BSc Neuroscience student
King’s College London Neuroscience Society
Dana Foundation: Last year was the first time you participated in Brain Awareness Week. How did you learn about the campaign?
Magdalena Nowak: Our student-based Neuroscience Society aims to unite neuroscience students and to encourage passionate involvement in the field. Last year, sharing our knowledge about and interest in the brain and brain research with a wider audience became one of the major objectives of the Society. In particular, we aimed to reach young minds and inspire them to learn about the astonishing complexity of the human brain, as well as the importance of brain research. During the process of planning our event we came across the Dana Foundation website, where we found information about the campaign and were truly impressed by the efforts made by partners around the world to celebrate Brain Awareness Week (BAW). We then decided to become a BAW partner, which gave us the opportunity to benefit from BAW resources and to share our success with others.
DF: Your program for high school students seemed to be very strategically structured—a rotation of short lectures and hands-on workshops—to maintain the attention of the teenagers in attendance. How did you decide on that format and was it a success?
MN: The main goals of the program were: a) make students aware of the complexity of the brain, b) teach them fascinating facts about the brain, and c) introduce them to certain brain disorders and emphasize the importance of brain research. To meet our objectives successfully we wanted to create excitement among the students right from the beginning. We made an effort to deliver complex ideas in a simple, yet engaging and entertaining way to maintain their attention throughout the program. The idea of having many short sessions (with one requiring the students to move around, think and answer the questions, be creative, and engage in discussions) worked really well. There was also an element of competition, which encouraged students to pay attention and do well in the tasks. We wanted to ensure that students not only enjoyed the program but also gained a new perspective on the brain and the brain research. In fact, many of the students could not wait to go home to share with their families the new information they learned.
DF: Did the students have a favorite activity or topic?
MN: Students were actively involved in most of the activities and found them all interesting and some even fascinating. The number of questions they asked showed their genuine interest in and curiosity about the topics presented. One of the sessions they enjoyed most was “Can the brain be tricked?” Some of the illusions, ranging from funny to just plain weird, left the students amazed. All of the students (and teachers!) were very keen to hear the explanations behind the illusions.
Another enjoyable activity for the students was making a model of a neuron from the materials we provided. This activity was part of a competition, and we were amazed by the teenagers’ effort, creativity, and attention to detail.
A student-built model of a neuron. (Photo courtesy of KCL Neuroscience Society)
DF: You also involved the high school students’ teachers in the activities. How did they respond?
MN: The program was engaging and thought-provoking not only for students but also for teachers. One of them wrote after the event: “The students were highly engaged… The program provided students with limitless opportunities to ask questions and seek clarification. All of our students felt fully involved and there was something to suit everyone. Even our staff came away with new learning.”
The response just shows that regardless of who you are and what age you are, exposure to neuroscience topics always sharpen one’s sense of wonder about the brain and the entire nervous system, triggering thoughts about what makes us who we are. It also shows the need to educate a wide range of audiences about the topics they know so little about, as well as to continue our efforts to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research.
DF: Any advice for new Brain Awareness Week partners planning an event?
MN: There is plenty of information on Dana Foundation website, which helped us plan our program. We were inspired by many successful events that were organized by other BAW partners, and incorporated our own ideas that would suit our audience and allow us to meet the objectives of the program. While the content of the entire event is very important, I think the key is to focus on HOW it is delivered. It took us a considerable amount of time to think about the most engaging and entertaining ways to deliver the lessons, and it was clearly worth it.
Also, what I would like to emphasize is that although it helps to have great financial resources to organize a successful event, it is not necessary. We are a good example of a bunch of students who (with a pinch of creativity and passion for neuroscience) managed to organize a very successful event for a relatively large number of high school students.