Developing a Project-Oriented Introduction to Neuroscience Lab at Hope College

Leah A Chase, Christopher C Barney


The Introduction to Neuroscience course at Hope College includes a three-hour laboratory period each week. Seven of the fifteen weeks of the lab are used for a lab project that is focused on understanding the effects of gonadal hormones on brain and behavior. Students perform ovariectomies and implant sham, estradiol, or testosterone capsules in rats and then carry out five experiments: 1) Sexual Behavior, 2) Spatial Learning using the Morris Water Maze, 3) The Size of the Sexually Dimorphic Nucleus, 4) Phosphorylation of NMDA Receptors, and 5) Long Term Potentiation in Hippocampal Slices. The experiments are designed to provide the students with experiences at different levels of neuroscience, while improving their skills in statistics, using the primary literature, and scientific writing. The students generate interesting and statistically significant data which they summarize in a journal style lab reports. Using a Self Assessment of Learning Gains tool, we learned that students perceive the lab project improves their ability to A) pose questions from more than one disciplinary perspective that can be addressed by collecting and evaluating scientific evidence, B) learn about complex science problems that require insight from more than one discipline, C) extract main points from a scientific article and develop a coherent summary, and D) write reports using scientific data as evidence. Based on our results, we believe an extended lab project in an introductory neuroscience course can be used to engage students in neuroscience topics and help them develop the skills and habits of neuroscientists.

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