Discussing How Brain Processes Sensory Input
The workshop started by discussing major areas of a human brain – Smarty was able to contribute brain stem to that discussion. Then the instructor “mapped” where sensory input is processed in the brain keeping it simple and focusing on two particular senses – sense of smell that is processed by olfactory area close to our nose and sense of sight – a much bigger area in the back of our brain. Then the students were divided into 5 tables, and each table was given a poster of a vertebrate’s brain and an actual preserved brain of that animal. They were asked to look at the poster and study the brain itself with a magnifying glass and try to predict whether this animal is guided more by a sense of smell or by a sense of sight. Smarty’s table had a lizard brain. Of course, you are not likely to have preserved brains at home, but the pictures of different vertebrate brains are available online here:
Behavioral ScienceThe best part came in the second part of workshop. Kids were introduced to “their” live animal – a lizard, a turtle, a guinea pig, a bird, and a bunny and asked to design an experiment that would test if an animal is indeed guided by that sense that was predicted in theory. This is the part that you could try at home with your own pet by designing a feeder that would hide the smell or sight of food. The kids were given transparent containers with lids, mirrors, curved tubes, etc. and they were given food that this animal prefers. Interestingly, Smarty’s lizard enjoyed both live mealworms and salad. Of course, everyone loved it even though other two kids at Smarty’s table did not want to handle live meal-worms. Smarty, being a committed meat-eater herself, had no problems feeding meal-worms to her lizard. In the end of the workshop, kids also could go and meet other animals.
Smarty and her table concluded that their lizard used both senses in search of food, and the instructor explained that animal brain research is still ongoing with a lot of mysteries in it. Overall, it was an amazing workshop for Smarty who dreams of being a neuroscientist.