Graduate student Claire Kaplan provides hands-on science outreach to local middle school students as part of Brain Awareness Week

Middle school students from the greater Washington, D.C. area rolled up their sleeves and took part in numerous hands-on activities related to Brain Awareness Week (BAW), held March 16-20 at the National Museum of Health and Medicine (NMHM) in Silver Spring, Md.

The week-long classroom saw students learn first-hand from subject matter experts about such topics as the function of brain neurons, the four lobes of the human brain, the effects of drugs or alcohol on an individual’s neurotransmitters and how the brain and spinal cord work together to control emotions and physical well-being.

Working closely with Kaplan and other local neuroscientists, students also lauded being able to hold an actual brain specimen, wear goggles that simulate impaired vision or feel the electrical activity generated by muscles in their own arms and fingers.

“I definitely learned a lot about how the brain functions,” said Teddy Mastal, a 7th grade student from Blessed Sacrament in Washington, D.C. “The brain is pretty complex. It has several parts that have key roles in what we do.”

Maggie Finnegan, a classmate of Mastal’s, particularly appreciated learning about brain safety the day her class visited.

“You hear about concussions a lot, especially when you play sports. I think it’s important to know how to protect yourself from getting hurt,” Finnegan said. “The more you know the better prepared you’ll be.”

Started 20 years ago by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, a private organization dedicated to advancing brain research, BAW aims to raise awareness around the globe on the progress and benefits of neuroscience. The program has been an educational program at NMHM for the past 16 years, according to Andrea Schierkolk, NMHM public program manager.

“I love the variation of activities for our students. I really appreciate the theme of drug and alcohol abuse being introduced, as well,” said Emily Rubin, a teacher with The McLean School in Potomac, Md. “This is the second year in a row that we’re participating. The value of a program like this is immeasurable.”