A teacher’s modification of the “What can I learn from worms?” unit to teach the characteristics of life

A teacher recently shared with us how she integrated Project NEURON‘s Planarian Observation activity from Lesson 2 of What can I learn from worms? Regeneration, stem cells, and models into her biology classes. Using science notebooks, she asked students to reflect on connections between the activity and characteristics of life (Figure 1). Note that “CHARGER” is an acronym for seven characteristics of life: Composed of cells, Highly organized, Adapt to the environment, Reproduce, Growth and development, Energy for growth & maintenance, and Respond to a stimulus. Continue reading

Project NEURON Creates Connections

By Philip Johnson

Originally published by the STEM Education Inititative

Speaking in front of a marker board littered with red and black writing, Barbara Hug leads a collection of 15 Illinois teachers through Tuesday morning’s lesson plan. Bright, circular stickers bring life to the white walls of room 120 in Col. Wolfe School. The teachers in attendance hope for a similar effect in their classrooms—to bring them to life.

Hug, a clinical assistant professor in the College of Education, serves as a project leader for Project NEURON (Novel Education for Understanding Research on Neuroscience), along with coPIs Donna Korol from the Neuroscience Program and George Reese from MSTE (Office for Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education). Funded by a science education partnership award (SEPA) at NIH (National Institutes of Health, the project aims to develop and disseminate curriculum materials that connect cutting-edge science with national and state science standards. One way NEURON pursues that goal is through their annual Neuroscience Teacher Institute (NTI) for high school teachers.

“We aim to create a community for the teachers,” Hug said.

This year’s NTI began June 4. Donovan High School teacher Melissa McAulifee attended last year and returned for more.

“The materials, the lesson plans, and the ideas that I get here are great,” McAuliffe says. “The opportunities for professional collaboration are really outstanding.”

Teachers in Project NEURON work on hands-on project.

Project NEURON group develops a hands-on lesson involving a toxicant. The lesson is for use in their classrooms.

Teachers broke into four groups, instructed to develop a lesson involving a bioassay involving Daphnia or Tetrahymena, two common freshwater organisms. A bioassay is an experiment that measures the effects of a substance on a living organism.

Jim Schreiner’s team added Diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET, the active ingredient in most bug sprays) to the mix. Their case study involved adding the toxicant to a water solution and observing how that impacts the organism.

“Students put bug spray on their bodies all the time,” the Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School teacher says. “This is something they can relate to and that will help hook them as we explore the toxicant.”

Group partner Isaac Stewart of Fisher High School agreed. Stewart examined the DEET concentration of a provided bottle of bug spray. The seven percent concentration made for a difficult dilution. The group wanted a one percent concentration.

“Isn’t the base for this ethanol?” Stewart asks.

“Maybe the way around all of this is getting pure DEET,” Schreiner suggests. “We can get that, right?”

With that a young teacher in the group whipped out his smartphone. After a few clicks, Paul Karnstedt of Warren Township High School found one ounce bottles of pure DEET for five dollars.

“Once you consider the write-offs, that makes this a five-dollar case study,” Schreiner says.

Group works on project during a Project NEURON session.

A group works out the kinks on their bioassay assignment.

Fellow BBCHS teacher Tony Swafford liked the idea. A proponent of case studies, Swafford detailed the benefits of the teaching strategy while constantly removing and replacing the faded orange hat that covered his matching, close-cropped orange hair.

“Nothing better engages a student than a case study,” Swafford says. “I always look for something that my students can personally relate to.”

Isaac Stewart plans to include the case study in the Invertebrate Zoology class he is developing. He hopes to include a large field component.

“The first step could be telling the kids to go out to the slow-moving stream behind the school and collect the Daphnia,” Stewart says.

Teachers work on group project during Project NEURON professional development.

Microscopes are used to measure Daphnia activity.

Pleased with their concept, the four men agreed to work together to get the case study published on a University of Buffalo website that lists thousands of such works.

