For the past 20 years, Stanford Neuroscience students have shared our love for science and the brain with local 7th grade students. “Brain Day” is an annual event in which volunteers from the Neuroscience program take real human brains to middle school classrooms across Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, and Menlo Park. We lead hour-long, hands-on demonstrations in which kids get the chance to see and hold human and animal brains, often for the first time. This experience is as rewarding for us as it is for 7th graders, who have been overheard exclaiming at recess, “that was coolest thing ever!!” In the past few years, we’ve expanded the scope of our outreach to attend every 7th grade classroom in the East Palo Alto public school district. We visited 48 classes last year, and each visit was a truly unique experience. One of the many highlights is the range of questions we receive from the middle schoolers, from “what would a Zombie brain look like?” to “what causes amelodia?” The question-and-answer sessions are so fun that we decided to try something new this year: for the first time ever, we are collecting questions from the middle school students and then posting answers on our “Ask A Neuroscientist” blog.
Last year, when I walked into a classroom carrying the brains, one of the students looked at me warily and declared, “You’re about to disgust me!” Yet over the hour, she went from being the most skeptical student I’d encountered to the most vocal, excitedly encouraging the others to touch the brains. At the end of the session she asked me what it was like do research, and if she could come see my lab at Stanford. Brain Day is a wonderful chance to give back to the community, practice communicating science with the public, interact with adorable middle school students, and get a sense of the diverse range of 7th grade experiences across the Palo Alto area.
If Brain Day appeals to you, you’re in luck. There are additional Brain-Day style opportunities throughout the year targeted for high schoolers and adults.