CROSBY -- They may be only fifth-graders, but they've already dissected sheep's brains, held a human brain and studied advanced neuroscientific research.
Students in Jeff Sipper's fifth-grade class at Cuyuna Range Elementary School in Crosby aren't studying to be neuroscientists, at least not yet, but they likely know more about the human brain and its functions than many adults.
Sarah Hick, an instructor through the Science Museum of Minnesota, was in Crosby for two days last week teaching Sipper's fifth-graders, as well as giving assemblies to other fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students, about the brain, its anatomy and neuronal anatomy, sensory perceptions and plasticity, or the brain's ability to make new connections.
Neuroscience isn't typically studied extensively in primary or secondary grade levels, but neuroscience is a growing field and has become a major part of Sipper's science curriculum at Cuyuna Range Elementary School.
Johnny Melenich, a Crosby fifth-grader, was hooked up to an EEG machine to measure his brain wave activity, one of several brain anatomy activities given to fifth-grade teacher Jeff Sipper's students by Sarah Hick of the Science Museum of Minnesota.
Since 2000, Sipper twice has attended Brain U, a weeklong summer course for educators offered by the University of Minnesota Neuroscience Department. A year ago Sipper was given a grant to attend the World Neuroscience Conference in Orlando, Fla., as only one of a handful of teachers in Minnesota allowed to go.
Beginning in 2001, Carrie MacNabb, the neuroscience department's outreach program director, and other volunteers have visited his class and presented activities and presentations on the human brain, activities paid for by grants. Then each spring his students visit the neuroscience department at the U of M Twin Cities campus and are given the opportunity to explore the college campus and talk to researchers. Two years ago his students were able to watch experimental surgery on animals.
"My goal is not to make them all neuroscientists," said Sipper, "but to give them that exposure (to neuroscience) that kids in outstate Minnesota don't get."
In April, Sipper's students will visit an entomology lab and learn how insects are used in neuroscience research. Last week his fifth-graders dissected sheeps' brains and made comparisons of brains of different animals. They studied insect brains and made brain wax models, talking about neurons and the various types of neurons in a brain.
Sarah Hick of the Science Museum of Minnesota presented an assembly on the human brain and its anatomy, sensory perceptions and how the brain makes new connections to 100 fifth-graders at Cuyuna Range Elementary School last week.
The students used circuit boards created by U of M students that allowed them to study how neurons work together to send messages using electrical impulses. They also were given the opportunity to become hooked up to an EEG machine that measured their own brain wave activity.
Students were able to view an actual human brain and discussed not only the brain anatomy, but how each brain was once part of a life, a life that had a family, went to work and walked on earth. They also discussed neuroscience ethics.
Throughout the school year, Sipper's fifth-graders have been studying various components of neuroscience. In December the class visited Cuyuna Regional Medical Center and looked at blood cells under a microscope.
"Within the last 10 years the neuroscience field has exploded because of technology," said Sipper, who hopes to continue the neuroscience curriculum with his students, as well as the visits to the U of M. "How many kids get to go on a college campus in elementary school? It's a pretty cool thing."
Lauren Wheeler, a Crosby fifth-grader, studied an actual human brain as part of several exhibitions given to students by the Science Museum of Minnesota.
This is the only such neuroscience partnership between the University of Minnesota Neuroscience Department and an elementary school class in the county. Many of the other elementary educators who have been through the U of M's Brain U program live in the Twin Cities metro area.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.