Fourth-grade students learn about neuroscience

Neuroscience and fourth-grade girls generally don’t mix. Most people wouldn’t think of 9- and 10-year olds as scientists, but at Marietta College’s Women in the Sciences (WITS) camp, girls spend an entire week exploring aspects of science they probably wouldn’t experience in a regular classroom at school.

On the first day of camp, Group 1 learns about the expansive topic of neuroscience. As the girls file into the classroom, most chat about summer fun and topics that have nothing to do with science. Dr. Cheryl Arnold, Instructor of Psychology at Marietta College, is ready for the girls with a PowerPoint presentation: “Do you see what I see?” and Neuroscience written on the board.

As the girls settle into their chairs, she begins talking about how the brain can misunderstand what the body senses.

“Does anyone know that your very own eyes have blind spots in them?” Arnold asked. She then provided every girl with a piece of paper to do an experiment with to find out if they really do have blind spots. To their amazement, they did and their facial expressions showed it.

She explained to the group of quiet yet mystified students that although their brains are incredible and can do many things, it could twist what the eyes see into what the brain wants to believe.

Arnold moved the girls through an interesting set of optical illusions and hearing their successive “oohs an ahhs” put a smile on her face. As they learned why the eyes have blind spots and why they could read an entire paragraph with the letters in each word jumbled, their questions were abundant and their love for science evident.

While taking notes in their little yellow notebooks and participating in hands-on activities that deal with neuroscience, it was easy to see that learning about a topic so expansive and detailed is fun and exciting for even the youngest of students. At the Marietta College WITS camp, the girls have chances throughout the rest of the week to experience many other branches of science that are unavailable to them during the regular school year.

WITS is an award-winning program of hands-on science in the areas of biology, chemistry, environmental science, geology, and technology during a week-long summer camp running from June 14-20 at Marietta.

In it’s 21st year, the Marietta camp has 72 girls scheduled to attend. Most of the girls are returning to camp as either campers or counselors. WITS, which began in 1988, was created to address a national problem of a disproportionately small number of females enrolling in upper level math and science courses. The mission of the Marietta College WITS is to foster an increased interest among middle school students, particularly females, in the study of science and the pursuit of scientific careers by providing unique opportunities for students and teachers to work collaboratively with college science faculty and practicing scientists and engineers.

WITS has pursued funding from both public and private sources to supplement the tuition charges. Two grants, one from the Ohio Board of Regents and the other from the M.H. Jennings Foundation provided initial start-up funds. WITS has also been the recipient of awards from the Ameritech Partnership Program, the Consolidated Natural Gas Foundation, the Ohio Environmental Education Fund, the United States EPA, the Eisenhower Math and Science Program, and most recently the Shell Chemical Company Foundation and Kraton Polymers.