At another table, Oakwood High School teacher Bridget Kemner said she was happy she returned for a second year.

“This is an awesome opportunity,” Kemner said. “The support you receive from teachers who have been in the field for so long really helps. This year I had some problems in my chemistry class, and I emailed a teacher that I met here last year about it, and she helped me. The collaboration is what really separates this from other events.”

Kemner also teaches physics and physical sciences. She recently completed her first year in the profession.

Over its four years, NEURON has created four curriculum units. At the end of this year’s NTI, they hope to add two more, drug and toxicant units, to the mix.

Science museum event launches neuroscience education program

by Sharita Forrest
Originally published by the Illinois News Bureau

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Brainiacs of all ages are invited to explore the mysteries of the brain and nervous system March 11 during an afternoon of games and activities at the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum in Champaign. The event, F.I.N.D. Orphy, will kick off a new science education outreach program jointly sponsored by the Orpheum and the University of Illinois that highlights the research of the university’s neuroscientists.

The F.I.N.D. Orphy Kick-off Event is among a series of outreach initiatives stemming from Project NEURON – Novel Education for Understanding Research on Neuroscience, which focuses on integrating recent research by U. of I. neuroscientists into science lessons for elementary, middle and high school classes.

Exhibits about neuroscience will debut at the kick-off event. Although residing primarily at the museum, the exhibits will be available for science fairs and other events in local schools.

Orphy, the museum’s mascot and a teaching tool for helping young museum visitors understand science concepts, will be hidden in various locations throughout the museum. Participants will be invited to solve puzzles to find Orphy.

The F.I.N.D. Orphy program follows a small pilot project from 2011 called Faces in Neuroscience Discovery, which highlighted the neuroscientists’ work through an informal seminar series and hands-on activities at the museum.

Project NEURON recently was awarded a $120,000 grant by the National Institutes of Health to develop an educational video game called BrainCASE (Computer Aided Student Exploration): The Golden Hour. The game will teach players about diagnosing and treating various types of brain injuries using tools such as CT scans.

The golden hour is a term frequently used by physicians in reference to the 60-minute period immediately following a head injury, when appropriate treatment can dramatically affect patients’ survival rates.

Although intended for middle school and high school students, the video game will be suitable for anyone interested in brain injuries, said Barbara Hug, a clinical assistant professor of curriculum and instruction in the College of Education at Illinois and the principal investigator for Project NEURON.

When it’s completed, BrainCASE will become a component of Project NEURON’s learning module on traumatic brain injury, which is being taught in some Central Illinois schools’ science classes this year.

Neuroscience topics are “very relevant” for middle and high school students, many of whom know – or are – athletes who have sustained concussions while playing sports, said Isaac Stewart, the life sciences teacher at Fisher Jr.-Sr. High School.

Stewart is among the schoolteachers participating in Project NEURON this academic year, along with biology, anatomy and physiology, and physics teachers from Aurora, Bradley-Bourbonnais, Champaign, Donovan, Mahomet, Metropolis, Oakwood and Urbana.

The Project NEURON learning modules include experiments with fruit flies, in which students investigate how lighting variations impact organisms’ circadian rhythms. In experiments with planarians, a type of flatworm, and with guppies, students learn about the regenerative capacities of the human nervous system and the evolution of color perception, respectively.

“All of the curricular units are developed with a sort of relevance, a focus on something that students can easily apply to their own lives,” Stewart said. “Who wouldn’t want to be able to regenerate a limb if they lost it, like they see in the planarians? Or a nerve, if it were damaged? The students all have friends or acquaintances that are color-blind.”

“Any chance for the students to actually collect data, look at it over the long term, see some changes and then connect it back to the hypotheses they developed, they really enjoy it,” Stewart said. “They respond well because they know that’s a big part of the actual process of doing science.”

Faith Sharp, a fifth-year teacher who teaches at Champaign Central High School and former student of Hug’s, has participated in Project NEURON for three years.

