It's one thing to learn about a brain while viewing a diagram on paper. It's another, however, to cut one open or to detect its smelly essence.
Groups of seventh graders at Fox Lane Middle School got to do just that on Thursday morning by dissecting sheep brains. The activity is part of the school's Brain STEM Experience project, which is meant to provide a more hands-on and interactive way of learning.
The program, held with mutliple classes broken down into groups, involves a partnership with the New York Hall in Science (ny sci), a Queens-based museum that operates on the site of the 1964 World's Fair and contains a litany of interactive programs. It involves distance learning, where an instructor works with the students over a video conferencing stream. A dissection is done remotely as a demonstration, and folks in both locations go over the brain's various parts as they are slicing them to pieces.
Malynda Nichol, one of the science teachers who worked with her students on the project, likes its interactivity.
“The hands-on experience is one of the things that I highly promote," she said.
Dealing with the human body also brings up more questions. Nichol said that in the school's unit, the students “have so many questions that relate to them: You know, what happens when I get a concussion? What is brain cancer? How does my brain work? Why is my vision in the back of my head even though my eyes are in the front?”
The STEM event is a first for Fox Lane Middle School, and for the Bedford Central School District in general. The partnership came about through support from local parent Christina Dochtermann, whose son was in one of the classes and whose husband serves on the hall's board of trustees. She brought the hall and the district together in consulting for the proposed capital plan, a bundle of major construction projects that would include rennovating the middle school's science labs. From there came the idea to bring the distance learning-based program into the classroom.
Dochtermann said, “So in getting to know ny sci, we started to further understand some of their distance learning programs and that they could actually come in and we could really bring our STEM curriculum to life - this science, technology, engineering, mathematics – and bring it three-dimensional.”
Dochtermann, who also chairs a communications committee for the capital plan, noted that a curriculum was put together by ny sci and the school, including packets, testing materials and a reflections component for after the dissections.
The hall has done similar partnerships with various schools across New York City, Long Island and southern Westchester County, said Dan Wempa, its vice president for external affairs. However, moving into northern Westchester is planned.
“This is sort of making a foray into this neighborhood," he said, adding that officials from nearby school districts have stopped by for the event. Dochtermann said they included people from the Chappaqua, Katonah-Lewisboro and Byram Hills school districts, along with people from local private schools such as Harvey in Katonah and Rippowam-Cisqua in Bedford.
Check out our video of a dissection and hear student reactions.