The National Institute on Drug Abuses (NIDA) mission is to lead the Nation in bringing the power of science to bear on drug abuse and addiction. The Brain Power! Program is one effort in trying to reach this goal. Brain Power! is designed to take students through a step-by-step exploration of the processes of science and how to use these processes to learn about scientists and the different work they do, the brain, the nervous system, and the effects of drugs on the nervous system and the body. Through hands-on science investigations, a videotape, and supplementary activities that are linked to other areas of the curriculum, students with different learning styles and strengths receive numerous opportunities to encounter the material. In addition, the overall goals of the project are to make learning fun and engaging and to instill in young students a lifelong interest in science.
The program begins with the premise that a group of children has formed a Brain Power! Club that receives missions from NIDA. Each module is built around a missiona problem or scientific question. To maneuver through these challenges, students turn to Corty (short for cerebral cortex), an animated brain, who helps them ask appropriate questions and ultimately solve the problems.
The following describes the five modules included in the Brain Power! program.
You Could be a Scientist. The goal of the first module is to find out students ideas about scientists, discuss different kinds of scientists, and identify some characteristics of people who choose this profession. Students will be asked to draw a picture of what they think a scientist looks like, including details such as clothes the scientist wears, the setting in which that person works, and the tools and equipment used. This activity dismisses stereotypes and teaches students that scientists can be men or women, from any ethnic group, and that scientists work in a variety of different settings. By the end of the module, students will have learned that there is a tremendous variety of scientists who perform many different jobs.
Meet the Scientists. Module 2 features interviews with four specific scientists who study the brain. The scientists explain their research and identify what problems they set out to solve and what conclusions they are able to draw from their research and experiments. In this module, students will be introduced to the process of scientific inquiry. Each student will fill out a resume form, pretending that he or she wants to be a scientist. They will record what kind of scientist they are, where they work, and what tools they use. The students will cut pictures out of magazines or draw pictures to describe their job.
Your Amazing Brain. This module introduces students to the amazing brain. They learn about the different parts of the brain and the functions of each part. Students discover that the brain plays an important role in everything we do. In this module, students will work in groups to make life-size outlines of the body. They will cut out pictures of the brain and paste them into body outlines. They will also cut pictures out of magazines to show the brains many functions. The goal of this module is to have students learn about the many functions of the brain, how the brain receives information through the senses, and that the brain is responsible for emotions, too.
Keeping Your Brain Healthy. Module 4 focuses on the things students can do to keep their brain healthy. Students learn the recommended amount of sleep they should get each night, how much physical activity they should perform each day, and things they should eat to keep their brain and body healthy. The students will make a class chart of healthy habits over the period of a week. Each day, the class will discuss these habits in an effort to encourage healthy behaviors. The goal of this module is for students to discover what habits they can put into practice to keep their brain healthy.
Protecting Your Brain. The final module in the Brain Power! program discusses the differences between helpful medicines, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), aspirin, and antibiotics, and harmful drugs, such as alcohol and nicotine. Students will learn about the effects these substances have on the body and the brain. They will use trading cards to learn more about the different medicines and drugs discussed in the module. The goal of this module is to teach children the differences between helpful medicines and harmful drugs, about the effects that these substances have on the brain and body, and the importance of taking helpful medicines carefully under the right circumstances, with adult supervision.
Components of the Brain Power! Program
The Brain Power! Program includes the following components:
Teacher's Guide. This document includes a lesson plan for each module of the program. Each lesson plan includes an introduction to the module; learning objectives; how the module is related to the National Science Education Standards (NSES); a scientific background, which is helpful in teaching the module; a materials list; any preparation that the teacher must do before teaching the module; step-by-step procedures on how to complete the investigation; discussion questions, which help students synthesize what they learned; extensions describing how the activity can be linked to other areas of the curriculum; what teachers should look for in assessing students work during the activity; and resources for teachers and students. In some instances, the Teachers Guide also includes handouts, such as forms, log sheets, and recording charts.
Videotape. Each module includes a videotape that sets the stage for the investigation by providing background information and summarizing the main ideas of the activity.
Introductory Story. A teacher without access to a VCR can read the introductory story to present the activity to the class. Each module comes with a set of trading cards that provides additional information about the concepts covered in the module. There are two versions of the trading cards: a black-and-white version, which can be reproduced easily, and a color version with more detailed illustrations.
Parent Newsletter. Each module comes with a newsletter for parents that includes background information about what the children learned, questions or activities that parents can pursue with their children, an opportunity for children to express their thoughts about what they just learned, and additional resources.
Poster. Each module comes with a poster that features a song about the module. Teachers can hang the poster in the classroom and sing the song with the students as a fun way to reinforce the information learned in the module.
How to Use Brain Power! The NIDA Junior Scientists Program
The program is flexible and adaptable to a variety of situations. Teachers should feel free to use any or all of its components in a way that makes sense for their students. For those who would like some suggestions on how to use the program, several ideas are listed below:
- Begin with a brainstorming session. Introduce the program by asking students what they know about scientists, the brain, the nervous system, and drugs. Do they see any connection among these topics? Are they puzzled that you are asking about them together? Then ask them if there is anything they would like to learn about these topics. Record their ideas. You may find it useful to refer to these ideas as you proceed through the module.
- Complete all five modules to build conceptual understanding. The program has been carefully structured so that one module builds on another. Students first learn about scientists who study the brain. Subsequent topics follow logically and show a natural progression from meeting scientists who study the brain to learning about the brain and how to keep it healthy. The most effective way for students to understand the sequence is by completing the modules consecutively.
- Link this science program to other areas of the curriculum. Many ideas for extension activities are included in the Teachers Guide that accompanies each module. These activities help reinforce learning by showing students the connections between science and other areas of the curriculum, including reading, social studies, and language arts. It is helpful to do at least one extension for each module.
- Encourage students to use the Internet for finding information. The Additional Resources section of the Teachers Guide includes Web sites that children can visit to learn more about scientists, neuroscience, and drugs. Encourage students to take this opportunity to become more familiar with using the Internet as a research tool.
The Brain Power! curriculum is available through the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI), and through backtoschool.drugabuse.gov.
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Or it can be ordered online at backtoschool.drugabuse.gov.
For questions regarding NIDA's Science Education Program and Materials
Cathrine Sasek, Ph.D., e-mail: email@example.com