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Page address: http://www.mnsu.edu/news/read/?id=old-1191331562&paper=topstories

Psychology faculty member uses 'brain power' to promote science

Dawn Albertson visits Bridges Community School

Psychology faculty member Dawn Albertson uses brains -- real brains -- to get elementary school children interested in science.

2007-10-04
By Dan Linehan, Free Press Staff Writer [published in The Free Press, Mankato, MN, 10/2/2007]

Dawn Albertson, Minnesota State University professor, teaches children at Bridges Community School using cross-sections of a human brain. From left, the kids are Lizzie Reed, Autumn Perron and Christian Butler.The kids at Bridges Community School already knew it’s a myth we only use 10 percent of our brains. And they were quick to volunteer knowledge about the brain stem — it’s responsible for regulating vital, life-or-death bodily functions.

One boy even remembered three steps to a healthy brain.

“Don’t use drugs or drink alcohol and make sure you wear a helmet,” he said.

And while it’s nice to know facts like these, Minnesota State University assistant professor of psychology Dawn Albertson wasn’t here, really, to teach kids that an adult brain weighs 3 pounds and contains 100 billion cells.

The unspoken message — her enthusiasm about the brain, and science in general — was the real lesson she hoped to pass on to the fourth- through sixth-graders last week.

“The difference between achievement and not is just inspiration,” Albertson said.

That philosophy was evident in her enthusiasm and joy as she lectured the children about the brain.

“You guys are SO good,” she told one class. “You totally don’t need me.”

Albertson’s visit to Bridges was essentially practice for what she and a class at MSU are planning for brain awareness week from March 12-18.

She, along with an independent study class dedicated to this one task, will visit as many schools as they can hit during that week to talk about the brain.

Mykel Hubbard examines a preserved sheep's brain.Albertson believes translating science for the public to be a noble goal, and a necessary one. Future leaders, in whose hands science funding will rest, ought to know how science is done — and know how to question it.

And Logan Lebert, 10, is well on his way to science literacy.

He remembers dissecting a cow lung and mentions it as a reason he might have been one of the first in line to feel a preserved sheep’s brain.

After thinking a moment, he decided the brain felt like “a giant chocolate raisin.”

Logan was especially interested in the brain to help explain his tendency to sleepwalk. He learned his brain keeps working even when he’s asleep.

But the brain fascinated even those kids too squeamish to put on a latex glove and give the brain a feel.

Mallory Nermoe and Alex Rivers, both 11, fell into that camp.

The white, sponge-like sheep’s brain, about as large as a child’s fist, was just too disgusting, they agreed, but they still both enjoyed learning about the brain.

At least one class had spent some time studying the brain, and Albertson says they knew a lot more than a class she taught to in inner-city Detroit.

She wants to spread her enthusiasm, especially to rural schools where she says science education can be less comprehensive.

So this March, she wants to return to the elementary school halls of her hometown, a small place in Faribault County.

“Kiester,” she says with a bit of a laugh. “I want to go to Kiester.”

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