Jamie Morris / Biology

Brain awareness week (BAW) is a global campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research. As part of this program, neuroscientists all over the world design programs to share knowledge about the brain with kids and adults in the community. Most of these programs are centered on how disorders of the brain might impact health across the lifespan. I have often felt that the focus of such events is limited in that it misses the opportunity to demonstrate how understanding the function of the brain may allow us to understand normal behavior and how we function in our daily lives.

In my seminars my students and I often discuss amazing new findings in cognitive and social neuroscience. Because we are limited in time, we often only cover the basics – that is, we discuss how brain systems might support particular social or cognitive phenomena, or we might discuss how things might go awry in developmental and psychiatric disorders, but we don’t always make the critical jump to how this might teach us about behavior. We rarely get to consider how our knowledge of these phenomena may allow us to educate a lay audience.

In my experience, the best learning experience is often a ‘teaching’ experience. For my dream idea, we are going to go beyond the type of learning typical of a formal course and we are going to accept the challenge to teach lay audiences about how our knowledge of the brain may help us understand our knowledge of everyday life. Specifically our meetings will lead to the design of creative teaching tools – films, websites, PowerPoint demonstrations, etc. – that may be used for educational purposes during BAW 2012.

A series of catered brainstorming meetings will get us started on our mission. The goal will be to go beyond the science that we read about in texts and journal articles and to translate it for the masses. We will focus especially on how current findings might explain phenomena that we all encounter in our daily life. In between meetings we will work to develop teaching tools with completion occurring before BAW in March. Students will learn how knowledge about the brain and neuroscience might impact knowledge about behavior and more importantly students will learn that sometimes teaching is the best kind of learning.

I would start by recruiting 8-10 psychology or cognitive science students. Because I would like to move away from simply reading papers, for each meeting I would take the students on a field trip (on grounds) to visit a lab researching important topics in brain and behavioral research. We will be sure to collect ‘data’ in that we will gather facts, pictures, and other items that will be used in our eventual products that we share with the general public. The second half of our meeting will be dedicated to the discussion of the broader impacts of the research that we have discussed. I think, overall, it will be fun to get out of the classroom, fun to interact with the students in a different forum, and fun to develop new products of learning.

I anticipate that food for meetings and materials needed to make teaching tools can be acquired for under $1,000.