“Project NEURON has given me some amazing teaching resources that get at interesting questions and investigations,” Sharp wrote in an email. “These materials have been adapted to fit curricula for general biology, accelerated biology, and my Advanced Placement biology classes.”

“What I really like about the thematic units is they’re written by teachers for teachers,” said Jim Schreiner, a biology teacher at Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School. “It’s very easy to implement them into our curriculum. I was able to incorporate some of the stem cell planarian units, and the kids were really charged up about that. You could just tell that, overall, they really bought into what we were doing in class. For the most part, I’ve seen an increase in student engagement and test scores across the board.”

Meeting for a two-week workshop during the summer – and four times during the academic year – on the U. of I. campus, the teachers test-drive the learning activities and delve deeper into the research underlying them through lectures and lab tours with the scientists. After implementing the modules or individual lessons in their classrooms, participants share their experiences and techniques.

“The teachers play a large role in helping us modify the curriculum and making it fit into different formats for different teachers and school districts, ” said Donna Korol, one of the Illinois neuroscientists.

Like faculty members at many small schools, Stewart is “a department of one” – the only biological sciences teacher at his school. A former student of Hug’s at Illinois, Stewart is a second-year teacher. Schreiner is a nationally certified science teacher with 25 years’ experience. Both teachers said they welcome the opportunities that the project offers for professional development and collaboration with other teachers in their field.

“It’s nice to be able to go to the U. of I. campus and meet with teachers that are just as motivated as I am, that are interested in learning about neuroscience and have unique perspectives and ideas that can challenge my own thinking on how to implement these curricula and how to teach students what I’m trying to get them to learn,” Stewart said. “It’s great; that level of professional collaboration is oftentimes absent in what I do.”

Teachers’ work with Project NEURON also has spawned opportunities for students at their schools to do volunteer work or engage in research with U. of I. faculty members, Hug said.

Hug, Korol and George Reese, the director of the Office for Mathematics, Science and Technology Education, a unit in the College of Education, are co-leaders of Project NEURON.

Project NEURON is funded by a $1.3 million, five-year Science Education Partnership Award from the National Center for Research Resources, which is a component of the NIH, and by the U. of I.’s Office of Public Engagement.

The F.I.N.D. Orphy Kick-off Event will be 1-3 p.m. at the Orpheum, 346 N. Neil St.

Local schoolchildren in kindergarten-fifth grades are invited to participate in a Build-A-Brain Contest by constructing brains out of recycled and found objects and hiding Orphy in their creations. Participants that bring in a brain they’ve constructed or donate a children’s book get into the opening event free.

Other upcoming events include F.I.N.D. Orphy weekends – June 10, July 8 and Aug. 12 – and a F.I.N.D. Orphy Summer Camp for kindergarten – fifth grade children, July 9-13.

The museum’s hours and more information about F.I.N.D. Orphy events are available at www.orpheumkids.com or by contacting the museum’s associate director, Caitlin Kreiman Lill, at 352-5895, ext. 16, or Caitlin@orpheumkids.com.

The event coincides with National Brain Awareness Week, an annual campaign sponsored by the Society for Neuroscience that raises awareness about the progress and benefits of brain and nervous system research, which is to be March 12-18 this year.

C&I Professor Barbara Hug announces new science education outreach project: FIND Orphy

Originally posted by The College of Education

A new collaborative project between the Orpheum Children’s Museum in Champaign and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign called “FIND Orphy” will be launched next month, according to Barbara Hug, clinical assistant professor in Curriculum and Instruction at the College of Education and principal investigator, and Donna Korol, associate professor in the Neuroscience Program and Psychology.

Hug said the community outreach project, which is funded through the University of Illinois Office of Public Engagement, will provide a range of informal science education opportunities for children, parents, schools, and interested community members. Key to the project will be two mobile science carts highlighting five U of I neuroscientists whose work is featured in Project NEURON curricula, an NIH Science Education Partnership Award project that helped facilitate FIND Orphy since its inception.

