Neural Networks : Making Connections about the Brain and about College while Monitoring Student Engagement in Second Graders

Kristina S Mead


This article describes a neuroscience outreach program developed by college undergraduates and aimed at second graders. Over a period of four weeks, twenty-five Denison students enrolled in a non-majors course on gender and the brain visited twenty-four second grade classrooms to engage a total of 464 students. We had a mission to both promote college awareness and to specifically bring some brain science into the classroom. The desire to engage students with the brain was in part a wish to celebrate brain awareness week and in part a wish to follow a feminist tenet of bridging theory and practice via activism. The college students chose six activities: a brain puzzle, a sock content guessing game, a jelly bean olfaction and taste test, mystery noises, a message transmission game, and a version of tag. During our outreach with the second graders, my students monitored student engagement and compared engagement between male and female second graders. Engagement was high for nearly all activities but girls were more engaged than boys during the brain puzzle and jelly bean activities. Effect sizes measured as Cohens d statistics were small to large (0.2 to 0.93). The other four activities (mystery socks, mystery noises, message transmission and neuron chain tag) showed no difference in engagement between male and female second graders. Our program benefited the Denison students as well, introducing many to community involvement and awakening in them an interest in teaching or working with kids.

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