Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Observations and Interpretations, Week of Oct 19

Brie Stark's picture
Observations and Interpretations

Week of October 19, 2009 --- Brielle Stark


Project Name: Brain and Behavior I

Initiating the Project

  • The brain and behavior unit commenced on Tuesday, which I did not have a chance to observe.  I was told the subjects watched a video about the nervous system and the brain as well as explored vocabulary and content.
  • Before the onset of the project, the teacher initiated a conversation on what I will call 'team qualities'
    • A conversation continued about how, while we have friends in the classroom, it is necessary to think about the strengths of each team member when forming a team, rather than on just friendship.  While friendship is helpful, it is not the only thing necessary for a successful team.
    • Specifically for brain and behavior, the subjects understood that one member should have strong building skills, another creative skills, another organizational and another writing skills. 
      • Teacher brought up: what happens if a team gets made up of all 'builders'?  Will they not be able to do the project?
        • Not necessarily, the subjects said.  The teacher emphasized the fact that perhaps more attention and focus could be paid to things the builders thought they were not quite as strong in (ex. organization).  They could still be successful.
  • In order to gauge interest, the teacher asked the subjects where their interests lay in the overall brain and behavior unit (for this project).  Most hands went up in favor of 'the brain,' some for 'the central nervous system' and none for the 'neuron.'  I wondered, perhaps, if the neuron was a very new concept and its value not wholly understood influenced this vote.  Either way, I'll be interested to see if this viewpoint changes as the subjects learn more about the neuron and the whole brain/CNS (central nervous system).

The Project(s)

  • The teacher had several projects created that the students could choose to be a part of.  In teams of 3 or 4 members, they explored such areas as:
    • The "Thinking Cap," where they used paper-mache to make a thinking cap to represent parts of the brain
    • Creating a brain from baking dough, complete with large labeled areas
    • Creating a neuron from baking dough, complete with body, axon and dendrites
    • Creating neurons from pipe cleaners and beads
    • Creating a poster-sized drawing of the CNS by tracing the outline of a team member
  • Some groups went to the computers while others began their building projects at their desks.  In passing the computer-using groups, I noticed that each group took turns reading the material, including sounding out the foreign words (ex. mesencephalon) and guessing at their meaning.  Some groups went for dictionaries while others tried to use context clues and images on the page to understand each word.  One team used the sound device to hear the words pronounced for them.
    • To me, the subjects didn't seem overly overwhelmed by the large, foreign words associated with the CNS and brain.  If anything, they seemed to be enjoying the new concepts.
    • One group quizzed each other about what each part of the brain did (ex. frontal, temporal, parietal lobes).  This was not directed by the teacher; it was a choice of the team, who thought they could learn the terms better than way.
  • In passing, I heard a discussion of bubbleology and this new topic.  To me, it seemed that the subjects were more excited about this project because there were many things that they had never experienced or studied before in the unit (like the neuron).  I heard one student mentioned that he/she had an interest in learning about this subject because he/she was interested in psychology.

Teacher follow-up

  • We hypothesized that perhaps the brain and behavior unit seemed so interesting was because bubbles were often seen and played with in passing, and the brain was a relatively foreign concept which made it a lot more intriguing to study and experiment with.
  • We discussed the process of 'discovery,' which the teacher emphasized as being a time to use one's own interests to discover information (which is what today's lesson focused on).  I think that discovery is a great tool to lead into more inquiry based activities that has more content developed within it.  Without the time to discover things on their own, to have many places to seek knowledge and develop their content, it is difficult to delve into inquiry.  Inquiry, often, relies on knowledge of content to prove some points.  While it does emphasize discovering content along the way, inquiry also must have a strong body of content built from such things as 'discovery' in order to be truly successful.
    • Content is constantly intermingled with discovery and open-inquiry throughout the duration of a topic, in order to get the most out of both the content and application.  When an individual is able to apply something to a real world situation (and not rely upon regurgitation), they are often more successful at recalling and utilizing this information in later projects.

Note: the teacher has made a special effort to create discovery and inquiry-based lessons on Wednesdays, when Emily and I observe.  I have not yet witnessed a content lesson, though was briefed on the many things that they entail.



I was really interested by the new unit of brain and behavior, mostly because I love psychology but also because I was immensely interested in how the subjects would react to the realm of brain and behavior, which is heavily laden with terminology and concepts that are often very abstract.  When I was the same age as the subjects, I didn't understand the brain or the CNS fully -- even as a college student enrolled in a neuroscience course, some concepts still astound me.  I couldn't begin to list every structure or function of the brain or CNS.  For this reason, I was happily surprised to note that the subjects didn't seem at all daunted by the possibility of a lot of terminology, especially foreign terminology that they couldn't make a connection to (words like mesencephalon, diencephalon, telencephalon, dendrite, axon, etc).  I am especially interested to see whether or not they will be able to make the connection between what they have researched and aspects of behavior, which I am told will begin next week.  The concept of the brain and behavior unit also makes me wonder whether or not tangibility will have an effect upon their interest and ability to apply knowledge as the unit goes on.  Tangibility is often the key to understanding difficult concepts, in that when you are able to really see or touch the object in question, everything gets a bit clearer.  The brain and CNS are certainly not directly tangible, and I wonder what type of results will occur because of this.  I have no doubt that most of the subjects will retain the content and still remain engaged, but something I'd like to explore is how they will THINK about this content differently than concepts in other projects, like the very tangible bubbleology.

I also really liked the teacher's beginning to the lesson, where it was pointed out that everyone has differing strengths.  While I'm not sure if the subjects grasped the concept that I did, I do believe that they understood the concept of having many different viewpoints/opinions/strengths to get great results.  The underlying point that I saw was that, while we all have different strengths and we realize them, we can also excel at things we may not be so inclined at.  For instance, the teacher mentioned the fact that three builders could definitely complete a project that used organization and writing; it was simply necessary to focus more upon the organization and writing to make sure that they did the best job that they could in those areas.  I think that this is a concept that should be stressed at every level of schooling, even in college (when it seems that we have learned these petty concepts--untrue, of course).  It's reassuring to realize that there are differences, but that those differences don't create a hierarchy.

I was very interested in the teacher's point about 'discovery.'  It made me think about the relationship between the differing types of inquiry-based education and the benefits of each type.  Throughout my readings, I have come across several types of inquiry lessons that all render great benefits to the learners.  Is there a best one?  I really haven't come to that conclusion, and I'd gander at saying that there isn't one that overrules the others.  I think that a harmony of inquiry types is the best method.  I am developing a report that I will post on this blog delving into the different types and my own opinions and interpretations of each.


Disclaimer: I have no previous affiliation with the workings of the school, and my writings reflect my own observation of events that occur and are not suggesting concrete fact.  If you have questions, please email me at