The program follows a small pilot project called FIND (Faces in Neuroscience Discovery) from last spring where neuroscientists were highlighted at the Orpheum through an informal seminar series and hands-on activities.

The carts will have information about the U of I neuroscientists, with their work represented in both text and interactive hands-on activities. While the carts will primarily remain at the museum, they are portable, which makes them suitable for science fairs and other local school events.

“Orphy,” the Orpheum’s mascot, will serve as a teaching mechanism to help young museum visitors relate to the project. Orphy will serve as a commentator to the scientists’ narratives and hands-on activities, adding color and clarity to the exhibit.

During summer FIND Orphy sessions, Orphy cutouts will be given to each child or visitor to help keep track of information presented. On the backside of the cutout, information is included about the scientist and science content, but from Orphy’s perspective. Orphy serves as a kind of alter-ego of the scientists by asking questions to clarify scientific information that might not necessarily be easily conveyed or understood.

Orphy’s persona is similar to the “Flat Stanley” cultural phenomenon, which has been used as a successful literacy tool for young children. Grade school students send the flat character across the country and then write about his adventures in an autobiographical style.

“Because of the approach we are taking, we believe this project has the ability to reach a population that is often overlooked in STEM fields,” Hug explained. “This connects directly to a core mission of the University–to increase the diversity of its student population and in STEM fields through working with a varied population of all ages,” she added.

An opening event on March 11 is scheduled to coincide with National Brain Awareness Week (March 12-16).  The Orpheum will also host the FIND Orphy exhibits at the U of I Neuroscience Program’s annual Brain Awareness Day (April 14) and throughout the summer, including a FIND Orphy summer camp July 9-13. For additional information about FIND Orphy, contact Hug.

Project NEURON receives funding for new computer game

Originally published by The College of Education

Project NEURON has received funding to develop a computer game called BrainCASE: The Golden Hour. If successful, additional BrainCASE (Computer Aided Student Exploration) games will be developed.  The current game focuses on traumatic brain injury and aligns with a Project NEURON unit focused on the same topic titled “Why dread a bump on the head?”

The game will provide a platform for students to learn key concepts in the scientific and medical professions in non-traditional ways. Although the game can be used in the classroom to complement its corresponding unit, the game is also meant to be entertaining.

“All of our curriculum materials link to neuroscientists here on campus and we’re hoping that we can build more games that link to their work,” said Barbara Hug, clinical assistant professor in Curriculum and Instruction and principal investigator for Project NEURON.

Students who play the game act as a “super” medical student who is asked to be part of a team taking care of an individual with a head injury. The “medical student” is responsible for different aspects of patient care. As the medical student/game player works through the game, they learn about the patient’s condition and care, including the underlying neuroscience.

“Although this in not a ‘real world’ situation, as the (role-playing) medical student wouldn’t be asked to identify the brain injury or be part of the surgical team, we think that game players will get pulled into the game,” Hug said.

Students are asked to identify the type of brain injury that the patient suffered by looking at a CT scan of the brain. They also learn about how the specific brain injury is diagnosed and treated. The game is designed for middle and high school students; however, Hug said the game is suitable for anyone interested in the topic. Once completed, the game will be posted to Project NEURON’s Web site (http://neuron.illinois.edu/).

Project NEURON developed the idea for the video game based on research findings that suggest the use of serious video games that tie into educational and curricular goals require players to actively process information and act on that information, which creates a valuable and engaging learning experience. The game aims to provide an interactive computer environment where players investigate, learn, and reinforce their knowledge about traumatic brain injuries and basic neuroscience concepts.

Project NEURON (Novel Education for Understanding Research on Neuroscience) and the new BrainCASE project are funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through the Science Education Partnership Awards program from the National Center for Research Resources.

Hug is quick to point out other essential game “players” on this project: co-investigators Donna Korol and George Reese, as well as graduate and undergraduate students who are helping to develop the game.