Project-based learning lends itself well to training undergraduates to conduct neuroscience-related outreach activities. With growing demands on faculty time for outreach events, developing and fostering the skills of undergraduates can be both beneficial and rewarding for faculty and students alike. In Psychology at Wright State University, students concentrating in Behavioral Neuroscience (BNS) are offered an elective class in planning and presenting lecture and interactive materials to middle- and high-school students on topics relating to brain-behavior relationships. In the training component of the course, juniors and seniors review comparative neuroanatomy using a broad range of preserved specimens. They read pedagogical literature, published examples of neuroscience outreach and training programs, and guides on public speaking and presentation development. The class is conducted in a computer classroom so that students have access to a variety of on-line resources. Students also visit and observe science classrooms in local schools in order to familiarize themselves with an age-comparable sample audience in terms of skill level, interest, and behavioral development. One important aspect to this model is student selection of the presentation topic. Students voice their areas of interest, forming groups around common themes that develop into focused presentation topics. Groups of 2-4 students develop an age-appropriate educational presentation that includes a mixture of Powerpoint lecture materials along with a variety of interactive exercises and/or demonstrations, some taken from publically available internet sources and some developed by the students themselves. Close faculty guidance, presentation practice and testing activities on peers result in a high-quality presentation. This experience culminates in the opportunity to actually use what they have prepared through a university-sponsored program called Exploring STEMM. Over several days, multiple groups of area middle-schoolers visit campus for one day to learn about a variety of STEMM disciplines. By repeating the presentations 5-10 times over several days, undergraduates gain confidence as presenters and feel the reward of teaching others. The local youth enjoy interacting with college students and learning directly from them about college life. With the growing importance of community outreach activities in generating and maintaining interest in the STEMM fields, this model enables us to extend our reach and impact a larger audience. These advanced undergraduates are now ready to represent their institution and the field of neuroscience admirably for some time.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/dragana_claflin/6/