Do you think of your brain as a part of yourself? As a tool that you can learn to use better? As an organ that keeps you alive, like your heart? The brain is all this and more. The mission of Get to Know Your Brain Days is to help school children flourish both in and out of the classroom by teaching them about their brains in a way that promotes ownership, growth, and self-reflection.
We ask kids in school to use their brains constantly – to learn, to use self-control, to socialize – but hardly ever teach them about the brain itself. Get to Know Your Brain Days is a collaborative project between the Affect and Cognition lab at Cornell University and the Syracuse Academy of Sciences, a charter school, that gives kids the chance to meet this fascinating part of the body and mind.
We believe that learning about how your own brain works, how it contributes to your identity and goals, and how the brain can be changed and strengthened empowers kids to achieve. And you don’t just have to take our word for it – being scientists, we are testing that idea! During its first year, Get to Know Your Brain Days is tracking almost 400 kids in Kindergarten through 4th grade to learn how well our program works. Working with school administrators, we are constantly striving to make the program better.
So how do we do it? Get to Know Your Brain Days is a chance for many groups to work together. Under the guidance of Drs. Eve De Rosa and Adam Anderson, directors of Cornell’s Affect and Cognition neuroscience lab, and Dr. Tony Burrow, leader of Cornell’s Purpose and Identity Processes developmental psychology lab, a group of Cornell undergraduates works in teams to build neuroscience lesson plans. Each lesson is crafted to not only teach an important concept about the brain, but also to stress the brain’s role in our identity and growth and our ownership over our brains. To help teaching these complex topics to kids as young as five years, we focus on hands-on, interactive designs and a lot of sharing ideas and questions.
Once a month, our undergraduate teams travel to the Syracuse Academy of Sciences to deliver these lessons. This charter school serves a majority minority, low income population in Syracuse, NY. The school’s commitment to science education and emphasis on college has a proven track record of helping underserved kids reach their goals, and we are very excited to partner with this amazing group. Each team of Cornell undergraduates also works with two Syracuse Academy of Sciences high school student interns, who help interact with the elementary school kids, connecting with them and serving as role models. At the same time, the high school students receive valuable classroom and research experience, as well as mentorship from their undergraduate teammates.
Get to Know Your Brain Days is just getting started, but already kids, teachers, and our undergraduate and high school team members are hooked. We are excited to see this program grow!