For over 300 CPS students, touching a real sheep's brain and controlling robots with their minds became part of an ordinary spring Saturday.
On April 26, CPS hosted the fourth annual Brain Awareness Fair at Lake View High School – an interactive experience that allowed students in grades K-8 to learn about how the brain works. Held in partnership with the Northwestern University Brain Awareness Outreach (NBAO) organization, this event gave children access to nearly 20 demonstrations and hands-on activities, all of them focused on the mystery and inner workings of the brain.
"Our fun and interactive activities not only educate young student minds, but also spark their interest in science," said Shoai Hattori, founder of NUBAO and a doctoral candidate in neuroscience at Northwestern.
Hattori was one of over 70 graduate students on hand to help families make the most of each activity. In the LEGO Mindstorms exhibit, students were able to control robots using brain-derived signals, while at Neuroanatomy, they explored how the brain of a mouse differs from that of a human being. Prism goggles let students see the brain adjust to a 10 percent change in vision, and the Olfactory Booth showed them how their sense of smell affects their ability to taste.
Launched in 2010, the Brain Awareness Fair began at Nettelhorst Elementary, transitioning to Lake View High School in 2014. The purpose of this change was to create more space and to familiarize students from the surrounding areas with their neighborhood high school.
"This is the first step in a larger community outreach project," said Les Kniskern of CPS Family and Community Engagement (FACE), which is striving to better connect neighborhood high schools with their feeder elementary schools. "Parent focus groups have told us that bringing students to their neighborhood high school early will help them get comfortable with their surroundings and hopefully have a more successful academic experience."
Parental supervision was required at the fair, which gave families the opportunity to learn together about the brain and explore the progress and benefits of neuroscience research. These families were eagerly welcomed by Lake View administrators, who saw the Brain Awareness Fair as a chance to showcase their programs and build enthusiasm for prospective students.