, which contract and shorten when exposed to electrical stimuli.
Complete a laboratory investigation using data acquisition software and probes to explore muscle fatigue.
Design an experiment to test the effect of feedback, coaching or competition on muscle fatigue.
These lessons are a great way to bridge the gaps between many different interests. Athletes in your class are going to be excited to learn about exercise physiology, your bio students are going to love to learn about motor-units and muscular anatomy, and all the students love a little bit of competition and hands-on experiments…
Beginning with the mechanisms which excite your muscles and which we can record data from, students learn about and record EMG signals from their own muscles using the Muscle SpikerBox Pro. This allows your students to hear, see, and record the electrical activity of their muscles, ultimately facilitating a number of exciting (and competitive) labs.
Muscle Fatigue is the next phenomena to investigate, and here’s where things can get competitive (or, if you prefer, comparative!)Students can design their own muscle fatigue experiment or comparative inquiry. By quantifying the strength of the beginning and end of an EMG signal, students can create a Rate of Fatigue over time which they can then compare between each other, or themselves as they continue to exercise over several trials in a day, or over several months. Does a competitive format inspire a student to hold out for longer (we call this hands-free arm wrestling) or will muscles fatigue at a similar rate regardless? That’s for your students to investigate!
As you can see above, there are a lot of ways you can take your PLTW lessons to the next level by engaging your students with hands-on electrophysiology. All of these tools are designed to be accessible and easy to use and, as you can see above, they are very affordable.
The above devices pair with free data-acquisition software called SpikeRecorder, which you can download on any smart device, tablet, Chromebook, or computer. For more information, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our General Email.
Together, we are working to inspire a new generation of neuroscientists, biomedical engineers, Doctors, and other STEM professionals. And for those students who do not pursue a STEM field, we are teaching them critical thinking skills, problem-solving strategies, and the knowledge they need to know to be scientifically literate citizens.