EMU students school Lawton kids in brain science

Photo provided by Katiuska Luna-Cancalon
Photo provided by Katiuska Luna-Cancalon

Sometimes, in order to learn about something that’s very complicated, it’s best to break it down into its most simple parts.

An Eastern Michigan University, adjunct professor used that idea with her neuroscience students –– and with Lawton Elementary students too.

The EMU juniors and seniors taught a fifth grade and third grade class about the brain using a variety of hands-on activities and presentations. For example, one group titled its presentation “Taste the Rainbow.” For this activity, EMU students explained the basic anatomy of the tongue, and how the taste of things we eat and drink get sent to and processed in the brain. EMU students explained that chemical tastes are recognized all over the tongue by specialized receptors. From the tongue, taste information is sent to the somatosensory cortex where it is processed.  

To illustrate how the brain processes chemical tastes, each Lawton student received four color-coded cups. Each cup contained a solution of salty, sweet, bitter or sour water. Students were given an answer card to match the color of the cup to the chemical tastes. After tasting all of the solutions, the students were polled on which color they thought was which chemical taste. Students knew that the brain processes taste, but were surprised to learn that not everyone’s brain perceives taste in the same way.

“For many of my students, it was the first time they learned about the brain and how these processes work,” said Katiuska Luna-Cancalon, who taught the EMU neuroscience class last fall. “I find that for them it’s very helpful to have to explain the material in very simple terms, because that shows they really understand the concepts. Both Lawton and EMU students learned not only how the brain processes the various senses, but also what happens when the system is injured, and the importance of research to find ways to help the brain heal”.

The lessons were just as fun and beneficial for the elementary students, who were also being introduced to the intricacies of the brain for the first time. The hands-on activities and interaction with college students fit in nicely with the health curriculum of the fifth  graders at Lawton and created excitement towards science.

“We were impressed with how engaging the EMU groups were and how they captivated the students,” said fifth grade teacher Jill Wesley.

 Luna-Cancalon (katiuska@med.umich.edu) holds a Ph.D. in Neuroscience. She is currently a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Michigan and is always on the lookout for opportunities to do more brain science outreach in schools.

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