In the final trimester of 2019, a half dozen Eagle Rock School students participated in a unique class offering called “Neuroscience,” that put its full focus on functions of the human brain — that mysterious grey-hued organ that is crowded inside each of our skulls.
This 10-week class was taught by our science instructional specialist Sara Benge and Chelsea Ehret, our 2019/2020 Public Allies Teaching Fellow in Science & Math, with the purpose of exploring the anatomy, physiology, and habits of the human nervous system.
In addition to discovering how different parts of the brain and nervous system work together to allow us to perform day-to-day duties ranging from doing the dishes to, well, breathing, the class also focused on how the system affects our personal lives.
Specifically, students enrolled in the class learned how the human nervous system responds to our personal surroundings and experiences. Students’ conducted experiments, collected data, and then analyzed that information in order to determine how the brain has an impact on our decision-making and health. Perhaps even more important, they learned how our personal choices can dramatically affect the health of our brain. And in this case, the students began focusing their classroom conversations on the “teen-age brain.”
That topic sparked the notion of hosting a school-wide TED Talk to deliver “ideas worth spreading” (TED’s moniker) about how personal choices can affect the health of the brain and nervous system. For instance, students learned that active participation in a drinking event is a decision that can have health repercussions.
It’s documented that consuming alcohol has a profound effect on the brain, blocking chemical signals between neurons. This can lead to rapid symptoms of intoxication, including slurred speech, slowed reflexes, poor memory, and irrational actions.
Assisted by the instructors, the students immediately got busy researching and preparing individual messages about how different substances, practices, or habits can impact the health of the brain.
From these notes came evidence-based talks — each running about five minutes — which were delivered in an on-campus TED Talk format open to the entire Eagle Rock community.
Neuroscience student Hana Dewhurst took on the health effects of the above-mentioned topic of alcohol. Other talks included Joy Page discussing the benefits of meditation; Ethan Gallagher citing the advantages of a good night’s sleep; Alizja Serret talking about dance as a plus for the nervous system; and, Toby Busleta describing the soothing effect of animals to our heath.
Finally, student Edna Mendez (see video below) discussed the effect cell phones and computers have on the brain, telling the audience that, “One of the most addictive substances we have at this school is the cellular device that is in each one of your pockets.”
She talked about dopamine, the chemical in the frontal cortex of the brain that is released during pleasurable situations, and then stimulates us to seek more of that good feeling. For teenagers, she said, “that part of the brain is still growing, still maturing, still developing, which is why teenagers are prone to substance abuse. Personally, when I’m having a bad day or am in a bad mood, I like to scroll through my phone or play videos. It makes me feel happy. It makes me laugh.”
“What makes it unhealthy,” she went on to say, “is when we take advantage of that. We can’t constantly use our phones to make ourselves feel better.” Read a book, Edna said, or play sports. “You don’t always have to be on your phone.”